Conservative Commentator Fires Back at Deirdre Nansen McCloskey for Cancelling University of Pittsburgh Debate

Daily Wire commentator Michael Knowles on Wednesday responded to Deirdre Nansen McCloskey’s withdrawal from their scheduled University of Pittsburgh debate, calling the libertarian economist “scared” and “not honest.” 

The event, sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), was to take place next Tuesday, and Knowles said he and ISI are looking for a replacement for McCloskey. Knowles, a traditionalist Catholic, and McCloskey, a transgendered woman and professor emerita at the University of Illinois-Chicago, planned to argue over the nature of womanhood and current gender-policy issues. 

A number of campus and political actors voiced opposition to the debate taking place. State Representatives Jessica Benham (D-Carrick) and Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), who co-chair the State House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, criticized the university — Benham’s alma mater — for refusing to shut down the discussion. Left-wing Pitt students circulated a petition asking the state-related school to cancel the event. 

Free-expression advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, responded to these calls for censorship by insisting a taxpayer-funded university cannot disinvite speakers based on their political leanings. And McCloskey herself suggested conversations like the one she agreed to have with Knowles are the best way to settle emotional civic matters like the ones now surrounding transgenderism. 

“True, Knowles is an anti-Jesus Catholic, a fascist advocating state power over ideas,” the Harvard-educated economist tweeted a month ago. “But we live in a free country.”

This week, McCloskey reversed herself, pulling out of the debate and saying Knowles is “utterly uninterested in finding the truth” and “interested in stirring up hatred and violence towards people who do not fit his extremely conservative Catholic beliefs.…” She added she did not want to give him “a platform.” That platform would have been national as C-SPAN anticipated broadcasting it. 

While McCloskey’s initial remarks on her cancellation denounced “the speech-suppressing signatories of the petition,” she said she feared the event would devolve into a “fascist rally.” 

Knowles, in an episode of his Michael Knowles Show podcast titled “Trans Harvard Professor Runs Scared from Our Debate,” suggested McCloskey feigned ignorance of his positions on LGBTQ policy and behavior. 

“His excuse as to why he’s pulling out is not honest,” he said. “Professor McCloskey knew my views on this subject — he’s known them for well over a month at least — and then we even had a call about it a couple of weeks ago. After the call, he reiterated his desire to have the debate. Nothing has changed since then.” 

Knowles speculated as to what moved his opponent to renege on participating.

“He knows that he can’t win the debate,” he said. “That’s not a knock on his intelligence, it’s not a knock on his education, but he’s just wrong. He’s defending an indefensible [pro-transgender] position.” 

The podcaster said he was looking forward to the event and lamented its cancellation despite expecting many hostile demonstrators to attend it.

“I know that there were obviously going to be a lot of protests and there are always hecklers and all sorts of miscreants, but it doesn’t come from our side; it’s not the conservatives who do that,” he said. “It’s always the people on Professor McCloskey’s side of the debate who disrupt these events. So we were prepared for that and it’s unfortunate.” 

While Knowles and McCloskey will not face off next week, Knowles declared that observers can still deduce from McCloskey’s unwillingness to engage in a public discussion with him.

“It’s very telling that a distinguished professor with multiple degrees from Harvard — three of them — and half a dozen honorary doctorates and two dozen academic publications, even he does not feel that he can debate the issue of transgenderism. And he would rather concede the debate before it begins than lose in front of the C-SPAN cameras….  So, [it’s] not surprising and I’m happy to take a win by default, happy to take this technical victory, but it’s too bad that we couldn’t have the debate in public; it’s too bad that he did not have the courage of his convictions… about transgenderism and about the role of debate in society.” 

At this writing, McCloskey has not returned a call from The Pennsylvania Daily Star seeking comment.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Michael Knowles” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo “Deirdre McCloskey” by Cato Institute. Background Photo “University of Pittsburgh Campus” by Something Original. CC BY-SA 3.0.



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2 Thoughts to “Conservative Commentator Fires Back at Deirdre Nansen McCloskey for Cancelling University of Pittsburgh Debate”

  1. Eric B Rasmusen

    Are there really no comments yet? Don’t be scared, people. It’s OK to voice an opinion. Don’t we live in a free country?

  2. john

    I think it’s hilarious and so telling whenever lefties cancel out of an event like this. Or their supporters plead to have it cancelled. The reason they wanted it cancelled and the reason the he/she/it bowed out is because they have no answer to the logical argument a Conservative presents. This scenario plays out the exact same way over and over again because lefties know deep down they have no answer or logical justification for their position. They are so weak.