The movie "American Sniper" will be screened at the University of Maryland after all -- and the university is turning the controversy over the movie's initial postponement into a "teachable moment."
Last week, a planned screening of the movie was canceled after a Muslim student group expressed concerns that the film is anti-Muslim -- and that the format of the event did not allow for enough discussion of the issues that the movie raises.
That cancellation drew controversy. "We were deluged by phone calls and messages from across the country, almost unanimously outraged by the cancellation or postponement," said Maryland President Wallace D. Loh in a letter to students. "Members of our faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as members of our state's legislature, voiced their dismay with UMD's abridgment of this constitutional right.
"Perhaps most disheartening, MSA's Facebook page was filled with some of the most venomous, racist, and hateful messages imaginable," Loh wrote in the letter, which was posted on the university's website Tuesday.
Now, two student groups -- College Republicans and College Democrats -- are working together to screen the film Monday at 6 p.m. in Hoff Theater. They will also convene a panel discussion of the film afterward.
Loh said the reason for the initial cancellation was that Student Entertainment Events Productions -- a student group that plans events -- wanted time to "properly plan a post-film panel discussion." But they did not have time to do that with a big concert in the works. He expressed his support of that decision to wait.
And, Loh asked, what lessons the university could take from the last few days.
It is "a fundamental commitment of any university is to the principle that ideas and opinions that any of us might oppose or find unwelcome or even offensive should be openly and vigorously discussed, not suppressed," Loh wrote. "It is also the responsibility of a university to nurture -- via education and outreach -- an ethos of civility, inclusion, and mutual respect."
Loh expressed his pride in all the student groups involved. He said the Muslim Student Association was right to stand up for their beliefs. "They deserve our admiration, not the scorn and vitriol they got on Facebook," Loh said.
"These are not simple issues we face," Loh's letter to students concludes. "A look around the country -- including just a few miles away in Baltimore—tells us that issues of race, human dignity, and human life itself remain unresolved."