Left-wing students at the University of Michigan Medical School on Sunday failed to block a pro-life physician from delivering a commencement address.
More than 300 students, alumni, and physicians, had petitioned to bar University of Michigan Medical School professor Dr. Kristin Collier from giving the keynote address at the school's annual white coat ceremony. Some students walked out when she took the stage, and others hung a banner from the auditorium's balcony that read: "Bans Off Our Bodies. Abortion Rights Now." No one interrupted. But other students defended Collier, and Dean Marschall Runge made it clear that the school "would not revoke a speaker because they have different personal ideas than others."
"The White Coat Ceremony is not a platform for discussion of controversial issues, and Dr. Collier never planned to address a divisive topic as part of her remarks," Dr. Runge wrote in the email, a copy of which was shared by Princeton professor Robert George on his blog. "Our values speak about honoring the critical importance of diversity of personal thought and ideas, which is foundational to academic freedom and excellence."
University administrators' defense of free speech has become increasingly rare, as professors have lost their jobs or been removed from courses for voicing controversial opinions. Princeton University fired tenured classics professor Joshua Katz in May because he had failed to exercise his free speech "responsibly" on campus, the Washington Free Beacon reported. In November, faculty and students at the University of Michigan ousted a music professor from a course after he screened a film deemed racially insensitive. The university’s policy affirms a "deep commitment to freedom of speech and artistic expression."
The effort to cancel Collier surprised colleagues and former students. A well-respected professor who has published peer-reviewed articles in some of the nation’s most prestigious medical journals, Collier had been chosen by a student honors society to deliver the speech. A faculty member since 2005, she had until four years ago been "a pro-choice atheist," and credits her change in views to open debate. Dr. William Chavey, a professor of family medicine who has taught for 25 years at the medical school, told the Free Beacon the petition to stop Collier from giving the speech "did not reflect who she is."
"I suspect that the people who signed it don’t know Dr. Collier," Chavey said. "She’s obviously been valued for her clinical skills, her educational skills, and her scholarship. To criticize or demean her for her opinion is narrow minded and inappropriate."
The petition, which was sent to the entire student body by Medical Students For Choice (MSFC), said Collier had made remarks on social media and in interviews that were "antithetical to the tenets of reproductive justice." Having "an anti-choice speaker," they said, would violate the university’s stance on abortion.
The signatories argued that allowing Collier to speak would also perpetuate "a pattern of disregarding an[d] actively silencing the voice of students and members of our community." They went on to link her with a list of perceived institutional injustices, including "the expansion of [the university's] police force in the 1990s" and "delayed reporting of a child pornography scandal at UM Hospital under the past and interim President Mary Sue Coleman."
In an email responding to the student-led petition, Chavey noted the university’s stated commitment to "diversity" should have precluded "canceling Dr. Collier’s talk for her beliefs about abortion."
"Dr. Collier’s views, described by MSFC as fringe, are shared by roughly half of the population," Chavey wrote in a letter to the dean. "Current and entering medical students will encounter many patients and have numerous colleagues with whom they may disagree over this topic. They cannot all be canceled."
A separate group of medical students argued for keeping Collier as speaker, a move they said would "reinforce the Medical School’s commitment to DEI, rather than compromise its commitment to reproductive health."
"We see no indication that Dr. Collier’s personal views on abortion have compromised her care of patients or her teaching of trainees," the students wrote in a letter to Runge and the student council, a copy of which was shared with the Free Beacon. The students further cited studies showing that, while not a majority-held opinion, a significant minority of OBGYNs have denied patients abortifacients because of "personal, religious, or moral beliefs against abortion."
Around 50 percent of students who signed the petition promised to not attend if Collier was permitted to speak. It is unlikely they kept their word, given the size of the crowd. The signees hid their names from the public.