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Falk Libels Derbyshire

Adam Falk squawked this swan song in the Washington Post, revisiting the Senate hearing featuring Zach Wood ’18 and Frederick Lawrence ’77 which discussed Falk’s decision to cancel a Williams speech by John Derbyshire.

1) I have put the entire article below the break. Jeff Bezos is rich enough without your dollar.

2) Why write this article now? Falk has six weeks left as Williams president. His new role at the Sloane Foundation has, fortunately, nothing to do with free speech on campus. Does this article help Williams? Not that I can see. The Derbyshire cancellation, while perhaps justified, is nothing but a reputational black eye for Williams. Bringing it up again only hurts the College. He could have easily waited six months and left Williams out of the conversation.

3) Worse part of the article is Falk’s libel of John Derbyshire as a “self-described white supremacist.” If you call someone a “self-described” X, you better have evidence of him describing himself as X. Falk can write that “Derbyshire is a white supremacist” or that “Derbyshire is a poopy head.” That is Falk’s opinion. Even if he is wrong, it would be hard for Derbyshire to prove it. But it is much easier for Derbyshire to sue Falk (and Williams?) for libel given that there is no evidence that Derbyshire has ever described himself as a “white supremacist.” Perhaps some Eph attorneys could forecast how such a suit might go?

4) I asked Falk for a citation on this point. He fobbed the question off to Jim Reische, who pointed to this article. Alas, this makes the exact opposite point! Derbyshire considers a wide range of possible names for his position, including “Alternative Right,” “White Supremacist,” and “White Nationalist.” He rejects them all, settling on “Dissident Right.” If this is the best/only evidence that Falk has, I suspect he might have set himself up for some legal trouble . . . Informed commentary welcome!

Williams College president: Don’t ignore the real threats in the debate over free speech

Last June, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) announced that I was unfit to be a college president, so I should resign and “put [my] head in a bag.”

The insult wasn’t all that bad: In my job, you get worse. I was far more concerned by the misinformation behind the pronouncement.

The senator’s comment apparently referred to my February 2016 decision not to offer the blogger John Derbyshire the opportunity to speak on the Williams campus. Derbyshire, a self-described white supremacist, had been fired by the National Review for writing about how he would teach his children to avoid black people and advise other white parents to do the same.

Sen. Kennedy portrayed the controversy as a matter of campus free speech. True, my decision made Williams an early entrant into the national debate on that issue. But his comments exemplify a widespread misunderstanding about the state of speech at American colleges and universities.

Today’s students are far more eager to hear and engage with serious points of view of all kinds than you would think by reading the headlines. To understand this, just tally the annual speaking engagements of Charles Murray, Arthur Brooks, Jason Riley and other prominent conservatives who regularly speak to college audiences. But you won’t see many media stories titled, “Conservative Thinker Received Thoughtfully by Campus Audience.” That’s not a story that sells papers.

I can offer numerous examples in support of my argument from just the Williams campus. Three weeks after I declined to host Derbyshire, Murray spoke to a respectful student audience. Later in 2016, a similarly civil gathering heard Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute debate Daniel Weiner of the Brennan Center on campaign finance reform.

Last November, two days after the national election, former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.), a prominent Donald Trump supporter, participated in a well-attended analysis of the results. And American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers recently came to offer her critique of contemporary feminism. Our students listened closely, then responded with challenging questions and in some cases blunt critiques — utterances to which they, too, surely were entitled.

My presidential colleagues could add many examples from their own schools. Such events are happening on American campuses practically every day.

What has too often been portrayed as a simple problem of liberal campuses censoring conservative ideas is something far more complex.

Sen. Kennedy himself stumbled onto the real issue when he told the hearing that schools should be allowed to respond differently to “speech that’s inflammatory; speech that uses a racial epithet; speech that’s designed to provoke” than to “a point of view that may not be popular.”

The problem is that provocateurs such as Derbyshire, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopolous are intentionally blurring the line between the two. They have few policy ideas to offer, conservative or otherwise, and little or nothing interesting to say about critical issues such as health care, foreign policy or the tax code.

Instead they’re obsessed with provoking outrage by demeaning whole populations and challenging their right to be on our campuses or in our country.

What today’s students object to is not hearing points of view different from their own, but hearing their contemporaries publicly humiliated and threatened.

