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Christian College Invites Frances Fox Piven to Speak to Students & Faculty


"The College has no official position on the  interpretation of Dr. Piven’s work..."

Earlier today, Blaze reporter Jon Seidl brought you Frances Fox Piven's awkward Days of Rage Wall Street speech, during which she called bankers "thieves," "cannibals," and the "big problem." Piven, who has been the focus of conservative angst over her far-left positioning on a variety of issues, is scheduled to appear at Messiah College on October 11, 2011.

The college, which is a Christian higher education facility, is located in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Currently Piven's appearance is promoted on the college's web site, which describes the leftwing academic as follows:

"Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York."

What this description leaves out, of course, is her radical nature and the continued push she has made for a nation-wide embrace of extreme leftist values.

One concerned Blaze reader reached out to the college, expressing her displeasure and requesting to know why Piven was invited to address students and faculty. The reader received the following response, which she shared with the Blaze, from Peter Kerry Powers, Dean of the School of Humanities at Messiah College:

Thank you for your e-mail dated 29 September 2011 expressing your concern about the upcoming American Democracy Lecture featuring Frances Fox Piven.  I want to assure you that in inviting speakers to campus, the College does not endorse the ideas or opinions expressed but views them as an educational opportunity. The College takes care to provide a context in which students, faculty, and the general public will be able to reflect critically on ideas and opinions that are put forward.  We do this so our students and others may be better positioned to serve Christ and the world in which they live, spurring them on to maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith as is required by our stated mission.

There can, of course, be legitimate disagreements about how the college ought to pursue that mission, so we appreciate your point of view.  I would encourage you and other interested members of the general public to attend the lecture on Tuesday, October 11th, as well as the talkback session with a faculty panel on Wednesday afternoon so that your views on her lecture can be part of our discussion.

An e-mail is all too limited a venue to pursue conversations about the challenging but rewarding task of educating students in an institution of Christian higher education.  I have attached a letter to provide a fuller picture of my view of Frances Fox Piven’s lecture for your review. I have also attached an FAQ file that provides further background.  In addition, if you would care to speak with me personally regarding the event, I will be very happy to speak with you at a time of mutual convenience.

This response provides a rationale for why this event is happening, while opening the door to discussion surrounding how these events are organized. It's not uncommon for colleges -- even Christian educational facilities -- to invite atheists or those with more extreme political views to campus. Often times, it is this explanation -- the push for open dialogue -- that is given.

And in the end, if we are going to live in a society where differing ideals exist, there is certainly an argument for exposing students to them, while offering appropriate counter information (as it seems this may be the case in this particular event -- at least based on the dean's e-mail). So in that respect, many would agree with Powers.

The Blaze reached out to the dean to ensure the accuracy of the e-mail and he, indeed, said that the words were his. He also referred us to the same documents he mentions in his note.

One of these documents is a two-page letter that he composed explaining the college's stance on Piven. The second document is a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that also helps explain the appearance. Clearly, the college knew beforehand that there was going to be controversy surrounding Piven's address.

The former document reads:

The lecture has generated some conversation and expressions of concern as those who hear about the lecture wonder why this particular speaker was chosen and how such a lecture might fit the mission of Messiah College.  In the spirit of welcoming informed debate, the School and the Center appreciate such expressions of concern and the opportunity to address them.

In the FAQ document, though, a curious question reads, "Why would Messiah College invite Dr. Piven given her reputation in the national media?" The answer can be found, below:

It is very clearly the case that Dr. Piven has been the subject of a great deal of controversy over the past year to year and a half, a significant portion of that controversy deriving from the opinions of news commentator Glenn Beck and others in the blogosphere. The College has no official position on the  interpretation of Dr. Piven’s work by either her supporters or her detractors. The College does, however, attempt to bring a measure of critical reflection to the substantive ideas of many different speakers, critical reflection not always evident in media reporting on political and cultural issues.

Those involved in the vetting process did believe that the media controversy obscured Dr. Piven’s 40-year career and extensive scholarly credentials, both of which suggest that her talk can be the opportunity for serious conversation and political engagement for our students and by the general public.

It is here that the college's response may spawn even more questions from critics. In the end, it's not difficult to come to a conclusion about Piven's work. After all, wouldn't doing so be prudent for a Christian college seeking truth in all information it puts in front of its students?

Piven's most recent actions -- attending the Days of Rage and making such outrageous claims -- only cause one to further wonder how her ideas could be misrepresented (as some allege). Does this appearance, too, "obscure Dr. Piven's 40-year career" or is it merely reflective of the work she has undertaken?

Her support for the Days of Rage protestors who have yet to figure out exactly what they are protesting against, is only the latest in a slew of bizarre and far-left stances. Really, her roots in radicalism date back to 1966 when she and her late husband authored a controversial essay. The Guardian has more:

...a sort of blueprint for bringing down the American economy.

Called The Weight of the Poor, it advocated signing up so many poor people for welfare payments that the cost would force the government to bring in a policy of a guaranteed income. For Piven, a committed voice of the left, known in academic circles but little recognised outside them, it was just one publication in a lifetime dedicated to political activism and theorising.

One could argue that this was decades ago and should no longer count against her, but one also needs to remember an editorial Piven wrote for The Nation back in January. Below, see our coverage after the article was published:

In a chilling and almost unbelievable editorial again in The Nation (”Mobilizing the Jobless,” January 10/17, 2011 edition), she calls on the jobless to rise up in a violent show of solidarity and force. As before, those calls are dripping with language of class struggle. Language she and her late husband Richard Cloward made popular in the 60s.

“So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs?” she writes. “After all, the injustice is apparent. Working people are losing their homes and their pensions while robber-baron CEOs report renewed profits and windfall bonuses. Shouldn’t the unemployed be on the march? Why aren’t they demanding enhanced safety net protections and big initiatives to generate jobs?” [Emphasis added]

Piven has worked with Cornel West and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and she is an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (yes, really).

All of this considered, it's surprising that a Christian college "has no official position on the interpretation of Dr. Piven’s work." While remaining open and allowing students a forum for learning is certainly understandable, the college could easily do this while still having an opinion on the entirety of the professor's work.

Of course, Messiah College has every right to refrain from doing so. I suppose many questions, though, will follow their decision to refrain from comment on this matter.

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