Knox is butting heads with an organization regarding Knox’s alleged political leanings regarding speakers. The Intellectual Diversity Foundation (IDF) expressed a concern that Knox was not presenting equality amongst political parties regarding the college’s choice in speakers.
In the Oct. 2010 report to faculty, Knox President Roger Taylor presented a letter he received from Kory Atkinson, President of the Intellectual Diversity Foundation. This letter stated that Knox leans to the left politically. This letter also claimed that Knox hasn’t had a conservative commencement speaker in almost 30 years, that 60 percent of Knox sponsored speakers were liberal and that 70 percent of Knox faculty describe themselves as liberal.
The 2009 commencement speaker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald, was appointed by George W. Bush on recommendation of Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald. In a letter responding to Atkinson, Taylor mentioned other Republican commencement speakers such as Dr. Robert Spetzler, John Block and Robert Connor. Taylor also critiqued IDF’s research, stating that the statistics regarding speakers were based on 15 speakers when Knox has approximately 135 speakers annually.
Atkinson stated that he was “not so naïve” to believe that Taylor would be interested in joining IFD but states that the letter’s purpose was to inform Knox as to the goings-on of the IDF. He solicited Taylor’s involvement but didn’t anticipate a positive response.
Taylor, far from hoping to join, sent a letter referring to the IDF as “sloppy in its assertions” and unlawful in its practices. He referred to an issue Knox had with IDF in 2007, in which the IDF used Knox’s name as part of the name of the foundation without seeking or receiving the college’s approval.
In regard to this legal issue, Atkinson stated that the organization had informed Knox as to its intentions and believed the school “to be on the same page as the college.” He said it was not until the college sent a cease and desist letter and threatened legal action that he became aware of Knox’s opposition to the issue. “It shocked the daylights out of us,” Atkinson said of the letter he received from Anne Taylor threatening to sue IDF. He refers to this as “poor alumni relations,” as Atkinson graduated from Knox in 2000 and was offended to receive a threatening letter rather than a phone call informing him about the college’s concerns.
Taylor insisted that “Knox is an educational, not a political institution,” and that the political beliefs of speakers are irrelevant. He said “it is not the place of an academic institution to indoctrinate for a political party.” According to Taylor, when a lecturer is being brought to the college, it is to speak about a wide variety of topics from nuclear science to literature, and that political affiliations are utterly irrelevant.
Atkinson stated that though Knox “is no more liberal than other comparable colleges or universities,” this doesn’t excuse this issue. Atkinson insisted that in many cases political affiliations affect the speakers’ presentation of specific issues. Even as a Knox student, Atkinson found issues in Knox’s political leanings, and wrote a letter to the editor of The Knox Student stating his belief that political ideology was being unfairly represented in favor of the left-wing. His goals for the IDF include raising money in order to bring more conservative speakers to Knox. This organization has worked with and helped to fund speakers for the Knox Republicans.
Atkinson said that the main goal is simply to promote diversity and give political branches “equal time.” He believes that this issue should be important to the Knox student body and that a college should “allow students exposure to a whole variety of ideas.”
Taylor finds this issue to be irrelevant to the goals of the school. Being an academic institution with no political affiliation, Taylor said that there is little relevance regarding speakers. He admits that he is unaware of the political affiliations of many speakers simply because he finds that to be irrelevant to their subject matters and the reason that they have been brought to the college. Taylor also stated, “most students arrive with political affiliations in place and graduate with those same affiliations.” He believes that since the college is not altering viewpoints, affiliations of staff, faculty and speakers are irrelevant.