Williams student Zachary Wood ’18 testified (pdf) to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing: “Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses.” (Also testifying (pdf) was former Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence ’77.) Let’s spend two weeks on this topic. Today is Day 3.
President Adam Falk provides a response, of sorts, to the call for his resignation (from Senator Kennedy) in this puffball Time interview:
The president of Williams College is defending his decision to cancel a controversial speech at the school last year, after he came under fire during a Senate hearing this week about the “assault on the First Amendment on college campuses.”
A perfectly good lede, although pendants will note that Falk did not merely “cancel” a speech; he banned John Derbyshire from ever speaking at Williams, on any topic. But, as always at EphBlog, we want the backstory. How did Falk decide to talk to Time rather than some other outlet? How did 24-year-old reporter Katie Reilly end up with the assignment?
Williams College President Adam Falk did not attend the Senate judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday, but Williams student Zach Wood did, and Wood testified about what he sees as a lack of politically and ideologically diverse speakers at the Massachusetts private school, where he said “the administration promotes social tolerance at the expense of political tolerance.”
Isn’t that exactly right? Williams, as an institution, is firmly committed to social tolerance, to all the appropriate progressive fashions. We get our pronouns and our bathrooms right! Falk is, obviously, not committed to political tolerance for anyone to the right of, say, George Bush.
Last year, Wood invited conservative writer John Derbyshire — who wrote a 2012 column for an online magazine that was widely criticized as racist, leading to his firing from the National Review — to speak on campus. Falk canceled the event, saying Derbyshire’s comments “clearly constitute hate speech.”
Falk’s reasoning was shallow, at best. But I have yet to provide a sentence-by-sentence exegesis. Save that for September?
More importanly, Derbyshire was not planning to speak on topics related to that controversy. Instead, his speech was going to be about immigration. Uncomfortably Learning informed Falk and the Administration about this. So, Falk’s position seems to be that if Speaker X ever says something hateful about Topic Y, then he will be banned from talking about Topic Z (or any other topic) at Williams. presumably forever. Falk doesn’t just want to ban hate speech. He wants to ban anyone who has ever uttered hate speech.
It is at this point that the careful reader starts to suspect a set up. Did Reilly ask any difficult questions? Did she have any follow ups? Did she speak with any of Falk’s critics, including Wood? I suspect not. Reilly is acting — perhaps in the best tradition of Time magazine? — as a stenographer to power. Her job is not to trouble Falk. Her job is to spin for him.
Responding to Wood’s testimony, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy on Tuesday called Falk unfit to lead the school. “If the way you described it is accurate, then he should resign,” Kennedy said. “It’s just that simple — because he needs to explain to students and have them understand that they do not have a constitutional right in life not to be offended. They’re going to be offended plenty of times in life.”
Indeed. Even if Falk believes — and I have no reason to doubt his claims on this score — that Derbyshire, along with the rest of the Alt (or Dissident) Right, is guilty of hate speech, he is hardly doing Williams students any favors by barring that speech from campus. With Trump in the White House — and Miller/Bannon behind the scenes — the Alt-Right matters.
In an interview with TIME after the hearing, Falk defended himself, saying he believed Kennedy had misunderstood the situation.
If Falk really believes that, he is a fool. If he doesn’t, he is a knave. Wood provide Kennedy with an accurate summary of the facts: a student group invited Derbyshire and Falk banned him from speaking. The Record ought to follow up by calling Senator Kennedy’s office for more back-and-forth.
Perhaps more importantly: Who is advising Falk? There are politically smart ways out of the ditch he has dug for Williams (and himself). Implying that a US Senator is clueless is not the approach to take.
UPDATE: Instead, he should follow this advice from an EphBlog reader:
Praise Uncomfortable Learning. Point out the service they provide, commit to helping them continue, highlight the very respectful appearance and treatment of Charles Murray at Williams College, point out some of the other groups and faculty who have committed to expanding discussions on campus (Williams Forum, new College Republicans, the event with Scott Brown, etc.).
This is pretty simple PR. Add some money to the mix and write a piece for WSJ or NYT. Here is a similar piece from the Wesleyan president.
Exactly right. Odds on Falk doing so?