A controversial professor and columnist whose selection as the Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecturer drew objections from the University of Montana School of Journalism dean will speak on campus at the Dennison Theatre.
Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, will give the 10th anniversary lecture that honors the late Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Cole at an event scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13. His talk is called "The Death of Liberal Bias in Higher Education."
Adams is an incendiary writer for Townhall.com who regularly jabs leftists and hypocritical stances, and his views earlier sparked a petition for his termination at UNC. He has targeted LGBT people, Muslims and feminists, and he has described transgender people as mentally ill.
He also won a First Amendment case in the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a free speech lawsuit against UNC after being improperly denied a promotion.
The last nine years, the UM School of Journalism has sponsored the lecture. This year, for the first time in the tradition of the annual event, an objection was raised to the lecturer Maria Cole selected.
School of Journalism Dean Larry Abramson argued against the school's sponsorship of Adams, saying the columnist didn't have the stellar media credentials other school-sponsored speakers have held.
After her husband's death, Maria Cole established the Jeff Cole Legacy Fund to support journalism and education, and she has given some $1.2 million to the Journalism School in the last 15 years. In response to Abramson's rejection of Adams, Cole opted to plan the event on her own, and she had considered holding it off campus.
Monday, Cole said she was initially concerned about Adams' safety on campus, but she since learned he didn't share those concerns. She decided to bring a controversial speaker to Missoula because she believes the country needs to engage in civil discourse. Besides, she said, she wanted the 10th anniversary lecture to be different.
Cole had heard Adams tell KGVO he didn't want to be "moved to the back of the bus," but she wanted to be sure he felt safe if she were to book a venue on campus. She emailed him to ask if he would feel threatened.
"And he literally wrote back and said, 'I've been in the lion's den many times. This is not an issue,' " Cole said.
He told Cole he would be fine either way, and she said she would mull a decision. In the meantime, she said, a UM official reached out to her and told her Adams was not banned from campus and would have "a warm reception."
"Because that opened it up for me, I thought to myself, it stands to reason that we might have a very substantial crowd, so it might be worthwhile to take a look at what might be on campus," Cole said.
She booked the Dennison Theatre with room for 1,100, and Cole is planning an event she hopes will be particularly memorable in its 10th year: "This is first and foremost, an event that honors Jeff Cole, my husband. I'm hoping that everyone will be respectful."
She'll have posters on easels with information about Jeff Cole, a framed copy of the First Amendment, and placards about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The Coles have strong faith, she said, and Jeff Cole was a cyclist whose 10-mile morning rides — strenuous, without a bicycle seat — helped crystallize his stories.
Cole remembers how he'd come through the door sweaty and sloshing coffee in a Styrofoam cup and immediately sit down to write despite her observation: "Honey, a shower might be a good thing."
At the lecture, she's also honoring a couple of law enforcement officers, firefighters and veterans because in this commemorative year, the Cole Distinguished Lecture is about protecting freedoms, she said.
Abramson also said he didn't want to bring a speaker who might offend students, an argument that drew criticism given journalism's foundation in the First Amendment and its speech protections.
Monday, Abramson declined to comment on whether he planned to participate in the event.
"I don't have my calendar out that far yet," Abramson said.
The event is free, but Cole is tracking registrants in order to plan for the reception. Register here: eventbrite.com/e/jeff-cole-distinguished-lecture-10th-anniversary-tickets-40036012792?aff=es2.