No one has written more words over more years complaining about the lack of intellectual diversity at Williams than I have. Yet even I think that critics of the decision to cancel Venker are being unfair to Williams and to the students involved. Here are four representative examples:

First, Williams has probably bought more conservative/libertarian/traditional/non-liberal speakers to campus than any other liberal arts school in the last few years. Examples include: Casey Mulligan, Richard Sander, Ron Unz, Mike Needham ’04, Jonah Goldberg, Greg Lukianoff, Richard Vedder, KC Johnson and others. If you think Williams is “pathetic,” then you must believe that places like Amherst, Swarthmore and Pomona are absolutely hopeless. There is more intellectual diversity among public speakers at Williams than there is at any other liberal arts college and, perhaps, at any elite university.

Second, Williams College as an institution (administration and faculty) had nothing to do with the cancellation. The College cares about its massive capital campaign. It does not care about who students invite to speak on campus and who they disinvite.

Third, Uncomforable Learning, the student group behind the invitation/disinvitation, has done more to increase the range of public debate at its college than any other student group in the world. (Contrary opinions welcome.) Big shout-outs to some of its leaders, including Ben Fischberg ’14, David Gaines ’15, James Hitchcock ’15, Matthew Hennessy ’17, Didier Jean-Michel ’17 and Zach Wood ’18. They (with help from other students in the group) brought all those unusual speakers to Williams. No only that, but they also brought liberal/leftist speakers like Norman Finkelstein and Randall Kennedy. Unless you have done as much to improve the range of views presented at your university, you should be slow to criticize their efforts.

Fourth, the decision to cancel was not unreasonable. I happen to disagree with it, but, if your goal is to expand political discussion at Williams, to encourage students to engage with unfamiliar views, then you ought to try to meet those students halfway. Instead of Venker — hardly the most subtle of thinkers — you would probably be better off bringing Wendy Shalit ’97, an alum whose critique of modern feminism is similar to Venker’s. Replacing Venker with Shalit might be the right call.

Again, Williams needs more intellectual diversity, among its invited speakers, its faculty and its students. It needs more open dialogue and debate. It needs more “uncomfortable learning,” from all possible directions.

Yet many of the criticisms over this decision seem poorly informed.

Contrary opinions welcome!

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