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Adam Falk’s Legacy, 8

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 8.

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.

“Vulnerable” is an interesting choice of works. Often, when people think that an institution is “vulnerable” to something pernicious, they want to strengthen or protect it. Would Adam Falk like to strengthen public schools so that they, like Williams, are no longer “vulnerable” to people like Derbyshire? I am honestly curious.

After all, laws, even the Constitution, can be changed. Or judges can change what the laws mean. If the First Amendment were to be interpreted as strictly as some other amendments, it might become possible for public universities to ban “hate speech.” Is that what Adam Falk wants?

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

“Forced?” Not by Spencer. Spencer is happy enough to speak for free. The problem is, obviously, Antifa, the same group responsible for the violence at Middlebury. They seek to deprive, using violence, Spencer from exercising his constitutional right to free speech. Does Falk really want to see the heckler’s veto work so well?

Falk’s opinions are not important because he is important. They are important for the light they shed on where elite opinion is heading in America: Toward the restriction of unpopular speech.

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.

The Lawn is public. Would Adam Falk like to ban Confederate flags, and the people who like them, from the Lawn? From all public property? From private property? Of course, we need rules and regulations and permits for the use of public land. Current US law is that all such regulation must be viewpoint neutral. The rules for having a Black Lives Matter march on the Lawn must be the same as the rules for having a Nazi march. Adam Falk seems to prefer an America in which some viewpoints are allowed on the Lawn and some are not. Is he some weird outlier? I doubt it.

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#1 Comment By gtfoh On December 6, 2017 @ 7:29 am

Fuck no, the problem is not antifa.

The problem is the racists and Neo Nazis who go to Spencer speeches and Spencer himself.

Antifa didn’t kill anyone in Charlottesville. Antifa didn’t shoot at protestors in Florida. Deplorable neo Nazis did.

#2 Comment By reductio On December 6, 2017 @ 8:12 am

There are certainly costs to giving all people the freedom to speak in public. What is the cost of denying that freedom?

#3 Comment By JCD On December 6, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

This is an interesting new take on Falk’s statement. I don’t think I truly appreciated, until now, the extent to which he excuses the violence of the Antifa demonstrators. His apparent sympathy for Antifa may be why Falk did not take stronger, aggressive efforts to protect Zach Wood ’18 or to provide proper security for Suzanne Venker. I do not think it is too far to suggest that Falk sympathizes with Antifa and is blind to the threat they pose to free speech and public safety.

#4 Comment By abl On December 6, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

I may have missed something: where does Falk excuse the violence of Antifa demonstrators? Also, where does Falk call for denying all people the freedom to speak in public?

#5 Comment By ZSD On December 6, 2017 @ 5:31 pm

This just in from Politico:

House passes concealed carry gun bill

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/06/house-passes-concealed-carry-gun-bill-28376

This important piece of legislation could bolster arguments on either side of an issue.

#6 Comment By Not John C. Drew Ph.D. On December 6, 2017 @ 5:42 pm

Sorry to hear about you getting fired, Dave!

#7 Comment By ZSD On December 6, 2017 @ 6:51 pm

#8 Comment By ZSD On December 6, 2017 @ 6:53 pm

#9 Comment By reductio On December 6, 2017 @ 8:59 pm

@abl: When one chooses to deny racists a platform, that means not all people are free (only those who are allowed)—that’s precisely DDFs point.

For specific exemption for Antifa, see here:
https://president.williams.edu/letters-from-the-president/standing-with-charlottesville-and-against-racism/

#10 Comment By abl On December 6, 2017 @ 10:08 pm

@abl: When one chooses to deny racists a platform, that means not all people are free (only those who are allowed)—that’s precisely DDFs point.

There is an enormous difference (from a legal standpoint and from a public policy standpoint) between a private actor denying speakers a platform in a private institution and a state actor denying speakers the platform to speak in a public forum. Falk, a private actor, has denied one speaker the opportunity for a Williams College platform. That’s a far cry from denying “all people the freedom to speak in public.”

For specific exemption for Antifa, see here:
https://president.williams.edu/letters-from-the-president/standing-with-charlottesville-and-against-racism/

I don’t see anything there “excus[ing] the violence of the Antifa demonstrators.” In that letter, Falk states that “[t]here is no moral equivalence between racists and those who oppose them.” (And I would hope that we can all agree to this very restrained and reasonable point.) What Falk does not do, however, is endorse any specific tactic–like violence–used in opposition to racists/Nazis. It is entirely possible to believe that there is no moral equivalent between racists and those who oppose racists and yet to disagree with the use of violence by either side. For better or for worse, that’s the position of the majority of people with whom I have personally spoken about this.

#11 Comment By reductio On December 6, 2017 @ 11:03 pm

This has now reached true Ephblog-level obsession with minutiae! I was initially concerned about the logical distinction between not all (= some) and none (i.e. rejecting one person is enough to establish that not all are free).

For Falk’s opinion about allowing provocateurs on public campuses, you need only read the article a little further to get a glimpse: “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?”
This provides further evidence for DDF’s suspicion that Falk believes public campuses should be able to keep such events from happening, due to their excessive costs (albeit at the cost of restricting some freedom).

And for Falk’s statement, there was no explicit denunciation of any violence, only the racists. Perhaps the omission was unintentional, and perhaps is not really suggesting that the freedom of racists should be restricted. The evidence is certainly not definitive one way or the other.