Worst Record article of the year? “Community examines Uncomfortable Learning (UL) after controversy” by Emilia Maluf.

First, not a single current member of the Williams community is quoted about the role of UL! Reporting on UL is an excellent idea. I am sure lots of Ephs have opinions. Professors like Sam Crane have been examining UL closely. Professor Steve Miller, as part of PBK, has co-sponsored at least one of UL’s talks. Maluf should have interviewed them and quoted them. Or her editors needed to come up with a better title.

Second, note the absurd bias in descriptions like this:

The extension of an invitation to speak to Suzanne Venker, a self-described author and occasional Fox News contributor whose views many found misogynistic and homophobic, and subsequent cancellation of that event sparked the controversy that led to the group’s rise in ubiquity.

And that is in just the second sentence of the article! Venker co-wrote a book. You can buy it on Amazon. If this fact does not make her an actual author, as opposed to a “self-described” one, what would? Are authors only real authors if what they write agrees with Maluf’s views?

Moreover, who are the “many” that found Venker’s views “misogynistic?” Name them. Quote them. This is Reporting 101. Also, there were certainly Williams students and faculty who, while they may not have agreed with Venker, would disagree with such extreme descriptions. A real reporter would, you know, ask people questions and quote them.

And things don’t get much better:

In February, UL planned a lecture by John Derbyshire, a self-described “novelist, pop-math author, reviewer and opinion journalist,” who many believed to be a white supremacist and racist.

Derbyshire is, in fact, an author. How can I tell? Because his books are owned by the Williams College libraries! Look then up in the course catalog and, under “Author,” you will find “John Derbyshire.” If Derbyshire is a “self-described” author, then is Maluf as “self-described” reporter?

What was with the “many believed” dodge? Who are these mythical many? If you can’t find a single such person to quote, even anonymously, then you have no business with such weasel phrasing.

Moreover, given the Record’s previous mistakes in writing about Derbyshire, Maluf (and her editors) have an obligation to bend over backwards to treat him fairly now. To use the “white supremacist” slur while not even acknowledging that Derbsyhire disputes this characterization and forced the Record to issue a correction is just embarrassing.

How did an organization designed to respect all views transform into a group criticized for providing a platform for offensive speakers at the College?

Huh? I have never spoken to anyone associated with UL who thinks the organization was designed to “respect all views.” Where is Maluf getting this stuff? Did she talk to any of the student founders? Did they respond to her questions? If she didn’t talk to them, she needs to admit that fact and acknowledge that she may not have a very good idea about how/why UL was designed the way it was.

My take is that UL was “designed” to promote uncomfortable learning — in the tradition of Robert Gaudino — by bringing unpopular views/ideas/speakers to campus, to expand the space of allowed dialogue at Williams. And, guess what? Maluf provides, later in the article, evidence which supports my view.

As Fischberg told students who gathered at the first lecture in January of 2014, the group sought to invite “speakers who challenge the Williams orthodoxy and promote intellectual diversity on campus.”

Good stuff! Maluf gets credit for, at least, unearthing a two-year old quote from a student leader of UL. But isn’t it standard journalistic practice to tell readers where she got this quote from?

In the 2013-2014 academic year, the group consistently invited highly-regarded intellectuals to speak at the College.

Huh? This just nonsense. UL brought a lot of great speakers but very few people think of, say, Jonah Goldberg as a “highly-regarded intellectual.” Indeed, I doubt that almost any member of the Williams faculty would describe a single one of UL’s 2013-2014 speakers in this way.

It seems that Maluf has a narrative in her head that UL used to be good and wonderful and then turned nasty and stupid. Alas, I lack the energy to dive any deeper into this nonsense, at least today . . . But, until Maluf starts treating her subjects fairly, it is hard to trust any of her other claims, at least without independent confirmation. If she misleads us about whether or not Venker/Derbyshire are actual authors, what else is she misleading us about?

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