Speakers such as Spencer and Yiannopolous — craving attention, backed with outside money, pumped up with social media muscle and often surrounded by literal muscle — cleverly bully students into a prescribed role in a formulaic drama: intolerant liberal “snowflakes” silencing courageous speakers of uncomfortable truths.

Private colleges have a great deal of discretion to choose which guests to invite to speak in our communities. Our campuses are not legally public squares. So these provocateurs have instead turned their focus to the more vulnerable public institutions.

Just this fall we’ve seen the University of Florida forced to spend more than $500,000 to enable a single speech by Spencer.

And of course there were the far more agonizing costs of the tragedy in Charlottesville, which began with people carrying torches, swastikas and Confederate battle flags across the Lawn at the University of Virginia.

There are times when I’ve wondered whether we should treat these events as a type of performance rather than speech: If the World Wrestling Federation demanded to hold a cage match on the Berkeley campus, would the university be obligated to host it at public expense?

The incidents we’re being forced to contend with are far more pernicious and no less staged.

Nor should we be concerned solely with sensationalist speakers. Too many of our students and faculty are being threatened and harassed for expressing challenging points of view, especially about race. Their words are picked up by websites such as Campus Reform and The College Fix, amplified and distorted and shoveled into the Internet outrage machine.

Campuses have to be shut down to deal with the ensuing threats. Learning is being disrupted, tuition money wasted, innocent people terrorized.

Some version of this drama has played out at Texas A&M. At Syracuse University. At the University of Iowa and Evergreen State and Dartmouth and Hampshire College and Trinity College and Drexel University.

How many more examples do we need? For how long are we going to allow the vocabulary of freedom to be hijacked by people trying to impress upon us its opposite?

As Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said at yet another congressional hearing on the topic recently, “Colleges should be a place of robust speech and disagreement. … But, I think, we cannot use the banner of protecting free speech to allow people to terrorize folks.”

Those who care about real freedom of speech — as I do, and as I know Sen. Kennedy does — need to be far more concerned with such threats than with even the most boisterous student protest.

As an educator, I politely decline to hide my head in a bag. It’s too important for me, and Sen. Kennedy, and all of us, to keep our eyes and ears open to the rising chorus of hate.

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Comments Disabled To "Falk Libels Derbyshire"

#1 Comment By JCD On November 17, 2017 @ 8:23 am

I think DDF is correct that Falk’s self-serving article was unnecessary and only hurts Williams College.

Ironically, the article confirms Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) concerns over Falk’s bias. This is because Falk makes a number of easy to debunk statements about John Derbyshire. For a convincing defense of John Derbyshire, please check out the comment section for Falk’s article.

Julia Odegard – Comment

In a larger sense, this article is gives us a powerful reminder of the manner in which Adam Falk’s leadership has been at times foolish, intellectually sloppy, and tone deaf.

The best example of this tone deaf leadership, of course, was the decision to name the school’s newest residence hall after the Horn family. Falk and his development department knew full well that the Horns were in legal trouble when he signed off on this highly visible, extremely inappropriate naming opportunity.

This was a foolish mistake because it was well-known in the press that the Horns were in trouble for their illegal hiring and reprehensible mistreatment of two young, female, Filipino au pairs. Nevertheless, Falk decided to honor a couple whose seemingly atavistic values are more reminiscent of those of antebellum slave owners than of contemporary college professors.

Given how easy it is to rebut Adam Falk’s spurious claims about John Derbyshire, I suspect that his new employers will read this article and benefit from an early signal that Falk is a troubled person with bad instincts and a deeply flawed moral compass.

#2 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 17, 2017 @ 8:27 am

Falk and his development department knew full well that the Horns were in legal trouble when he signed off on this highly visible, extremely inappropriate naming opportunity.

This is almost certainly false. But, if you have any evidence, please share it with us.

#3 Comment By JCD On November 17, 2017 @ 9:00 am


My statement above is based on comments by Adam Falk and Lew Fisher reported in a Williams Record article published February 22, 2017.


The relevant passage reads as follows:

The College announced the naming of Horn Hall in a press release on Sept. 17, 2016. When the College published the release, both development staff and senior administrators were aware of the Horns’ legal issues.

