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Majumder Favors Speech Restrictions

Professor Tiku Majumder in laser lab.
From WAMC:

Campuses have increasingly become ground zero for the battle over speech. And while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion from government infringement, it faces limitations at private schools like Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The interview is a short 6 minutes. Alas, I can’t find a transcript. Is there an easy way to make one from an audio recording? Comments:

1. Tiku, a personal friend of Adam Falk from their graduate student days and a member of the search committee which selected him, has Falk’s back. He doubles down on the banning of John Derbyshire from campus.

2. Why do this? The Derbyshire fiasco was one of the worst black eyes for the College in the last few years. Why even grant an interview to discuss the topic? If you aren’t going to change the policy, there is no reason to bring it up.

3) Why not change the policy? Perhaps it was impossible for Falk to admit his mistake. But Falk is gone. Can’t we let the mistake go with his departure? Majumder could do a big favor for the next Williams president by putting this controversy aside. He doesn’t have to issue a news release. He could just let Zach Wood know that Uncomfortable Learning is free to invite any speaker they want.

4) Majumder should practice more for these interviews. His opening answer — when he knew the topic ahead of time — was a mishmash of non-sequiturs. (The interviewer, JD Allen, does not challenge Majumder in anyway.) For example, pointing out, as Falk has done, that Williams is different than the main street of Williamstown, is effective rhetoric. Majumder should say that “The First Amendment protects the right of every kooky racist who rants to rant on the main street of Williamstown. That doesn’t mean that we (or you!) need to invite them all into our house.” (Of course, I disagree with that argument, but this line of reasoning is more persuasive than specific attacks on Derbyshire.)

5) Majumder won’t allow speakers that “provide no benefit in moving forward the conversation we are interested in fostering.” That sure seems like a sensible standard! What could possibly go wrong?

6) Compare Williams with the University of Chicago, which is allowing Steve Bannon to speak.

The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.

For most practical purposes, Bannon and Derbyshire have the same views on public policy.

The traditional knock on Williams, in comparison with great universities like Chicago or Yale (where Derbyshire spoke two years ago) , is that we are little more than a glorified prep school, a finishing academy where the not-really-intellectucal children of the elite go to learn some manners, to learn what they may say/think to advance in the world. Chicago/Yale/Harvard are for the true elite, for students who do not need adults to control their lives.

I have always hated that criticism, all the more so in cases where it is true . . .

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#1 Comment By anonymous On January 29, 2018 @ 9:15 am

—Majumder won’t allow speakers that “provide no benefit in moving forward the conversation we are interested in fostering.”

If that’s really true, its a clear failure to understand academic freedom. The president doesn’t get to decide what conversations are worth having on a college campus, and doesn’t have the ability to predict if a speaker will or will not move a conservation forward. This is yet more evidence of groupthink at Williams.

#2 Comment By frank uible On January 29, 2018 @ 10:27 am

Who is so arrogant as to believe that he is fit to determine the limits?

#3 Comment By ZSD On January 29, 2018 @ 2:40 pm

Majumder won’t allow speakers that “provide no benefit in moving forward the conversation we are interested in fostering.”

If this is accurate and ‘press’ is substituted for ‘speakers’ then the thought is worthy of Josef Goebels … the master propagandist of the XXth Century!

#4 Comment By anonymous On January 29, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

The context of the interview makes it sound less ominous, but it is essentially a rehash of the feckless Falk op-ed from a couple months ago. It really seems like no one in Hopkins has the ability or desire to represent Williams as an institution that welcomes independent thought.

#5 Comment By frank uible On January 29, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

To the tune of the Colonel Bogey March.

#6 Comment By anonymous On January 29, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

In case anyone doubts the level of latent totalitarianism at Williams, you need only look here:
http://reason.com/blog/2018/01/16/williams-college-students-should-report

#7 Comment By frank uible On January 30, 2018 @ 1:11 pm

Big Brother is watching you!

#8 Comment By anonymous On January 30, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

We probably shouldn’t worry so much—-“it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

#9 Comment By Munzer On January 30, 2018 @ 2:40 pm

Thank you for link to reason.com, anonymous. The college’s political correctness knows no bounds.

That link is worthy of a full ephblog post of its own.

Keep tweaking these oversensitive, self-righteous blowhards, Donald J.

#10 Comment By frank uible On January 30, 2018 @ 3:52 pm

I don’t much like being told what to do, much less what to think.

#11 Comment By PTC On May 2, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

The traditional knock on Williams, in comparison with great universities like Chicago or Yale (where Derbyshire spoke two years ago) , is that we are little more than a glorified prep school, a finishing academy where the not-really-intellectucal children of the elite go to learn some manners, to learn what they may say/think to advance in the world. Chicago/Yale/Harvard are for the true elite, for students who do not need adults to control their lives.
I have always hated that criticism, all the more so in cases where it is true . . .

