Venker's website, via the Huffington Post

Venker’s website, via the Huffington Post

Notwithstanding EphBlog’s defense of the disinvitation of Suzanne Venker, the student organizers of the “Uncomfortable Learning” series appear to have quickly backtracked. In a post at Reason’s “Hit&Run” blog on Friday, reporter Robby Soave shared an email from Zach Wood ’18:

“Suzanne Venker has been re-invited to Williams . . . However, she has yet to confirm whether or not she’d like to come this spring.”

Unfortunately, Venker does not appear enthusiastic (although the reinvitation has received some positive press coverage, such as at Washingtonpost.com):

“No plans to accept since my speech has just been published, and the students can effectively see what I was going to say,” she said in an email to Reason. “Plus I can’t muster writing another speech anytime soon. As I say, it’s no small thing and I’m already behind on a book I’m writing.”

Venker’s speech is indeed posted at Foxnews.com, and it’s hard to fault her for being reluctant to reschedule after how this controversy unfolded. It’s asking a lot of Venker to check her pride at the door and speak now.

That said, EphBlog believes Venker should accept the re-invitation. Sure, the cancellation and reinvitation is awkward, but it has an obvious upside. Presumably she believes that the message in her “Uncomfortable Learning” talk is an important one for Williams students in their too-often protected cocoon. In light of the cancellation controversy, exposure for her remarks (both at Williams and beyond) is likely to be much greater than it otherwise would have been. More listeners = more value.

Moreover, as EphBlog has noted before, the students organizing “Uncomfortable Learning” deserve to be rewarded: they are taking on a difficult task in the face of immense peer pressure, pressure that keeps “uncomfortable” voices almost entirely excluded from campuses other than Williams that lack the tradition of a Gaudino. “One strike and you’re out” is a perfectly reasonable lesson to teach them, but so is “apologize, fix things, and do the right thing in the end.” And this is particularly true given the subject matter here: conservative speakers (especially those with experiential, rather than academic, credentials, as in the case of Venker) are heard so infrequently in liberal/academic environments that it should be a cardinal rule for conservatives: NEVER decline an invitation to speak
on campus.

Her reason for not speaking seems particularly flimsy. Although it’s true that students can “see what [she] was going to say,” how many students is she really going to reach that way. Foxnews.com is hardly a must-read for college students — and voluntarily searching out “uncomfortable reading” isn’t generally the way of the Internet. If she thinks what she originally had to say was interesting and valuable for students to hear, she should go ahead and deliver the same speech – perhaps tweaked to include mention (or rebuke?) of the disinvitation.

On this issue, as with his earlier post on the cancellation, the usually-reliable Glenn Reynolds, law professor at Tennessee, gets it wrong at Instapundit:

Reynolds on reinvite

Another question — what caused the organizers to change their mind and reinvite Venker? So far, there’s no public statement on that decision. Maybe it was feedback like this critique at the Williams Alternative from (former EphBlog regular) Will Slack ’11:

Nothing about this piece suggests that you learned something new about the invited speaker between the issuing of the invitation and the cancellation. Nothing I’ve read has suggested any coercement from any party – not other students, nor the administration, nor alumni. Nothing has provided evidence that anyone is being silenced here. If that did happen, then I will stand up and defend your freedom to invite controversial speakers, in good faith.

On the contrary, your choice is the worst of all worlds – and displays bad faith. You do a disservice to the invited speaker by rendering her preparation useless with a last-minute change. You do a disservice to your fellow students by inviting a controversy about ideas than preventing them from being aired. You do a disservice to the College and its alumni community by being so vague in your messages to the speaker that you inspire misleading articles like this one: [Venker’s Foxnews.com column].

Slack cuts right to the heart of the issue, which bears on Venker’s decision as well. Unlike the “Uncomfortable Learning” organizers, Venker does have new information on which to decide. But EphBlog is hoping she’ll do the right thing, and gracefully accept.

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