“When we created the press release announcing their gift and the naming of the building, we did know the Horns were involved in a legal issue back home in Norway related to an au pair,” Associate Vice President of Development Lew Fisher ’89 said. “We learned this from the Horns themselves but did not know the specifics of the case nor the particulars of Norwegian law.”

I have worked with major donors like the Horns long enough to suspect that they made their $10 million donation, in large part, to improve their public image in reaction to a growing au pair scandal, a scandal which had already forced Ragnar Horn 85′ to resign his own powerful private sector board positions.

Falk’s decision to take their money and give them a highly visible naming opportunity was – without a doubt – a poor, reckless and insensitive decision. I’m not surprised that you would doubt that he and his development department could ever behave in such an irresponsible manner.

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On November 17, 2017 @ 9:05 am

My mistake! Apologies for doubting you on this.

#5 Comment By anonymous On November 17, 2017 @ 9:07 am

#6 Comment By abl On November 17, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

This isn’t libel for a variety of reasons. I suspect Derbyshire counts as a “public figure” and, therefore, he would have to prove that Falk was malicious in order to succeed in a libel claim. Regardless, though, because Derbyshire has acknowledged that he holds beliefs that are currently widely categorized as white supremacist beliefs (he rejects, at most, society’s current use of that expression as a label for these beliefs), I’m not sure what harm Falk’s mere use of that phrase does. (Falk is also not the first to label Derbyshire as such.)

#7 Comment By JCD On November 17, 2017 @ 2:25 pm


You are not paying attention to what Falk wrote, and you are underestimating Falk’s intellectual sloppiness and potentially libelous deceit.

Falk explicitly called Derbyshire a “self-described” white supremacist. To anyone familiar with Derbyshire’s writing this statement is completely absurd, inaccurate and untrue. For a useful review of Derbyshire’s thinking check out the following transcript from his radio program. The key discussion on white supremacy is in Section 5.

Radio Derb — Transcript, Friday, December 2nd, 2016

#8 Comment By anonymous On November 17, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

Libel is probably too strong, but he leaves Williams in even more disgrace:





Maybe he should cover up some art in his final days to distract everyone. Or create a hoax in order to cancel classes.

#9 Comment By abl On November 17, 2017 @ 4:08 pm

You are not paying attention to what Falk wrote

Sure I am. I just didn’t think I had to spell this out in more detail.

1. Even if the operative part of the potential libel in question is the fact that Falk calls him a “self-described white supremacist,” if Derbyshire is a public figure–which he almost certainly is–Falk does not commit libel if he has not spoken maliciously. That’s an incredibly tough standard in general, and I don’t think there’s a court in the country that would rule in favor of Derbyshire as to Falk’s putative maliciousness. At very worse, Falk has been rhetorically sloppy–and that’s not enough.

2. Even if Derbyshire were not a public figure, Falk’s comments would likely not constitute libel. Essentially, Derbyshire says “I hold beliefs currently described as being ‘white supremacist’ beliefs by mainstream society, but I don’t like the term ‘white supremacist,’ so please instead call me part of the ‘dissident right.'”) Given this, I’m not sure if Falk’s comments are even false: if someone describes themselves as meeting the commonly-held definition of [a], it’s probably accurate to say that they are a “self-described [a].” (If I describe myself as being a “gal with brown hair,” you could probably say that I’m a self-described “brunette” even if I personally believe the word “brunette” should only be used to describe men.)

Let’s assume for a second that this is not true: that to be a “self-described [a],” you need to actually use the word [a] to describe yourself (as opposed to a series of synonyms or a paragraph constituting the definition of [a].) Even if Falk’s comment was false, it also must be negligent to constitute libel (in most states). Even if Falk is incorrect in his understanding of what it means to be a “self-described [a],” it’s a sufficiently close question that I don’t see how Falk’s mistake in this regard constitutes negligence.

Even if this mistake does constitute negligence, in what way is Derbyshire damaged? He doesn’t seem to disagree that he fits the mold of what most people these days call “white supremacy”–he just thinks that the term is being misused. Any scorn, ridicule, hatred, disgrace, or contempt that Derbyshire will be subject to is as a result of his underlying beliefs–and not whether Falk has incorrectly described him as a “self-described white supremacist” (as opposed to, say, someone who mainstream society describes as a white supremacist).