This is not a “traditional knock.” Williams always had a reputation for being somewhat small, regional and elite. An elite finishing college for Wall Street. It never had a reputation for being a place of restricted speech and harsh rules on conduct- until now.

Leaving the school with many more rules for both conduct and expression (much like a prep school) is Falk’s legacy.

Williams forces students into dorms the entire four years, with roving security and random spot checks to enforce rules, which in term brings the college in everyone’s bedroom and living room. This isolation brings limitations on conduct and speech, much like a prep school.

The same is not true at larger universities because students live off campus, party off campus, are in larger places (not isolated like Williams) with many schools around (even Amherst has this), there are older students because of robust graduate programs etc. large towns and cities, a plethora of social life outside the school that allows young adults to explore other options.

Williams is isolated, and when you add lots of rules and restrictions to an isolated environment, it becomes more like a prep school… which is very limiting both academically and socially.

#12 Comment By PTC On May 2, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

If Williams did not have restrictions for on campus housing, and was in a larger metropolitan area, with a few larger universities near it, it would be different. It would attract a lot more students and professors.

But it is not. And that is a real problem for Williams both socially and academically.

Dorm life (social life) at Williams now is like Choate in 1980… that is not an exaggeration.

#13 Comment By PTC On May 2, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

anonymous- Right, and with the forced intimacy at a place like Williams Big Brother and Big Sister are always watching- even for behavior off campus in a “virtual space” no less.

This kind of a system dumbs interactions down to the limitations of the lowest common denominator of the most easily offended amongst us- which will not prepare young adults for real life, and actually stunt social as well as academic interactions and learning.

I take it back- Williams is more socially immature than Choate was in 1980.

#14 Comment By sigh On May 2, 2018 @ 6:10 pm

First, why are you upping this post? Curious.

Second, how do you know so much about dorm life?

Third, while I see much that is valid in your argument (David’s version of the critique of Williams is myopic), williams is not hurting for applicants for both students and professors. Nor is Williams particularly prone to “the limitations of the lowest common denominator of the most easily offended amongst us-” (what even is that?) considering the primary examples of the (overhyped) fear over free speech/offensiveness on campuses range from Middlebury (isolated like Williams) to Berkeley (major metro) to Missouri (big but not urban).

#15 Comment By JCD 📌 On May 2, 2018 @ 9:22 pm

As far as I’m concerned, freedom of speech is by far the most important issue in the nation.

The left can’t win without cheating simply because it doesn’t have the facts on its side. Censorship is cheating. The left needs to cheat because it has a religious, politically correct insistence on seeing an imaginary world in which disparate results are always the result of unfair, oppressive practices, usually institutionalized racism.

They hold to this absurd belief system despite of the ease with which conservatives can demonstrate the inaccuracy of their views. See, for example, Thomas Sowell’s new book for a sharp take on how easy it is to refute the standard liberal/leftist views which dominate at LAC’s like Williams College.

Williams: Discrimination and disparities

Because it cannot win the factual argument, the left will always be among the first to prevent others from accessing the facts which counter its cherished shibboleths. In the process, it will show no mercy as it censors its opponents, keeps them from speaking in public, or prevents them from even leaving comments on blog posts.

The only way the left can win is by killing off freedom of speech. We should not be surprised to see it make every effort to do so.

#16 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 8:38 am

Sigh-

I know something about current dorm life because I have friends who are students. People who stop over to my house (which is about 25 yards from campus) and have dinner with my family- so they would talk about the rules. I have had many friends like this since I returned from the service in 2012, so I have a good feel for what the rules are like, and what at least what some current students think of the rules- or better put, how they negotiate the rules. A normal person at Williams usually breaks rules often- because the rules are not natural.

No hard alcohol on campus, strict enforcement of underage drinking etc. The big rule that most Williams students break is underage drinking, and providing alcohol to someone who is underage, which is a crime, and a violation of a major school rule. That’s a real pitfall when you are 21 and living in a dorm with 20 year olds. It is very common (and I would argue natural) for a 21 year old to hand a 20 year old friend a beer. Dorm life brings more risk than an apartment would for such a function, because the dorms are not private property- nor private spaces. The college can- and will- look to bust you for this kind of behavior in your “home.” The police in Boston are not going to be coming into your apartment looking for Bacardi… or whether or not some 20 year is drinking with you there.

It was not that way int he 70s and 80s. In the 70s I stayed in Wood house one night a week when I was younger. The dorm then was wide open, the students had cars, the students has dogs, they students had beer and booze in the open- they had complete autonomy- more like living in an apartment house. In the 80s I was college age, so I had friends at Williams and would party in the dorms some- there were basically no rules at that time.

