Oct. 22: To the right and left, St. Kate’s says no

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER and PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 27, 2008 - 8:33 AM

The St. Paul college has called off speeches by Hillary Clinton and Bay Buchanan.

Bay Buchanan

Just as the supercharged political season is reaching a climax, the college of St. Catherine in St. Paul has decided to avoid all things political.

Administrators said Tuesday that they called off speeches by former presidential candidate and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, conservative political commentator Bay Buchanan and Minnesota's Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, arguing that their decision to do so is all about fairness.

Clinton and Buchanan had been invited to talk on campus this week, Franken earlier this month.

Colleen Hegranes, the college's senior vice president, said it's all about making sure a balance of views is presented to students so close to Election Day. She said all three would be welcome to speak on campus -- after Nov. 4.

"In a perfect world, at the outset, we could say we could have three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independents," Hegranes said. "We could say we are perfectly balanced. We would like to do that. But in this semester we didn't have that advance opportunity to do that."

It's not the first time a Twin Cities college has prevented a controversial figure from speaking on campus. The University of St. Thomas recently rejected a request by abortion opponent Star Parker to speak on campus. A year ago, St. Thomas canceled plans to have Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak because of statements he made about Israel. It later rescinded its decision and Parker spoke on campus; Tutu spoke elsewhere.

On Tuesday evening, many students reacted were indignant.

"It's almost insulting to say you're not going to bring these people in, to say we're not intelligent enough to have our own opinions or form our own opinions," said senior Kate Pottebaum. "I would think that I would be bettering myself because I'm always trying to understand the beliefs of people I don't agree with."

Junior Brittany Granger, who said she recently heard Michelle Obama speak at nearby Macalester College, agreed. "It's like you're keeping these issues away from the students," she said.

But Hegranes said the decision to remain nonpartisan, especially since the college's tax-exempt status bans it from taking political stances, trumped all other concerns.

She noted that administrators held off on publishing their own alumni magazine because the three alumnae being profiled, including U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., were all candidates for office.

Do such decisions leave students in the dark when the nation is aflame with political rhetoric and activity?

"Perhaps," Hegranes said. "But this is the road we had to take this year. We may do it differently in another year."

Buchanan: 'Unbelievable'

Buchanan, a frequent national speaker on behalf of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, lashed out at the decision to keep her off campus, calling it "unbelievable." She had been set to visit St. Kate's today at an appearance sponsored by College Republicans.

Clinton had been scheduled to visit the school Tuesday to campaign for presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Buchanan's event has been moved to a restaurant near the school, while Clinton appeared at the University of Minnesota instead.

Told that Clinton also was barred from St. Kate's, Buchanan said, "They are fools. That's unfair to the students. ... Hillary Clinton, for heaven's sake! ... It's very narrow-minded."

Buchanan was invited to speak by Prof. Terry Flower, adviser to the students' College Republicans group. "We were in no way trying to be partisan" by inviting Buchanan, Flower said. "I didn't expect her to come here and represent a particular candidate."

Flower said "part of the Catholic intellectual tradition is to open the minds of scholars to different ideas."

ndraper@startribune.com 612-673-4547 pwalsh@startribune.com 612-673-4482

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