*obviously nothing in here should be understood as actual legal advice*

#10 Comment By Anonymous On November 17, 2017 @ 5:52 pm

Derbyshire is a public figure and a claim of defamation carries with it a higher burden of proof for public figures. To prove “actual malice” of a public figure the plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant knew the statements were false.

#11 Comment By anonymous On November 17, 2017 @ 6:04 pm

He knew the source of the quote:

One could argue that continuing to misrepresent Derbyshire has the effect of preventing speaking engagements, which is a source of income. A lawsuit would be amusing, especially it went to discovery. Who would be subpoena’d, and how much would Williams pay to the lawyers to defend Falk? Or would they force him to pay his own lawyer, since this piece seems to have no relevance to his (soon to be obsolete) position at Williams?

#12 Comment By anonymous On November 17, 2017 @ 8:20 pm

It seems the relevant question is when does “rhetorically sloppy” become “reckless disregard” for the facts? (NYT v. Sullivan)

#13 Comment By JCD On November 17, 2017 @ 9:13 pm


abl is not an attorney or an attorney spokesman. He only plays one on Ephblog. His comments on the application of libel law to the article written by Adam Falk are meant for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as actual legal advice.

#14 Comment By Williams Alum On November 18, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Thanks for responding to the content of abl’s post Dr. John C. Drew PhD

#15 Comment By sporty fella On November 18, 2017 @ 4:08 pm

That said, abl is 100% accurate. It is not as if one needs to be a lawyer to understand legal contexts that apply broadly in a world where non-lawyers can be familiar with that law. And it goes without saying that the person making the assertion of libel — DDK — and the person defending that charge — JCD — are also NOT lawyers. Again, JCD is mocking abl for not being a lawyer when JCD IS NOT A LAWYER EITHER. The difference is, they are wrong about libel. abl is correct.

#16 Comment By notalawyer On November 18, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

Falk is surely protected by free speech, which is something he holds in high regard, but the situation is not without some precedent:

#17 Comment By PTC On November 19, 2017 @ 12:49 am

When Adam put his name behind censorship of events that created the college because of a war memorial he lost all credibility with me. The College was created by war.

Yes, Williams was created by war. Do with that what you will now, but don’t try to deny it!

War is something none of us should pretend we are above. We should not forget it. Exploitation is reality. Anyone who is an educator should understand this. It is as clear as history. To pretend you do not understand this is a lie.

It’s that simple.

#18 Comment By abl On November 19, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

Thanks, all.

PTC — what is this censorship to which you refer?

#19 Comment By PTC On November 19, 2017 @ 6:38 pm


The covering of the log mural with plywood: a veterans monument that depicts Williams with Hendrick Theyanoguin prior to “The Bloody Morning Scout.” A battle in which they were both killed as allies.

The creation of a committee to review historic names and monuments on campus to evaluate whether they should be altered, moved, or covered- such as the Haystack Monument and the Civil War Monument.

The scrubbing of the “non swastiaka” from the side of Weston Hall, without community input or explanation.


The creation of a draconian sovereign decision making process that allows the Administration sole discretion for preemption of speech on campus; through a system that makes students apply to bring any speaker, musician, artist etc one month prior with the understanding that the administration can deny the application, without explanation.

To name just a few examples. The committee is still doing this work today…




#20 Comment By PTC On November 19, 2017 @ 6:48 pm

#21 Comment By PTC On November 19, 2017 @ 6:51 pm

You don’t have to agree with Derbyshire to believe that the College did something wrong in forbidding him from speaking here. Administrators can make blunders, but this isn’t a blunder; rather, it’s part of a larger and ominous pattern. Last October, the same students who invited Derbyshire were pressured into rescinding their invitation to Suzanne Venker. This itch to censor is not even limited to the present. Right now, a committee is tracking down “potentially problematic” historical art on campus. Its mission is encapsulated in a remarkable leading question (a question so artfully constructed as to yield but one answer): “What should be done about historical images that portray the College as less welcoming than we are or aspire to be?” Framed that way, it’s hardly a surprise that the mural in the Log depicting Chief Hendrick – the Mohawk ally of Ephraim Williams – has been found objectionable and whisked behind plywood…


#22 Comment By Dick Swart On November 19, 2017 @ 7:33 pm


Right on (as we olde guys say to try to stay relevant).