I have been to several dorm functions in the last few years, helped people move out of their dorms last year at the end of the term. It was definitely a “stash your bottle” scene, which is very similar to prep school in the 80s. Security enforces rules on drinking and dorm living as much or more more than it provides security- also very similar to prep school. I went to prep school in the 80s, so I have a good feel for what that particular culture is like.

#17 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 8:54 am

Sigh,

The critique David cites has nothing to do with how many people go to Williams, or how well the school does. It is a critique of the culture of the school itself, and what it provides (or fails to provide) for the adults who go there.

A senior from the University of Chicago who travels to Williams for a visit is probably going to notice severe cultural differences right away, and some nuance of arrested intellectual and social interaction because of the prep school like atmosphere and the constraints of the immediate and surrounding intellectual and social culture…

That would at least be my guess. Even in the 80s, when there were “no rules”, when I would party at Williams dorms while home from Boston University, I noticed right away the dorm atmosphere (what at that time was a more like a fraternity) was far different from the experience I had living in an apartment in central square, bartending at a local bar, going to school in a city with about a million students, and living and working in that city through the summers. The scene was stunted and far less mature, in my opinion.

#18 Comment By anonymous On May 3, 2018 @ 9:50 am

This may be the root reason: children today don’t really grow up until they are 30, in part because they are over protected by parents, schools, and society (see the free-range parenting movement). College administrators are simply doing what the kids (and society at large) expect: keeping them safe in body and mind. The argument of many (like PTC and DDF) is that this is doing more harm than good. The problem is that the signs of harm occur only during times of crisis (an offensive speaker, unexpected election results, etc.), so it’s hard to be sure that there’s a problem.

#19 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 11:10 am

anonymous-

Which is why young adults can grow differently at a large university where they are no longer under an umbrella of such protection.

There is a massive difference between being a student at Williams and a Student at University of Chicago, to take Kane’s example. The student at Williams will live in an isolated social and academic environment for four years. They will live in a dorm, probably not have a job in town, probably not go into town with any frequency other than to be with other Williams students at a restaurant or a bar. They will experience nothing but Williams while in college.

The Chicago student has wide latitude to live in town. It may even be mandatory to live on the economy after freshman year (it was at BU). To work in the economy. To rent, to be a part of the city, and to hang out with a wide variety of people both socially and academically.

Being sheltered at Williams is mandatory. You cannot escape the bubble.

This “sheltering” is not mandatory at a large university, or even at a small school that is closer to a more diverse economy and academic environment- like say, Davidson, or even to a degree, Amherst.

#20 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 11:11 am

Anonymous- I think we agree, that at a place like Williams by nature isolates and insulates the students. This is not the case at other colleges.

#21 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 11:16 am

At least some of the older students at Williams believe there is a problem. I have heard this critique (that Williams is too restraining or controlling a space) often from juniors and seniors at the college.

#22 Comment By anonymous On May 3, 2018 @ 11:39 am

PTC:

We largely agree, but the lack of opportunities for growth is not necessarily the same as doing harm (ie do students from Williams really leave significantly less mature than students from UChicago or UMass or BU?). It is also possible that most colleges and universities are moving closer to the in loco parentis helicoptores model that characterizes Williams.

#23 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

anon- It’s really not possible to move closer to the helicopter model when you are a large school in which the social life, which includes (not) living on campus, is a part of the experience. Boston University uses rules like they have at Williams to encourage students to move off campus. Quite literally, similar on campus rules that are at Williams is what the University uses to get kids to leave.

On campus housing is extremely limited after freshman year- and generally people cannot wait to get off campus and live in Boston- because of the helicopter culture you describe. A young adult lives out in town after freshman year, where they will experience things much differently than someone at a place like Williams who lives in a dorm for four years.

A place like Boston University is pretty much just a place to go to class, get a degree from- learn something. It may involve sports which is more intimate- even serious sports like female hockey, field hockey, lax, or Male Hockey- which are one of the best programs in the nation D1, which is kind of Ephesque, but still… Boston University for most students is basically a day school to go to while living in Boston.

It’s a completely different experience than Williams. It may not be for everyone- but the young adults choose it this (or who may have better scores choose Chicago or Harvard). The fact is that they want an experience without the restriction of living “under the guidance of a college”- without the helicopter aspect you describe.

So right away, there is a different philosophy about young adulthood generally at a big urban university. That being- get the hell out of here and figure it out, you are an adult now.

#24 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 12:57 pm

Same is true at NYU… where my students get out of dorms after freshman year and live in the village.

