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.