Burlington Free Press article on Ben Stein’s withdrawal

From “Stein out as UVM commencement speaker,” a story in today’s paper (emphasis mine):

The choice of media personality Ben Stein as commencement speaker at the University of Vermont generated such a furor that Stein backed out, UVM President Dan Fogel confirmed Monday.
Stein accepted Fogel’s invitation and was to be paid an honorarium of $7,500, which UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera termed “significantly discounted.”
In other venues, Stein has expressed opinions critical of evolutionary theory and in favor of intelligent design, for which he has been sharply criticized in academic circles. He has also offered views on the role of science in the Holocaust that some have found offensive. Fogel said he had been only “vaguely aware” of these controversial views.
After UVM announced Stein’s selection Thursday, Fogel said in a written statement, “profound concerns have been expressed to me by persons both internal and external to the university about his selection.” Fogel said he received hundreds of e-mails beginning Saturday — including only about a half-dozen from people at UVM — contending, generally, that Stein’s views of science were “affronts to the basic tenets of the academy.”
“Once I apprised Mr. Stein of these communications, he immediately and most graciously declined his commencement invitation,” Fogel’s statement said.
“I did not ask him not to come,” Fogel said in an interview Monday, adding, “I was not going to let him be blindsided by controversy.
“I hugely regret I didn’t anticipate the intensity of the concerns,” Fogel said. He stressed that the issue is not one of academic freedom, or of Stein’s right to offer his controversial opinions on campus, but rather whether someone who holds views antithetical to scientific inquiry should be honored as commencement speaker.
Among those outside UVM who took issue with the choice of Stein was Richard Dawkins, an eminent British evolutionary biologist, who had an e-mail exchange with Fogel.

One: The number of people outside UVM claiming to have sent e-mails to Fogel from Scienceblogs.com and RichardDawkins.net alone is, I would guess, at least twenty or thirty. I’d be surprised, though, if Fogel really only got a half-dozen from within the school community based on banter in the same places that included a number of students and faculty members.
Two: It says something ugly about society and the collective human psychology that forms its underpinnings that a lying ass and a proven incompetent like Stein commands as much money as he does for speaking. Then again, if he can do that, maybe anyone with marginal smarts and talent can succeed with a little luck, even without stooping to Stein’s level of contentious dishonesty.
Three: So Fogel is kinda swingin’ from Sir Richard’s nutz now. Good; the rest of us are too, and have been for a while. It’s quite possible that the deluge of e-protests only started looking really ugly to Fogel in the light of Dawkins’ missive, meaning that Dawkins effectively made all the difference. In the end, though, all that matters is that people made extremely good use of the World Wide Web in this situation: Gathering in known pro-science forums composing strident and uncompromising–but respectful–e-mails, and recruiting those with known pull to the cause. Kind of makes me wonder if blogging might actually be good for something besides ranting.

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  1. #1 by Crudely Wrott on February 4, 2009 - 12:48 am

    This has been a most delightful episode!
    That Stein “immediately and most graciously declined his commencement invitation” is an interesting thing.
    That he declined ‘immediately’ is believable, given the massive protestations from the scientific, humanistic and atheistic community. (And the contrarian community?) That he declined ‘graciously’ is slightly more problematic. Could it be that the ‘significantly discounted honorarium’ was a factor? After all, Stein is an expert on economics.
    In any case, major kudos to those who eloquently expressed their dismay and dissatisfaction of UoV’s choice and to the university for paying attention.
    What will we do next with this new found power?

  2. #2 by MartinM on February 4, 2009 - 9:45 am

    Stein accepted Fogel’s invitation and was to be paid an honorarium of $7,500, which UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera termed “significantly discounted.”

    And in this article, Stein says:

    “Mr. Fogel endlessly, endlessly asked me to do it” for a discount — roughly 80 percent cut in his usual fee.

    Bastard makes more from one speech than I do in a year. This whole anti-science lark is beginning to look strangely attractive.

  3. #3 by Hypatia on February 4, 2009 - 11:03 am

    Ben Stein is clearly a coward who doesn’t have the courage to stand there and argue his bs point of view even when he’s got the bully pulpit.
    Even Ann Coulter has bigger balls than that.

  4. #4 by J-Dog on February 4, 2009 - 11:27 am

    Dear UVM –
    I understand that you currently have an opening for a commencement speaker. Based upon the background, behavior and bona fides of your previously scheduled speaker, I am sure that we can come to a mutually agreeable understanding.
    Please note that I would be willing to visit your campus and lie about Evolution, ID and The Holocaust to all your students and faculty for a low, low fee of only $5,000!
    If you like, I can also be ready to wear a facsimile of Teh Famous Dembski Sweater!
    This is a tremendous bargain for you, and if you act now – I can throw in absolutely free – extra lies about Global Warming and Acupuncture!
    So act now, and Sign Me Up!

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