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 4.
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.
Unpacking this suitcase of misinformation is my raison de blog.
First, the only reason that Murray spoke at Williams was because Uncomfortable Learning invited him. In the last four years, Williams faculty/administrators have invited almost no conservative/Republican/libertarian speakers to campus. Moreover, Falk/Williams tried very hard, over multiple years, to shutdown UL. If he/they had been successful, Murray never would have come.
Second, Williams — and I suspect Falk was involved in this subterfuge — couldn’t even allow Murray to simply speak. Instead:
In response to Murray’s scheduled appearance at the College, the Williams College Debating Union (WCDU) invited Joseph L. Graves Jr., an evolutionary and nanobiologist and historian of science based at the Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. Graves’ speech, entitled “Race, Genomics and Intelligence: Slight Return,” occurred in the same venue as Murray’s talk, immediately before the AEI fellow was to speak.
The Record is almost certainly guilty of its usual lousy reporting on this. First, the WCDU was not very active 2016, inviting zero speakers other than Graves to campus. Second, the sign for the event gives the leading spot for funding to the “Office of the President.” In other words, Falk was so concerned about (the reaction to?) Murray’s speech that he used a bunch of his own discretionary funds, laundered through a student group, to invite a mediocrity to speak for 90 minutes directly before Murray. That seems like a vote of confidence in the Williams community’s ability to handle controversial speech!
Third, explicitly mentioning a Charles Murray talk at a NESCAC school without discussing the violence which erupted at Middlebury is . . . a rhetorical trick that relies on the (assumed!) ignorance of his audience.
Fourth, the Shapiro/Weiner event, while praise-worthy, is one of only two non-UL events in the last four years involving a conservative/libertarian/Republican perspective. For Falk to cite this as if it is a common event on the Williams campus is absurd. Note also that neither of these two events featured a right wing voice speaking alone. Neither the College nor any faculty member has invited a solo speaker like Shapiro in the memory of any current student.
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.
First, many students (and faculty members?) felt that someone like Brown should not be allowed to speak on campus.
Second, Brown was, like Shapiro, paired with a liberal speaker. During Adam Falk’s 7 years at Williams, there have been scores of events featuring a liberal/progressive/Democratic speaker sharing her views with the audience, without the need for a debate or an opposing viewpoint. Outside of Uncomfortable Learning events, I don’t think there has been a single such event featuring a speaker from the Right.
Third, notice how Falk takes credit for Sommers even though she, like Murray, only appeared at Williams because of Uncomfortable Learning, an organization that senior faculty members like Sam Crane have gone out of their way to try to destroy.
If UL goes away with Zach Wood’s graduation next spring, will there be a single (solo) conservative/libertarian/Republican speaker invited to campus in 2018-2019? I have my doubts.