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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

Conservative-sponsored teach-in gives alternative perspective on pacifism

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, February 27, 2004

Thousands of students, teachers, diplomats and scholars heard about the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and ventured out into the fresh snow to enjoy the sessions and lectures centered on the forums theme, "Striving for Peace: Roots of Change." What they may not have heard about was the "shadow forum" that also occurred this past weekend, featuring speaker Scott Johnson and sponsored by the St. Olaf Committee for Intellectual Diversity, a sub-group of Counterpoint.

Over 70 students attended the teach-in in Mellby Lounge Saturday, all from different political backgrounds and opinions.

"Everyone seemed interested," said Britt Haugland 04. "And the discourse after Scotts speech was great."

Johnson was invited to present his seminar "Facts Are Better Than Dreams: The Statesmanship of Winston Churchill in the 1930s" by the Committee for Intellectual Diversity, after the Peace Prize Forum planning committee refused his proposed seminar idea in November.

"I was a little shocked, and was told that the subject involved events too long ago to be of interest to the students attending this conference," Johnson said, "I understand the committee now says that the subject doesnt fit the spirit of the program."

In a letter addressed to President Christopher Thomforde, Dean James May and other selected recipients, the St. Olaf Committee for Intellectual Diversity wrote, "The Forum presents views from the far left of the political spectrum, excludes dissenting perspectives, and then issues repeated calls to action to students, many of whom will know little about international affairs but what theyve heard at the conference."

Haugland, one of the founders of the Committee for Intellectual Diversity and a key player in bringing Johnson to St. Olaf, stressed that the committee "is not protesting world peace. Our opposition to the Peace Prize Forum is not peace itself, but the fact that the forum lacked diverse ideas on how to reach peace."

In its letter, the committee argued that "a dialogue with multiple viewpoints and relevant debate is essential" to support students in their understanding of war and peace. "Forum organizers urge students to draw conclusions but refuse to give them the full spectrum of points of view on which informed decisions are made," the committee wrote.

In response to the letter, Thomforde emphasized that hosting events such as the Nobel Peace Prize Forum "cannot" end.

"I continue to believe that this is a singularly important role that a college like St. Olaf can play in the debate of those subjects that are of greatest concern to our nation and to the world," Thomforde wrote.

The St. Olaf Committee for Intellectual Diversity, however, thinks that the most important role of any college is to "support students in their fair-minded pursuit of knowledge." Its members called the forum a "partisan symposium whose spirit and mission are wholly inappropriate for an institution of higher learning."

"I was disappointed at President Thomfordes response," said Haugland. "He pushed the issue onto the Nobel Peace Prize Forum Committee and ignored his responsibility to uphold intellectual diversity on campus."

Since Thomfordes letter, dated February 4, 2004, there has been no further correspondence between the president and the committee. That however did not stop the students from taking actions.

The students prepared a packet of documented cases of liberal bias on campus and passed out to Regents who visited St. Olaf last week.

The committee for Intellectual Diversity also organized Johnsons teach-in, publicizing it around campus and garning media attention.

"I never wanted to do a protest or a teach-in," Johnson said.

But after reading Thomfordes response to the St. Olaf Committee for Intellectual Diversity, Johnson said that he "had to come speak. The contempt for intellectual diversity and curiosity is shocking."

Johnson, a Minneapolis attorney and adjunct professor of law at the University of St. Thomas, asked in his speech if pacifism is the best way to achieve world peace.

Johnsons seminar introduced students to the "incredibly dramatic" story of Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England during World War II. Johnson described Churchill as "one of the most un-illusioned, clear-eyed men who ever lived." He said that Churchill believed that pacifism and disarmament "were the most direct ways to foment war," and for six years, "tried in every way to convince Great Britain they were in danger and needed to rearm. He was an isolated dissenter."

One of Johnsons main desires is for students to be familiar with Churchill. "This was an out-of-office guy who actually understood what was going on [in Europe]. He struggled with his wife, his kids, the British Parliament & but he still had a message to save the world," he said.

"Churchill was an activist for peace," Johnson said. "He wanted to prevent carnage by stopping pacifist movements that were the enemy of peace."

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