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 8.

What should Falk/Williams do? Let’s revisit (and revise) my advice from last year. Falk should issue the following statement:

Inspired by the impressive Senate testimony of Zachary Wood ’18 and Frederick Lawrence ’77, 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 this fall, where we will stage a debate between him and some of the members of our faculty.

1) This would be a huge gift to Falk’s successor. A departing president has an opportunity to do things that make people angry and, make no mistake, lots of Ephs would be angry about am invitation to Derbyshire. The more that Falk can make the hard decisions — and take the heat associated with them — the more that the next Williams president will thank him.

2) This would close the chapter on one of the biggest mistakes of Falk’s presidency. A reasonable case can be made that, given the information available to him at the time, Falk was in the right to cancel Derbyshire’s talk. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is fairly clear that the cancellation was a mistake. And that is OK! We all make mistakes. But we don’t always get the chance to fix them. Falk has that chance.

3) I spoke with two former students of Robert Gaudino at a recent alumni event. Both were 100% certain that Gaudino would be strongly against the Derbyshire cancellation and in favor of more “uncomfortable learning.” But you don’t have to trust them or me on this score. Consider the words of a close student of Williams history:

Liberal education strengthens the mind and spirit so that a human being may more fully engage the world. Since Mark Hopkins’ time a string of Williams educators has further developed this idea. In the middle of the last century Professor Robert Gaudino pushed his charges to learn uncomfortably, in India, in rural America, in situations within the classroom and without that challenged the safe and familiar worlds they’d brought with them. If Mark Hopkins was the first professor to ask his students, “What do you think?” then Gaudino and others, including faculty of today, have raised the asking of that question, with all its implicit challenge, to a form of art.

Emphasis in the original. The speaker? Adam Falk.

To the extent Falk really believes in Gaudino’s legacy, in the importance of uncomfortable learning, there is no better tribute he can now pay than to invite John Derbyshire to Williams.

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