I was particularly pissed at the covering of the mural!

Students and visitors on-campus are being treated as those who do not have enough judgement and background to understand the passing of time and the shifting/overlapping meaning of images.

#23 Comment By abl On November 19, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

PTC — was the mural covered because it is a war memorial or because it depicts Native Americans in an offensive respect? (Or is there something else to it?)

In any event, there’s a difference between censorship and the removal of offensive past images. I do not know what the logic behind the mural-covering was, or why the Haystack or Civil War monument would be moved or changed, but I do think that there are some types of memorial removal/changes that are definitely called for. This may or may not be one of them. (Memorials to the confederacy are a great example: we should not be honoring or celebrating soldiers who betrayed the country to fight to preserve something as abhorrent as slavery.)

#24 Comment By anonymous On November 19, 2017 @ 8:22 pm

The log mural was handled well—once it was taken away from administrators and put in the hands of students and professors:

The original decision was a mix of emotional reasoning, bumbling effort to avoid controversy, and “act first, ask questions later” attitude that has been typical in Hopkins Hall.

#25 Comment By PTC On November 19, 2017 @ 8:44 pm

anon and abl-

Once you claim that “offensive” speech and monuments can be banned, then the question is who decides?

Does it make it ok (“handled well”) because the people who are right now considering the censorship of things such as the Haystack, the renaming of mission park etc. meet some kind of administrative quorum that you find less dictatorial?

How is that ok? Because they are more likely to make decisions about the destruction of historical artifacts that we can agree upon?

There are seven categories of unprotected speech and expression in the United States, and “offensive” is not one of them.

Williams is a private school, so unlike a public college it does not have to justify its “exceptions” in court by following the law, but that does not mean it should not think carefully before banishing a legal standard for a standard of “one” or “the selected few” or even “the majority.”

“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” is not a concept that comes from a believer in individual rights. It is a fascist concept that rationalizes the exception- and this concepts points out exactly what this trend at Williams is.

As professor Michael Lewis, the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard professor of art history points out;

Of course it isn’t called a blacklist. It is a symptom of the fundamental dishonesty of this day that we hesitate to call things by their right names. Back in the 1930s, that age of international fascism, the Louisiana populist Huey Long was asked if he thought fascism could ever succeed in the United States. “Sure,” he replied, “just so long as they call it anti-fascism.”

#26 Comment By Anonymous On November 19, 2017 @ 8:53 pm

I find it hard to believe that anyone “here” could agree with a policy that gives any College Administration absolute preemptive authority to block any student request for a speaker, artist, or musician without any debate or explanation.

That is the policy at Williams right now.

#27 Comment By abl On November 19, 2017 @ 9:55 pm


I think the people or communities who are the object of potential offense should get to decide. It’s a fairly easy rule to apply: if a community of Williams students or alumni or faculty or staff are depicted in a manner that they find offensive, there should be serious consideration to removing or modifying the offending depiction. (I am not personally in favor of destruction in avoidable circumstances.) I don’t know that each community in question should get a veto-proof say in the matter–expense and historical importance and other factors should potentially come into play–but I do think there should be a reasonably strong presumption towards not causing offense.

Maybe you disagree with this rule. In that case, propose a different one. “We shouldn’t care about people’s feelings because it’s difficult to design a good way of handling this” isn’t a great answer–and I suspect that if you were from a marginalized community and regularly were faced with offensive memorials, you’d think otherwise. (E.g., I think saying “let’s do nothing because doing something is hard” is a position that springs from privilege.)

Incidentally, I also want to make clear that I am speaking in generalities: I do not know the specifics of any of the possible Williams-specific issues to which you refer, and therefore cannot say whether these represent legitimate issues of offense, or whether they are the product of overreactive administrators.

I sense, in your comments, some frustration towards those on the furthest reaches of the left who, at times, appear eager to curtail any speech or art that challenges their viewpoints. For what it’s worth, I share some of that frustration. But even while I disagree with the worst parts of this speech-chilling general attitude–I hope it’s obvious at this point that I strongly support vigorous substantive debate–I don’t think that every aspect of it is wrong: there is a real emotional harm that can be inflicted by certain memorials (like confederacy memorials) or certain representations (like racist representations of minority groups) that, societally, we should be seeking to curtail. We should not be celebrating, through monuments, the worst elements of our culture. And the public art that we display should not cause entire classes of US citizens to feel like they are less–less intelligent, less important to the US, or less human. That doesn’t mean that the log painting should have been covered or that either memorial that you note should be removed — but it does mean that some monuments should come down, and some public art put back into storage. There’s an incredibly difficult discussion that we, as a society, need to have to figure out which ones. But I think the perspective that nothing should change is untenable.

