I was just about to curl up on the couch for a little nap before spending the evening doing some reading for class tomorrow. And then I came across this story, which unquestionably thrusts now-former Ronan, Montana High School principal Tom Stack into the running for a Curmie award. I thought about letting it slide, given that idiot school administrators are pretty thick on the ground across the rest of the country, so the fact that one popped up in Montana isn’t exactly news.
Stories about graduation speeches generally bore me nearly as much as the speeches themselves do. Why I’m writing is simple. Although this story is news to me, it’s been lighting up the right-wing blogosphere, and virtually only the right-wing blogosphere, for several days. And whereas I can’t stop those folks from claiming that no one on the left cares about censorship when it happens to someone on the right, I can at least provide evidence that such a claim isn’t true. So I do need to write this and get it up on the blogsite.
Here’s what happened: Oscar-winning Hollywood producer Gerald Molen was invited to address the seniors at Ronan High. When he arrived at the venue, he was disinvited by Principal Stack. As the graduation ceremony apparently wasn’t until June 4 and Molen was already describing the incident in the past tense on May 26, we can assume that this wasn’t a graduation speech per se, but perhaps a Senior Day activity of some sort. This particular detail doesn’t matter.
Here’s what does: Molen, whose Hollywood credits include the likes of Schindler’s List, the first two Jurassic Park movies, and Twister, had, in his own words, invested “three weeks of preparation, research and re-write after re-write.” He planned a presentation which
…dealt with my hopes for their futures. It was a cheerleading presentation that allowed me to remind them of their individual greatness and opportunities for the future. My intent was to inspire and motivate those looking for an encouraging word and message of hope beyond the walls of the institution they were leaving to the next chapter in their young lives. It spoke to the contributions and greatness of their teachers, administrators, parents and peers but with an emphasis on their ability to conceive, to believe and to achieve. But I guess I was wrong about teachers and/or school administrators.Sounds pretty ominous, right? Well, you see, Mr. Molen is a “a right-wing conservative” (this description courtesy of the Department of Redundancy Department), and “some callers” had expressed concerns.
Since my career had centered around the motion picture industry, I had set out to challenge them with the thought that they might each write their own movie script. A script that would have them as the writer, director, producer and star. A script filled with step-by-step goals of proper preparation and scenes depicting them as lawyers, doctors, captains of industry and/or having careers as they saw themselves in 20 or 30 or 40 years in the future.
This is in Montana, remember, hardly to be confused with San Francisco. And Mr. Stack is, as Eugene Volokh notes, safe on 1st amendment grounds. But he is certainly as stupid as he is rude. Seriously, if you can’t muster the intestinal fortitude to say no to a couple of “callers” based on the principles of intellectual curiosity you’re supposed to be upholding, if you can’t at least tell Mr. Molen of your decision before he arrives at the end of his 90-minute drive out of common courtesy, if you can’t even look at the text of his speech before making your final decision out of due process, then at least behave professionally because the guy you’re about to insult has the Hollywood Reporter on speed-dial, and your sorry-ass provincialism is going to be national news.
Had Mr. Molen simply not be asked to begin with, of course, there would be no problem. And it is, of course, Mr. Stack’s prerogative to invite or disinvite whomever he chooses. That makes his decisions legal and constitutional. That’s a long way from smart. Finding an excuse for his behavior is impossible; finding an explanation is hard enough. Perhaps in asking Mr. Molen to speak to the students, Stack didn’t know in advance that his guest was (gasp!) a conservative. In other words, he didn’t do his homework. Perhaps he thinks that in Montana, of all places, no one wants to hear a conservative (because he, Stack, doesn’t?). Perhaps one of those complaining callers has compromising photographs of Stack with barnyard animals. Or perhaps, as Jack Marshall has suggested, he “made a cost-benefit analysis: mistreating one Hollywood producer whom he probably would never have anything to do with again, versus angering a group of bigoted, narrow-minded parents who could make his life miserable.”
I see no evidence that Molen said or did anything outrageous between the time he was invited and when he was disinvited, as, for example, when Tom Paulin’s fawning commentary on Slobodan Milošević got him disinvited from a speech at Harvard a few years ago. No, this was just a case of a high school principal who lacked the integrity, the intelligence, the moral courage, and the quotidian politeness to do the right thing.
Gentle Reader, if you’ve followed this blog at all closely for any period of time, you’ve seen me wish fondly that someone on “my side” politically or philosophically wasn’t such an ass. Assuming Mr. Molen’s account to be even generally accurate, I really don’t want the likes of Tom Stack representing me.
Mr. Molen, I doubt that you’ll read these words, but if you do, allow me to apologize on behalf of progressives and educators alike. We aren’t all like that. I promise.