Chomsky is still coming (updates coming)

NOTE: This story is constantly developing. As updates happen, we will update our site.

by Joe Courter

The Civic Media Center has a special relationship with noted linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky. The CMC opened its doors on Oct. 18, 1993, coinciding with a speaking engagement by Chomsky, and indeed had him dedicate our space and host the first events there — back-to-back discussions with local independent media publishers and with the UF Linguistics department.

Ten years later, in 2003, Chomsky returned to speak in the O’Connell Center, where just over 6,000 people turned out for an event cosponsored by ACCENT, the student speakers bureau.

So, with the CMC turning 20 this year, Chomsky was approached to return again, and this spring he agreed to come on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

So how to go about this? Well, ACCENT was contacted in June once their new Chair was into office. In July, they said they were “very interested” and actually proposed a generous honorarium as well. The main point of contention was whether we could expect the crowd we had in 2003. ACCENT thought not, and expressed wanting to have it at the Performing Arts Center (seating 1,700 people). That was the main point of discussion. At one point in July, ACCENT chair Daniel Landesberg said he was “99%” positive toward the event happening. An ACCENT reservation on the O’Connell Center was in place; things seemed fine and moving forward.

But then things seemed to stop, communication became scant, and there seemed to be no impetus to finalize the event. In August, ACCENT asked to contact Chomsky’s office to do their contracts, and that was furnished, but then they did not get in touch with the office. In late August, an email from ACCENT said their “research” informed them that only a thousand students would be interested in coming to hear Chomsky. This seemed low, and a continued case for the larger venue was made to ACCENT. And as the Performing Arts Center was reserved for Oct. 16. for another event, could Chomsky change his date? As he books way ahead, this was not going to be easy, and seemed needless if we were to just think big and go for the O’Connell Center. Then on Aug. 28, in a phone conversation, ACCENT made the request that no advance publicity be made on the event until contracts were signed. Well, the CMC had the arrangement for his coming already set, and the only question was where and if ACCENT would take advantage of this opportunity offered them. That he was coming was not a question. Neither ACCENT nor any specific location were never on any flier or article. That we were talking to ACCENT, well, yes, we were.

So that day, as had already been planned, a table with a sign saying “Chomsky is Coming” was on the Plaza of Americas, and notes supporting Chomsky’s visit collected on a large sheet of paper to show ACCENT there was student support. A picture was emailed to ACCENT with a friendly note of encouragement to finalize the event on the O’Connell Center. That led to this email, received one week later:


I am very disappointed to see that you ignored my request after our conversation last week when I explicitly requested you not speak publicly on the show before everything was finalized. I have had a number of ACCENT staff members come to me about someone promoting a Noam Chomsky show on campus as well as administrators upset by the violation of university policy. Every attempt at this show has caused problems for ACCENT. It is clear that we do not operate in the same way, so I must insist we part ways on this project. ACCENT will not be bringing Noam Chomsky this year.

So there we are. Chomsky is still coming; it is now a question of where. Still, will ACCENT relent if there is an upwelling of support for the event? We can hope. It’s frustrating. Things seemed to be in place but just not finalized by ACCENT, and then this cone of silence request over … what? What policies, which administrators? “Every attempt at this show has caused problems for ACCENT.” How? Ya try to do a good thing….

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