#28 Comment By Anon88 On November 20, 2017 @ 11:36 am

I would recommend this report from the Witt Committee at Yale (tasked with thinking about the framework in which to consider renaming Calhoun College) for what I consider a balanced view of the issues abl discusses above.

I do believe it’s generally wise to allow student, faculty, and alumni – rather than administrators alone – to have input into controversial decisions in the life of a college.

#29 Comment By Fendertweed On November 20, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

JCD has a lot to learn about the law of defamation, it appears the red mist obscures his appreciation of some key elements.

#30 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 4:12 pm

“those who are the object of potential offense should get to decide.”

And at a private college like Williams, the rules of the institution get to manage these considerations without any regard for the rights of both freedom of association or speech, or even the academic value of oppositional discourse.

Once you abandon legal standards of speech- for which there are already objective legal criteria; then anyone, for any reason, can claim offense and banish a speaker, regardless of how pertinent that speaker may be be to real life politics and policy.

What good is a Williams College sociology or political science major if you are not allowed, by the rules, to confront real life considerations that are pertinent- perhaps even dominant- in public life?

Should Jeff Sessions be allowed to speak at Williams? I bet over half the students would say no. He “just happens to be” the Attorney General. By their vote, he’d be disinvited. Too offensive.

Offensive speech is a subjective standard that is impossible to discern. By definition, it places people in a bubble when you have such a subjective standard and a homogenous political climate.

Any speaker who is pro life, any speaker who is against gun control, any speaker who is strict on immigration, for example, could be banished. Supporters of President Trump, or supports of President Obama, or supporters of any president “who is offensive” could be banished under such a standard.

Any speaker from Anitfa- banished. Any speaker from Blue Lives Matter- banished. Any speaker from the current free speech movement- banished for their speech about free speech. These are real world examples, not fantastical hypotheticals. This is the kind of speech being banished at Williams.

Who’s left when we are done?

Veterans of any war could be prohibited from speaking about war. The current war in Iraq and the global war on terrorism is highly offensive to many students. People die. We kill people. Banished.

Any major oil company representative- banished because they have objectionable positions on global warming. Banished because we privatized oil in Iraq. Perhaps the privatization of oil in Iraq, or Iran, is something we could learn about from the people who did it? But hell… that’s just too offensive.

At some point you have to speak about reality. Political controversy is a part of reality. Being offended by someones policy positions does not mean we should put our heads in the sand and refuse to confront “offensive” issues with people who support them.

Take any political race in the United States and at least 50% of the people voting are offended by the other parties views and actions. That is life.

#31 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 4:20 pm


How far would you take a ban on visiting speakers?

Should the college ban members of the Trump Administration if the majority of students/ faculty find them to be offensive?

If so, why have a political science department?

#32 Comment By abl On November 20, 2017 @ 4:24 pm


I think there’s a difference between encouraging a wide range of viewpoints to be expressed at Williams and between allowing a wide range of depictions–including some that are offensive–to be displayed in reverence. These are related issues, obviously, but I’m not sure that the answer to one can be used for the other. For example, I personally am much more comfortable with the idea of removing memorials to offensive causes (like the confederacy) than I am with the idea of allowing some small group of students–on the left or on the right or maybe not politically affiliated–to veto a campus speaker.

You make a good point about college speakers. What would you propose? Should anyone who wants to be allowed to speak? What about bona fida Nazi recruiters? E.g., people who self-identify as being Nazis and who are coming to Williams for the sole purpose of trying to recruit Williams students into the US Nazi Party? Would it make a difference if one student wanted the Nazis to come to Williams? And what role should the President and the school’s faculty play in this? As the leaders of an educational institution, why shouldn’t they have some say in controlling this aspect of students’ education?