These kinds of schools do not put any money into dorms- and dorms are essentially a place for freshman to go and get acclimated to the city. After that, you should have figured it out enough to be an adult and live in New York City.

Very different experience.

#25 Comment By PTC On May 3, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

They had “alcohol violations” for underage drinking in dorms while I was at BU, and these rules were seen in part as a mechanism to get young adults who wanted autonomy to leave campus- which also served the schools interests because Boston University has very limited housing.

“Get the hell out of here” is not exactly a part of the Williams model… lol.

#26 Comment By anonymous On May 3, 2018 @ 1:41 pm

That’s an interesting hypothesis to consider: does student support for free speech depend on the nature of the institution? (Eg rural / urban, primarily on campus vs off campus residence, etc.). I’m skeptical, but if students see campus as their true home, it’s reasonable to expect that that they would be less tolerant toward outside voices. This would also explain why it’s elite schools (with the most aggressive in loco helicopter parents) that seem to have the biggest free speech fiascos (the infamous Yale incident was clearly of this variety). In short: a thicker purple bubble tends to have inhabitants who are more allergic to outside germs.

#27 Comment By abl On May 3, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

At least when I was there, Williams’ on-campus life was far less policed and controlled than most of my friends’ lives at other schools (which were mostly much larger). Part of this is innate differences between the JA system and RA systems. But a big additional reason is that, for better or for worse, Williams works hard to insulate its students from lasting consequences, which entails replacing external policing with internal policing: instead of getting an MIP ticket from local police, Williams students are much more likely to get a relatively meaningless on-campus citation (or “strike”) from campus security. To an outsider, the appearance of this approach might indicate that Williams is more overbearing than Northwestern or U-Mass. The effect, though, is not actually a greater regulation of students, but a more consequence-free regulation of students. (And, from my experience, Williams’ security checks were far less regular and far less likely to result in anything besides “pour your beer out, freshman” than the equivalent at other schools.)

#28 Comment By JCD 📌 On May 3, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

I don’t think that there is any question, at this point, that hostility to conservatives is greatest among the elite, east coast, LACs.

Passing on the Right:
Conservative Professors in the Progressive University

This hostility is particularly intense when it is directed against movement conservatives who are firm in their beliefs and aggressive combatants in the war against the left.

#29 Comment By abl On May 3, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

JCD –

You clearly have spent very little time at any university in recent years, especially not elite east coast LACs. Schools like Williams and Amherst and Bowdoin are less hostile to conservatives than the average ivy league school or numerous non-ivy elite schools like Stanford — and the #1 school judged on your metric is probably Berkeley (followed by a number of other non-east coast LACs like UW-Madison, Oberlin, Kenyon, Reid, etc.). The only east coast LAC that I’d put in the top 10 for “hostility to conservatives” is probably Wesleyan.

Williams and most other east coast LACs culturally actually have a pretty strong “let’s all get along” bent — which contributes towards far fewer extreme viewpoints and far less hostility to extreme viewpoints (including conservative viewpoints). I think there’s a tendency to want to avoid conflict at these schools, which I’m gathering you may be misinterpreting as hostility. If anything, though, it’s the opposite. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good thing. But it’s a very different (and somewhat opposite) thing to what your criticism implies.

#30 Comment By sporty fella On May 3, 2018 @ 8:02 pm

There is a not a single school as “hostile” to conservatives as any one of hundreds of Christian schools that literally mandate beliefs and behaviors on the part of their students. Liberty is a far more enforced right-wing environment than any allegedly lefty school, and there are dozens and maybe hundreds of schools that are to the right of Liberty.

By the way — JCD knows NOTHING about American college and university life when it comes to discussions of what happens among the tenured faculty. JCD has never been on a tenure and promotion committee. JCD has not served on a hiring committee (at least since the Reagan administration, assuming he was on a hiring committee as a junior faculty member at Williams, which I highly doubt). He has never been a peer reviewer for a reputable journal, because he has no reputable publications himself.

JCD giving his expert insight into higher education is a priest giving his expert insight into sex: An abstraction best ignored, or at least taken as a grain of very, very inexperienced salt.

A Thesis: The person accusing others of being politicized is always the most politicized person in the room.

— Sporty Fella

#31 Comment By ZSD On May 3, 2018 @ 9:31 pm

at@ anonymous (above)

This may be the root reason: children today don’t really grow up until they are 30, in part because they are over protected by parents, schools, and society (see the free-range parenting movement).

I don’t know whether this proves anon’s point or is in dispute with it, but one of us by 30 had finished college, 2 years in the Army overseas, had four children, had moved 5 times including a company move to run a department, and was teaching Sunday School.

It was a busy decade.