pinker

What advice do our readers have for Adam Falk?

First, admit that you have a (big!) problem. This controversy shows no signs of going away. If anything, it is on the verge of snowballing out of control. When well-respected Harvard professors like Steven Pinker are openly mocking you, it is time to do something.

Second, the best approach would be what I suggested yesterday. Issue the following statement:

I have talked to many Williams faculty, students and alumni. I have now read John Derbsyhire’s book We Are Doomed, having checked it out from our own Sawyer Library. Although I profoundly disagree with Derbyshire’s views on a variety of topics, I now realize that my earlier decision was a mistake. Williams College is precisely the place where these odious opinions need to be explored, confronted and debunked. If not us, then who? If not here, then where? So, in the spirit of uncomfortable learning, I have personally invited John Derbyshire to Williams, where we will stage a debate between him and some of the members of our faculty.

And so on. The exact details are unimportant. But banning student-invited speakers is a horrible idea. Admit your error and move on.

Third, the second best approach is to shut up! Stop giving interviews. Stop talking to people. If anyone has questions, refer them to your statement. There is no upside (for you) in continuing the conversation. Your quotes in the Washington Post are a disaster. Consider:

“The understanding I came to of his writing was that it was simply racist ranting, with no redeeming intellectual value whatsoever,”

Then why does Williams have three of his books in its library? Are your staff idiots? Do Williams librarians purchase many books that are simply “racist ranting?” Providing quotes like this only makes you look incompetent. Moreover, John Derbyshire regular writes for The New Criterion, as hoity-toity an egghead magazine as you are going to find. Do you really believe that The New Criterion publishes a lot of material with “no redeeming intellectual value?” Are they a bunch of racists too? That is nuts, and readers of the Washington Post are smart enough to know it.

“The college does not have an obligation to give a platform to absolutely anybody. And a self-proclaimed white supremacist who was going to come and tell students … that they should avoid the African American students, was over a line.”

Note how the Post leaves out a part of your comment? Reporters are not your friends. They have a beast to feed and you are the meat. The more you say to them, the more you leave yourself open to quote-mangling, malicious or otherwise.

And you leave yourself open to rebuttal on the facts. John Derbyshire is many, many things but he is not “a self-proclaimed white supremacist.” You have just opened yourself (and Williams!) up to claim of defamation! Listen to your lawyers and shut up. (Attorney readers are welcome to offer their opinions as to whether or Derbyshire would have a case.)

And you aren’t even accurately summarizing Derbyshire’s infamous article correctly. He writes:

In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.

Derbyshire’s (rude) advice to non-black Williams students is exactly the opposite of what you have claimed it to be. He recommends that they go out of their way to make friends with black Williams students. He reasoning may be false and obnoxious and racist — and you are allowed to call it all those things and more — but you aren’t allowed to say that Derbyshire gives Advice X when, in fact, he gives Advice Y.

Fourth (and this is by far the worst option but still better than the path you are going down) is to make someone else at Williams the face of this issue. That is why senior administrators like Will Dudley, Denise Buell and Sarah Bolton get paid the big bucks. Let one of them — or perhaps a senior professor looking for a fight — spout off to the Washington Post. You are the president of Williams College. You should step back from the fray. You already made the decision. Let other faculty members talk about it.

What advice do our readers have for Falk?

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