#33 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

abl- I agree that there is a distinction, but it still comes down to who decides. For example, Haystack is on the list at Williams, because the missionary movement is connected to Imperialism and religious conversion.

Here is a list of some of the speakers that have been disinvited from Colleges during this “phase” for lack of a better term…


Williams is highlighted in this list.

#34 Comment By abl On November 20, 2017 @ 4:39 pm


So do you think students should decide? If so, who? A committee? CC? It seems to me that some combination of students, faculty, and administrators would be ideal, although I’m not sure what that’d look like.

#35 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 5:58 pm


I don’t think so. I think if you have a group that wants to invite a speaker to campus you allow it as long as the speech is legal. That does not mean anyone needs to attend.

What happens when you “let the group decide” is that you get involved in “group think” and force a small segment of the community to justify every speaker.

You end up banning or shutting off people like Condoleezza Rice, Anita Alvarez, John Brennan, popular musicians, comedians… the list is endless.

Why on earth would you ban the first African American Secretary of State or the Head of the CIA from speaking on campus? Why ban a rap artist, or a comedian, or a country star- if students want to pay for it and invite?

Having a respect for free speech does not just protect speakers, it also protect institutions as well. Said “committees” risk student integrity because there is a conflation between allowing speech and condoning it when you give up the fundamental principles of academic freedom.

It is bad news for everyone involved.

If the speech is lawful, it should be allowed. Yes, even if a rap artist wants to swear, or a heavy metal band who wants to have go go girls dancing provocatively on a stage in bikinis- or a woman who wants to make an argument that feminism is bad for society.

#36 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 6:03 pm

If it is lawful speech and conduct, it should be allowed.

If anything, maybe you make a rule that it takes some number of students to suggest a proposal… because of time space and money. You may have to ask an attorney if you safety (clear and present danger) concern, or a concern about obscenity or some other form of unprotected speech.

But to make it so a small number of people has the veto on free speech at a college campus is wrong on many levels. It’s unfair to the people involved in the decision as well.

#37 Comment By abl On November 20, 2017 @ 7:36 pm


What it means for speech to be “lawful” is, roughly speaking, that the speech must be free of government suppression. The rationale behind what speech is “lawful” is therefore shaped by the public policy and legal thinking around government suppression. Here, though, we aren’t talking about government suppression: we are talking about what kind of speech should be allowed at a private educational institution. I don’t think, therefore, that looking to the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence with respect to allowable restrictions on speech is necessarily going to lead to the policy right for a place like Williams (which is not, and probably should not be, bound by this jurisprudence).

Supreme Court precedent (as (mis-)applied to Williams) would allow a Nazi recruiter to come to Williams to recruit–even if literally not a single person on campus wants him. Accepting that Williams currently has the power to turn down this recruiter, do you think that Williams should decline to exercise this power and let the Nazi party recruit at Williams?

#38 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 8:29 pm

Court precedent (as (mis-)applied to Williams) would allow a Nazi recruiter to come to Williams to recruit–even if literally not a single person on campus wants him.

Not true. Even public college campuses can charge uninvited people for trespass as well as have “time place and manner” restrictions on invited speakers. You are trespassing if you are on a college campus without being invited. It is a limited public forum. Within such rules, you cannot limit the content of the speech when open to the public, if it is a public school. Content based and in particular viewpoint discrimination (what is clearly practiced now at Williams) is however, illegal.

Yes, Williams does not have to follow public college rules….

Of course, that does not stop anyone from loitering on a sidewalk in Williamstown speaking about all kinds of foul things (open public forum). I don’t believe there is a parade permit law here? If Nazis were lurking around every corner of town here they would already be doing what you suggest openly on spring street- just as the ACLU openly recruits there at will now.

I think if a student wants a Nazi to come speak about white supremacy on campus within the rules of a limited public forum, then that is on that student.

That student is certainly not going to win any popularity contests… and the school has a right to ban a speaker if there is a clear and present danger. They can also place restrictions on the time place and manner of speech- using the policy of the permit that is required by the administration. That does not mean however, that the college should ban viewpoints.

Public Universities have to follow the law. Why is it that you believe that Williams Students deserve less autonomy than the students at MCLA? That to me, seems like a poor opinion of Williams Students.

#39 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 8:36 pm

#40 Comment By PTC On November 20, 2017 @ 8:41 pm