What was surprising, at least to Machan, was that animal rights advocates didn't come to hear him talk:
I am, after 40 years of teaching, still a bit naive about the nature of academic life so I was somewhat taken aback because my understanding had always been that it is at universities and colleges that debates and discussions about controversial issues are carried out, usually in an atmosphere of civility. Alas, I must not really be as aware about how universities and colleges work as I would like to be. The reality seems to be that in many such communities discussions aren’t all that welcome. Instead the attitude is combative: Let’s show those with whom we disagree that we are against them, solidly, that we have no respect for the idea of a philosophical debate on the topic but want to silence, boycott, or exclude those who don’t already fall in line with our position.Naive and taken aback? Really? I've only been working about 25 years (yeesh...) and the one thing I can tell you that I - and all of my similar-aged colleagues - have long since learned is to expect the unexpected at work. You really never know what's coming next.
Beyond that, allow me to explain why your talk was not well-attended by animal advocates. They are not, as you muse, anti-intellectual. Your position, imho, is simply crap. And who wants to sit through what amounts to self-indulgent pseudo-intellectual masturbation? It's just two hours of your life you're not going to get back.
At this point in time, no one in his or her right mind would show up at a college campus to debate "whether" African-Americans... or Chinese... or women... or [insert any group other than white, Christian males]... should have rights. The debate has simply moved past that point. In animal advocacy circles, the debate has likewise moved beyond "whether" animals should have some basic rights. (And just to be clear here, no, I am not talking about the right to vote or drive a car... just the most basic of rights, such as the right to bodily integrity.) Sitting politely through a discussion on "whether" animals have a right not to be dissected is as vulgar and irritating as sitting politely through a discussion about "whether" female genital mutilation is an acceptable practice. The fact that a conversation occurs on a college campus does not necessarily mean it has academic merit and the fact that the speaker wishes to enjoy the delusion that such ideas are worthy of intellectual debate is not a sufficient reason for anyone else to waste their time.