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Valley Perspective

CSUN Debate Missed the Mark

September 29, 1996

Last week's appearance of former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke at Cal State Northridge was so predictable it almost seemed scripted. The small crowd inside the debate room sat politely, not really listening to Duke's sugar-coated venom. The large crowd outside, apparently inflamed by "outside agitators," protested loudly, provoking police and each other with a crescendo of rhetoric.

In the end, little was learned. The spectacle swayed few opinions. Somewhere, the debate over affirmative action got lost in the sideshow that grew up around it. Mirroring the polarization of thought nationwide, the substance got lost amid the television images of cops on horseback and a protester in a bloodied Twinkies T-shirt.

Was this a surprise? Not exactly. The student leaders of CSUN should have foreseen this kind of debacle before they invited Duke to campus. Sure they had a right to extend the invitation. They believe in the free exchange of ideas, and so do we. But with that absolute right comes responsibility--a notion that seems lost not only on the CSUN Student Senate but on many of their elders in media and government today.

Actions cause reactions, and free speech has a cost. If serious discussion of a serious issue was truly the goal, the CSUN student senators missed the mark. Duke's presence turned him into the issue. It's unlikely, as some claim, that Duke was invited by Machiavellian students simply to paint all foes of affirmative action with a racist brush. More likely, the students showed the kind of poor judgment the 1st Amendment was designed to protect. With any luck, they learned that the quality of debate is sometimes enhanced by staying silent.

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