Former President of Mexico and UKIP Brexit architect to debate at the college: President Byerly urges community to “confront the opinions presented”


Nigel Farage (left) and Vicente Fox (right) share two differing perspectives on the way nations should interact with one another. Photos Courtesy of Gage Skidmore and Flickr

While the college keeps a list of alumni who ask questions about free speech on campus, Lafayette is aiming to achieve more viewpoint diversity in the thoughts presented on campus. Its latest effort is securing a debate between former President of Mexico Vicente Fox and former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage on April 6.

The debate is co-sponsored by the Steamboat Institute and the college’s viewpoint-diversity initiative, the Lafayette Symposium, which is funded by President Alison Byerly’s office through the annual budget.

Lafayette’s Colton Chapel will be the last stop on Farage’s and Fox’s “Nationalism vs. Globalism” debate’s Campus Liberty tour, lasting April 2 to 6.

The debate is meant to foster a discussion between Farage, the nationalist architect of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (Brexit), and Fox, a globalist who helped pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during his presidential term from 2000-2006. NAFTA allows for free trade between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

Fox was President of Mexico as a member of the National Action Party, a conservative political group. He worked to fight crime and drug lords in Mexico during his term, but Mexico was left with mixed feelings on his presidency partly due to the passage of NAFTA. Many saw NAFTA as hurting Mexico’s domestic agricultural production, especially for indigenous populations.

Recently, Fox has been in the spotlight for his criticisms of American President Donald Trump. When reports surfaced that Trump referred to African countries as well as Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries,” Fox fired back in a tweet, saying that Trump’s mouth was “the foulest shithole in the world.”

He also responded to Trump’s campaign claim that Mexico would pay for a border wall between it and the United States, saying in a YouTube video that Mexico would be doing no such thing.

Farage, the former leader of UKIP from 2006 to 2009 and 2010 to 2016 who successfully pushed for Brexit, has not had such animosity with Trump. On the contrary, Farage has been in support of Trump since before his electoral college win, having spoken at a campaign rally in August 2016 and most recently declaring on Fox News that Trump would be “very welcome” in the U.K.

UKIP’s 2015 manifesto sets goals such as “taking back control of our borders” and removing “funding from public bodies promoting multiculturalism.” The group was described by former Conservative prime minister of the U.K. David Cameron as a “bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists mostly” in 2006 to LBC radio.

Brexit negotiations are ongoing with the U.K. set to leave officially in March 2019.

The Steamboat Institute awarded government and law professor Brandon Van Dyck a “Courage in Education” award last semester for his work on The Mill Series, an “independent public charity” and speaker series aiming to bring “conservative, libertarian and religious perspectives” to the college, according its website. Bringing the two political figures to campus was something Van Dyck originally brought to the table at Lafayette.

“Last semester, Steamboat proposed to me that The Mill Series host Farage and Fox at Lafayette. I then proposed to President Byerly and Provost [Abu] Rizvi that the college partner with The Mill Series to co-host the debate,” Van dyck wrote in an email, but he added that Byerly thought it best for Lafayette itself to co-host and co-sponsor.

The CEO and chairman of Steamboat is Jennifer Schubert-Akin, who has previously served as Chairman of the Routt County Republican Central Committee, according to her online description. At events such as its annual Freedom Conference, Steamboat has previously hosted speakers including conservative political commentator Ann Coulter, former Republican presidential candidate and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Republican political advisor Karl Rove and former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

President Byerly wrote in an email that the college has handled arrangements directly with the Steamboat Institute and is paying the speakers’ fees.

“I believe that the opportunity to hear a debate between two figures of international significance on a topic that is having a profound influence on our world can be of educational value to our students and community,” Byerly wrote in an email. She noted in her campus-wide email how it was unusual for Lafayette itself to sponsor an event, but that this is a “unique” occasion.

“The debate format makes it clear that the invited speakers are not being endorsed or given a special platform,” she added. “On the contrary, the stated goal of the occasion is to challenge and confront the opinions presented.”