I’ve heard of high schools and colleges cancelling graduation speakers because they were too controversial, too liberal or too religious, but this is the first time I’ve heard of one being cancelled for being too conservative. Ronan High School in Ronan, Montana, had arranged for famed and award winning film producer Gerald Molen, a Montana native to speak at their graduation ceremony.
Molen is best known for his Oscar winning film, Schindler’s List. He also produced Twister, Rain Man, Days of Thunder, Hook, Minority Report, Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Before becoming a film producer, Molen served in the US Marine Corp. He says that he is now retired since his 2011 TV movie Beyond the Blackboard and Truth & Treason.
According to Molen, he spent nearly three weeks preparing his address to the students. He had planned to use Oskar Schindler as the subject of his speech, pointing out Schidler’s courage. Next he was going to ask them to use their imagination and think of their future lives as a movie and then ask them what they wanted the scripts of their movies to be. He not planned to talk about anything political whatsoever.
However, after driving an hour and half to reach the school, Molen was informed by Tom Stack, the principal at Ronan High School that he would not be allowed to address the students. Molen said that Stack told him that because he was a right-winged conservative and that he had received some phone calls from parents concerned about what Molen might say to their kids.
Molen wrote an article about what happened for a local Montana newspaper. After reading it, a number of parents complained to the school and to the school district officials. Andy Holmlund, superintendent of the school district agree that the outrage expressed by so many parents of Stack cancelling Molen’s speech. He explained that Stack’s decision was his own and not that of the district and that Stack will be leaving his position as principal in the next few months.
I question whether or not Stack actually received phone calls in advance complaining about Molen’s scheduled appearance or if it was due to his own political views. If he really had received complaints, the proper thing to do would have contact Molen and ask him what he was going to say. Then based on Molen’s response, he could have suggested something less political if that was necessary, which in this case it wasn’t it.
If I were the superintendent, I would insist that Stack reimburse Molen out of his own pocket for Molen’s travel and time spent. Then I would insist on a formal public apology. Lastly, I would make Stack’s departure early than Stack had planned for violating Molen’s freedom of speech before he had a chance to say anything.