To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 1.
Is Adam Falk a phony or a naif? Tough to tell. Think that is too harsh a framing? Consider just one sentence from his Washington Post article:
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.
Really? Consider three examples from the Record:
1) Valerie Oyakhilome ’18 wrote that “the administration is able to disinvite John Derbyshire, but chose to allow [former Senator] Brown to enter into our sanctuary, incite concealed racists and further rob minority students of their sense of safety, security and agency.” Oyakhilome does not think that (liberal!) Republicans like Scott Brown should be allowed on the Williams campus.
2) Olivia Goodheart ’18 and Marissa Levin Shapiro ’18 wrote, “Students already encounter anti-feminism every day at the College, and no matter your opinion on free speech, uncomfortable learning or promoting dialogues, this is unacceptable.” Goodheart and Shapiro do not think that conservative women like Suzanne Venker, a perfectly mainstream Fox News commentator, should be allowed on the Williams campus.
3) The Record Editorial Board argued that “the College should not allow speech that challenges fundamental human rights and devalues people based on identity markers, like being a woman.” A naive observer might think that the Record was just following Adam Falk’s lead in attempting to ban nasty racists [sic] like John Derbyshire from campus. Untrue! The Record published that op-ed months ahead of the invitation to Derbyshire. They believed — and perhaps the Record still believes! — that no one to the right of, say, Scott Brown should be allowed on the Williams campus.
Now, admittedly, there are some student voices (e.g., here) at Williams in favor of open debate. But Falk is misleading his readers by pretending that there are not scores of students (hundreds of students? a majority of students?) who want to restrict debate at Williams.
So, is Falk a phony or a naif? My view is that he knows all too well how censorious current students are but that he wants to pretend that they (and their faculty teachers/enablers!) are not. He is the very model of a modern college president, committed to obfuscation when it comes to discussion about the status of open debate at places like Williams.