Organizers of a Cal Poly panel discussion on fake news are being asked why it includes a commentator who believes white people are genetically more intelligent than blacks.
On Feb. 13, the university will host an event called “Fake News Panel: What is it and who decides?” sponsored by Associated Students Inc., the Dean of Students Office, the League of Women Voters, the university’s College of Liberal Arts and journalism department, the College Democrats of Cal Poly and the Cal Poly College Republicans, Cal Poly Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey announced in a Feb. 2 Facebook post.
Several of the sponsoring groups each will contribute a speaker for the panel “with the aim of representing a broad cross-section of opinions and outlooks on the topic,” Humphrey wrote.
Alicia Shepard, a journalist, former ombudsman for NPR and biographer for Watergate-era journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Sue Mitchell will speak on behalf of the journalism department; Chip Visci, a former Tribune publisher and senior strategist for Barnett Cox & Associates, will speak on behalf of ASI; Cory Black, a Democratic consultant and former vice-chair of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party, is the featured guest of the college Democrats; and Bill Whittle, a Los Angeles-based conservative commentator, was asked to speak by the college Republicans.
In an email statement, Republican club president Katherine Rueckert said her group chose Whittle “because of his ability to engage in civilized, thought-provoking discussions.”
A number of posters disagreed with that description of Whittle in their replies on Humphrey’s Facebook post.
“You are literally sponsoring a speaker that believes/has said ‘black people lack access to cognition,’” student Mick Bruckner wrote.
Bruckner was referencing comments Whittle has made, including in an interview with alt-right figure Stefan Molyneux, that advanced the theory that intellectual capacity is predetermined by race.
In the interview, Whittle said that while Molyneux, who is white, could with time and training learn to become as proficient in wilderness survival as the Australian aboriginal people, the aboriginal people could never learn to do what Molyneux, a podcaster and YouTube host, does for a living.
“That’s the thing about intelligence. You can adapt down, but you can’t adapt beyond your ability,” Whittle said.
Whittle also promotes the work of Linda Gottfredson, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a white nationalist and who argues that white people are genetically predisposed to higher IQs and that “black college graduates perform more like white high school graduates.”
Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier wrote in an email that Cal Poly “has worked to provide logistical help (for the panel) but left the choice of panelists to the other sponsors.”
“As a public campus, Cal Poly does not and will not censor free speech. Inevitably, there will be times when views expressed on campus are disagreeable, perhaps even offensive, to members of our campus community. Ours must be a campus culture that allows for differing thoughts and ideas to be expressed, considered and even opposed in a healthy and constructive manner,” Lazier wrote.
Humphrey, replying to Facebook comments, wrote that Cal Poly “is obligated to uphold free speech on campus” in order to allow students to “hone the ability to consider a spectrum of information and reach informed and intelligent conclusions.”
Replying to Humphrey’s comment, student Gina Welisch was not convinced.
“My question is, how is a dialogue supposed to be civil when it questions the very livelihood of an entire group of people? Black folks’ existence, intelligence and being is not something that should be up for ‘debate in the community,’” Welisch wrote.
Whittle is the latest in a line of controversial conservative speakers sought by the Cal Poly College Republicans to speak on campus, including former Breitbart technology editor and alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos and “traditional woman” conservative activist Lauren Southern.
Rueckert did not respond to a Tribune request for comment by deadline.
Black, the college Democrats’ choice for panelist, is not without his own controversies. In 2016, he agreed to pay $600 to the City of San Luis Obispo general fund after the city attorney determined he committed a technical campaign finance violation. In 2011, he was accused of plagiarizing another consultant’s website; Black responded by calling the plagiarized text an honest mistake and taking it down.
The panel is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the Chumash Auditorium in Cal Poly’s University Union. Attendance is free, but tickets must be reserved online at Eventbrite.com. You will need a physical copy of your ticket to get in.
At deadline, 780 seats remained open.