Yesterday, we asked the question: When was the last time that a Williams president banned a speaker from campus? No one has given us the right (?) answer yet. Adam Falk’s decision to ban John Derbsyhire in February 2016 must have an historical parallel. What is it? Consider this SAT analogy question:

FALK:DERBYSHIRE ::

A. Baxter:?
B. Chadler:?
C: Garfield:?
D. Hopkins:?
E. Sawyer:?

I have provided some Williams presidents, in alphabetical order, as options. My reasoning:

A. Phinney Baxter ’14 was president during World War II and the worst parts of the Cold War. Might he have banned someone? Sure! But Baxter was, perhaps more than any other Williams president, a defender of free speech. From the Harvard Crimson of 1949:

“Like most if not all of my other colleagues on the Williams faculty,” Williams College President James Phinney Baxter, 3rd, wrote in an article for his school’s May, 1949, Alumni Review number, “I support the Marshall Plan, the Atlantic Pact, and the furnishing of military supplies to our fellow signatories.”

But the point of Baxter’s article was not to express his own views on foreign policy. It was to defend the right of Frederick L. Schuman, a member of the Williams faculty, to expound differing opinions.

Baxter noted that Schuman had been “severely criticized by a number of alumni for speeches critical of the current foreign policy of the United States.”

The college head wrote that Schuman had attacked the policies of both America and Russia, that he was an advocate “of a stronger form of international government than the United Nations,” and that he had “freely criticized the Communists for many years.”


For Free Debate

Baxter said Schuman should be as free to express himself as those who held the majority viewpoint.

Exactly right.

B. John Chandler was president during the dawn of the PC-era and had to contend with many racially-charged debates, including South African Divestment and affirmative action. The election of Reagan in 1980 was, from the point of view of faculty/student opinion, almost as surprising/shocking/disgusting as Trump’s election 36 years later.

C. Harry Garfield served as president from 1908 through 1934. There were non-trivial restrictions on free speech during World War I, and it would not be surprising to see this sentiment expressed at Williams.

D. Hopkins. I am cheating a bit with this one since Williams had two presidents named Hopkins: Mark and Henry (his son). They served for a combined 42 years. Surely, at some point, a proposed speaker was so offensive as to require banning from campus . . .

E. Jack Sawyer ’39 is almost uniformly regarded as the best Williams president of the last 100 years. But not everyone is perfect! He served from 1961 — 1973, the height of campus turmoil over civil rights and the Vietnam War. It sure must have been tempting to shut down debate on occasion! Sawyer, who served in the OSS — the forerunner to the CIA — during World War II must have felt some frustration at the campus snowflakes of his era . . .

Any guesses as to the correct answer?

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