Williams student Zachary Wood ’18 testified (pdf) to 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 5.
Wood’s testimony is excellent:
Humanity is not limited to the views and values we admire. Humanity also encompasses the thought and action we resist. To gain a deeper understanding of humanity, I have made a concerted effort to understand as thoroughly as possible the visions and convictions of those whose arguments I diametrically oppose.
Bob Gaudino would be proud that his spirit lives on at Williams, at least among a handful of students.
I have faced considerable backlash in addition to administrative obstacles. For inviting controversial speakers to campus, I’ve been labeled “a men’s rights activist,” “a sellout,” and “anti-Black,” among other things. I’ve also been the target of implicit threats. On Facebook, one student wrote that “they need the oil and the switch to deal with him [me] in this midnight hour.” Once, I even received a hand-written letter, slipped under my door, that read: “your blood will be on the leaves.”
1) We need a scan of that hand-written letter, if only for the use of future historians.
2) Can you imagine what the reaction of the Williams Administration would be similar threats directed against a more conventionally liberal student?
3) Recall Falk’s claim to Time magazine:
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental value of society, and it’s a fundamental value on our campuses. But we also have to create conditions where that speech is civil and the dialogue that it spawns is productive.”
The best way to increase civility at Williams is to punish the incivility directed at Wood. And the best way to punish that incivility is not to go after the students who attacked Wood, as satisfying as that might be. Instead, Falk should say something like:
I stand with Zach Wood. The incivility with which he has been treated by members of the Williams community is unconscionable. But, at Williams, we do not punish speech. So, instead, the College will be funding weekly speakers, chosen in conjunction with the student leaders of Uncomfortable Learning, who disagree with the views of the students/faculty who have attacked Zach. The first two speakers will be Suzanne Venker and John Derbyshire. Until the Williams community learns to accept that Ephs differ in their views and that those differences are not grounds for incivility, we will be providing them with some “uncomfortable learning,” just as Robert Gaudino did 50 years ago.
Odds of this happening? Zero.
What advice would you have for Falk (or the interim president or the next president) about how to decrease incivility at Williams?