Grand Canyon University reverses course, invites Ben Shapiro to speak

February 6, 2019

The biggest Christian university in America reversed its decision to deny a platform to conservative provocateur Ben Shapiro.

Citing campus “unity,” Grand Canyon University (GCU) at first decided last week that keeping Shapiro away from campus would help keep the peace. But the school extended an invitation to Shapiro on Tuesday after facing backlash.

Christian school changes course

The university notified students Thursday of its decision to bar Shapiro from speaking, prompting backlash from the college’s chapter of the conservative youth group Young America’s Foundation (YAF), who had invited Shapiro, as well as journalists like Megyn Kelly. As criticism of the school’s decision mounted, the college’s administrators attempted to hash out an agreement with YAF earlier this week before withdrawing from the negotiations over allegedly “misleading and false information that has been made public” by YAF and personally inviting Shapiro to speak.

“We’re not going to work with this group any longer, but we will extend an invitation to Ben Shapiro directly,” GCU President Brian Mueller told The Arizona Republic. The school gave Shapiro an offer to talk there in the spring.

According to Shapiro’s website, The Daily Wirethe school’s administrators initially agreed to issue a joint statement with YAF announcing a date for Shapiro to speak before working around the student group. According to YAF, the school returned a draft of their statement that was edited to make it sound like the group accepted blame for not first seeking approval from the school.

Shapiro never formally accepted an invitation and, according to the school, YAF did not follow proper protocol by publicizing the speaking event before it was approved. The school’s administrators had taken up a recommendation from a committee of students and staff to not allow Shapiro to speak.

Conservative uni caves to the left

YAF condemned the school’s administrators last week for following the example of liberal universities that routinely silence conservative speakers.

“By caving to an unseen mob and ignoring the popularity of Shapiro among its student body, Grand Canyon University just played itself and deserves whatever negative response this brings,” YAF spokesman Spencer Brown said in a statement last week.

The Christian university said that it sought to follow Christ’s example by seeking peace and unity and that it wanted to avoid offending anyone, but acknowledged that its decision “obviously disappointed and offended” many conservative students and members of the school’s Phoenix community.

“We know that if we had made a different decision, we would have disappointed and offended others within the same community,” a statement from the school read. “It was not our intent to disappoint or offend anyone. It was, rather, to use our position as a Christian university to bring unity to a community that sits amidst a country that is extremely divided and can’t seem to find a path forward toward unity.”

Free speech under attack

While the school said it sought to avoid giving offense in the name of “unity,” the school ended up offending conservatives in an attempt to avoid rocking the boat and provoking the left.

Indeed, the incident was notable in that it involved a conservative college banning a conservative figure. However, Shapiro has been denied a platform at other religious schools, like Christian college Gonzaga University, which banned him in November for similar reasons of wanting to foster a peaceful environment free from “hostile” ideas. Gonzaga finally agreed to let Shapiro speak this week.

“At Berkeley, this is what we expect,” Brown said. “At a state school, it’s a shame we expect it, but we expect it. At a conservative school that’s hosted other conservative speakers…it’s just very surprising.”

Shapiro is known for his polemical rhetoric mocking the fragile sensibilities of left-wing university students who say they feel personally attacked by politically incorrect commentary, rhetoric that is aptly summarized in the mantra, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” Like Ann Coulter and other conservatives, Shapiro has faced pushback from leftists on college campuses across the country for his statements, particularly on gay and transgender individuals.

His speaking appearances have occasionally drawn media attention for sparking violent reactions and calls from censorship from students, including a protest at the University of California, Berkeley in 2017 that led to numerous arrests. Meanwhile, a number of conservatives, including Shapiro and Fox’s Tucker Carlson, have expressed alarm at the growing intolerance of the left toward free speech on and off university campuses.


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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.