John Perkins, far-left author of the book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, came to Regis University this week to discuss topics ranging from what he calls a “corporatocracy” and greedy executives to remarkable accomplishments of the likes of Rosa Parks and Barack Obama and the importance of following your passions. Beyond the rhetorical flare of some of the core values that each and every one of us share, the topics John (as he insisted he be called) discussed, his approach to those subjects and his rhetoric raise questions given Regis’s status as an academic institution. Take a look at some of the things he said at this meeting, which was attended by roughly 450 people—so many that they overflowed into another room to watch a live stream:
“Many executives are like thieves, rapists and villains.” “Corporations are here to serve us, not a few executives who make sickening amounts of money.” “Milton Friedman was wrong” about giving executives “free rein and they’ll do the right thing.” “I don’t think the Founding Fathers envisioned strict borders.” And, of course, there is his argument that corporations have to pledge to be sustainable, just and serve common interests (whatever those are) in order to renew their charter.
Never mind the broad brush of the word “many” in that first sentence, or the fact that corporations are here to serve their shareholders, not us and not executives. Nor that Milton Friedman in fact argued that individuals should be granted free reign in a competitive marketplace to make the best of their lives—not just executives, but everyone.
We can also ignore the inaccuracies of his argument that the Founding Fathers did not intend to have strict borders. And that John made the statement that executives are making “sickening amounts of money” without defining what he means or answering a question to that effect.
Moreover, we can ignore the fact that the United States is operated under the rule of law—something called the “Constitution”—and nowhere is the government granted to right to alter the terms of an agreement—a company’s charter—simply because they want to impose a new set of values.
The issue at hand is not whether John Perkins was right or wrong in his analysis, or if his points were reasonable. The issue at hand is whether or not the approach of and the circumstances surrounding the speaker are appropriate.
Regis University is an academic institution. Students have a reasonable right to expect that a widely-publicized event would involve the dissemination of more than just feelings and emotions, but also facts upon which to base one’s opinions.
Many students were either required to watch or given extra credit to listen to a speaker arguing from a viewpoint that is, by any reasonable perspective, rather far to the left. In the case of the former, they had no choice; in the case of the latter, they had a choice, but it was a confined choice.
In the speech, Perkins presented a lot of arguments that could hold merit—if they were backed by facts and not pure conjecture. Take his statement that there is “no question” that less money spent on military and police spending results in less violence. “We know that,” he affirmed. But how do we know that? He gave no factual support for his claim.
One student told me it was a “rah rah” for Obama supporters and liberals—and she was right. The only time an alternative viewpoint was presented was when I stood and asked two questions, one of which was entirely passed over. Other than that, it was corporation-bashing, executive-bashing and so forth, on the whole.
That’s not to say that there was no value in what he said or good points that everyone can rally behind. For instance, Perkins is right: If you have an issue you’re passionate about, you have an obligation to stand up and do something about it; you cannot just sit idly by and expect others to bring about change. If closing down sweatshops is your issue, for instance, you better believe you should start sending letters to companies letting them know that you are boycotting their products until they change their ways. Alternatively, if supporting free market reforms to fix our healthcare crisis is your passion, go for that, too.
It is especially important, as he said, for young people to step out to the forefront and help shape their future, for the world we create now is the world we will inherit tomorrow. And indeed, as Rosa Parks proves, one person can rise from menial jobs in a restaurant to becoming a famous civil rights leader making a huge difference. President Obama also shows how, with hard work and determination, anyone can go from being entirely unrecognized to becoming President of the United States. These are indeed prime examples for the community.
But when students are required or incentivized to go and we are at an academic institution, don’t we have the right to expect that there will at the very least be facts to back up the assertions and help form judgments instead of having to read his book in order to get it? That other viewpoints will be encouraged and brought into the conversation, their questions answered? That, yes, the speaker may bring in strong viewpoints, but the dialogue qualities universities like Regis espouse are actually put into practice?
This is my disappointment and frustration. Regis University is an educational establishment. Education is about the acclamation of different facts and ideas in order to form independent judgments. But if no facts are given to support arguments and no variety of viewpoints exists, that mission is not accomplished.
Jimmy Sengenberger is a political science student at Regis University in Denver, a 2008 honors graduate of nearby Grandview High School, a national organizer for the Liberty Day movement, online radio host, and a columnist for the Villager suburban weekly. He is also College Liaison for BackboneAmerica.net, working through the Backbone Americans group on Facebook.