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Admit Your Privilege, 2

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 2.

While several speakers have been invited to talk about free speech (recently Geoff Stone and Frederick Lawrence), and classes on the topic have been taught, discussion about college policy never really got started among faculty or students.

As expected. Would anyone really expect more than a tiny fraction of the students who signed this petition to attend such a talk or take such a class? I wouldn’t! Note this comment from yesterday:

I recall the UChicago speaker [Geoff Stone] from last spring who addressed the topic of free speech on campus, taking what I guess now is a “conservative” stance.

When students who resent free speech spoke during Q&A, their argument began (and stopped) with: what happens when speech makes me/my peers (“marginalized identities”) feel bad?

The reply was simple: do you want authority figures banning speakers who you find offensive? Who gets to decide what’s offensive? What happens when this authority is inevitably extended to someone you disagree with? Do you think the conservative president of a southern university should be allowed to ban a transgender speaker because it makes Christian students uncomfortable? When the issue is framed in this light, the concept of an open platform starts to seem much more attractive.

This reply pretty swiftly made the students actually reflect on the implications of what they were advocating for. It was concerning it took so long for a counterargument to be heard.

Really? I have my doubts about this. There are many plausible counter-arguments — just ask smart EphBlog readers like sigh and abl! — to this hypothetical, not least that no elite college in the last 50+ years has banned or disinvited a leftist/liberal speaker. Back to Maroja:

This is in large part because faculty sharing my concerns about the increasing censorship on campus felt afraid of speaking up, always assuming that they were an insignificant minority.

Again, doesn’t sigh/dcat/me owe John Drew an apology? His claim, for decades, has been that conservative/Republican/libertarian faculty are afraid to publicly voice their opinions. sigh/dcat have largely poo-poo’d such concerns.

But, if Maroja is to be believed, the situation is even worse than Drew led us to believe. Even liberal faculty like her are “afraid” to offer the non-progressive opinion on a given topic.

In my view, the situation became critical when Reza Aslan came for a talk in campus titled “The future of Free Speech and Intolerance”.

Reza Aslan dominated the conversation and, in his always convoluted and self-contradictory style, started by bragging that he had once been disinvited from another venue, proceeding to say that anything that offended him should not be allowed, and finally asserting that “only factual talks” should ever be allowed in campus. This nonsense was met with intense student applause. It was appalling.

Indeed. Am I the only one deeply troubled by this? What say you dcat/abl/sigh?

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#1 Comment By Williams Ex Pat On December 4, 2018 @ 8:35 am

“doesn’t sigh/dcat/me owe John Drew an apology? His claim, for decades, has been that conservative/Republican/libertarian faculty are afraid to publicly voice their opinions” Yes because Drew was correct.

“Am I the only one deeply troubled by this?” You seem to be, sadly.

Last year, one friend of mine brought his daughter to look at a university where the guide boasted about the school’s extremely politically correct climate of heavy censorship. Let’s just say that the school is an ivy on par with Williams. They, as do many other people I know, see a direct correlation between safe-space-providing-keeping-our-campuses-free-from-microaggressions and a lower quality of education. They left the tour early.

I know other parents who will not send their children to Williams or like schools that have signs of political correctness gone insane. They are deeply troubled by the quality of education at institutions that produce such drivel as exemplified in the student counter-petition.

Look at Williams’ history:

* Having Suzanne Venker come to campus to speak inflicts emotional and actual violence on women and Zach Wood had blood on his hands for inviting her

* An invitation for John Derbyshire to come to the campus inflicts violence on students of color

* Christina Hoff Sommers speaks and she gets heckled and shouted down as a racist white supremacist when she is nothing of the sort

* Now, the Chicago Statement or its analogs privilege the 2nd Amendment over the 14th Amendment; a need to protect freedom of speech is evidence of white fragility, ideological anxiety, and discursive violence; “rational debate” rests upon a cognitive hierarchy that says intelligence equals morality and discussion equals good actions.

These are the same kind of illogical leaps present when the following are objected to by these ever-so-fragile-students:

“America is the land of opportunity” (apparently the statement “asserts that race and gender do not play a role in life successes”)

“There is only one race, ‘the human race'” (this denies the “significance of a person of color’s racial/ethnic experience and history”)

“I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” (meaning “people of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race”)

Simply absurd. How anyone can take this stuff seriously is beyond me.

#2 Comment By Fendertweed On December 4, 2018 @ 9:36 am

I don’t for a second favor censorship. I’m close to a free speech absolutist.

But that has nothing to do with defending certain minor characters of the past. No apology here on that front.

#3 Comment By dcat On December 4, 2018 @ 10:50 am

Again, stop putting words in my mouth and invoking me and making claims for me that I have not made. If I want to weigh in here, I will. Until then, don’t create a strawman out of what you think I think. I’ve asked twice now.

I don’t owe John Drew an apology, even on points where we disagreed, because my fundamental disagreements with John Drew were not about any of these matters at all.

Again, I’ve asked you twice. Please don’t make me ask you again. At least, for once, pretend to be a professional. You can make your point without invoking me, sigh, and abl and without making John Drew a victim here, as if our issues with him are merely about policy and ideology and not about much more noxious infestations.

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 4, 2018 @ 11:00 am

> stop putting words in my mouth

This is your opportunity to clarify your position! Consider some claims:

1) At elite colleges like Williams, conservative/Republican/libertarian professors are often afraid to voice their opinions .

2) At elite colleges like Williams, liberal/Democratic/progressive faculty are often afraid to voice their non-consensus opinions on controversial topics.

3) Because of 1) and 2), the status of discussion and debate at places like Williams is in real trouble. We should worry about it and try to do something.

Do you agree or disagree with these claims? (Feel free to re-word them however you see fit.)

#5 Comment By dcat On December 4, 2018 @ 11:20 am

Great. So if I don’t get pulled into this you are going to continue to misrepresent my position and put words into my mouth.

Nope. This allows everyone to see you for who you are, Dave. It allows everyone to see that you are happy to be profoundly intellectually dishonest if the upside (for you) is drawing people into a discussion of your choosing on your terms.

No wonder you’ve absolutely hemorrhaged most of the old readership and are beginning to drive away some of the new folks.

#6 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 4, 2018 @ 11:57 am

> continue to misrepresent

I am doing my best to honestly represent your views. I believe that you disagree with 1), 2) and 3) above. If you, in fact, agree, I apologize!

#7 Comment By abl On December 4, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

I’m going to add my voice to all of the calls to please keep JCD out of this. There is room for interesting and important discussion on these points. Invoking (summoning?) JCD into the discussion is not a productive first step towards reaching any greater understanding of these issues. Nor, especially, is demanding that some of our most thoughtful contributors apologize to JCD over points that they have made in the past that are only indirectly implicated by this discussion–and definitely do not require apologies. JCD leaving this blog was one of the best things to happen to it in recent times; please do not drag him back in.

David, you need to work on tempering what seems to be an innate desire for controversy. You have a good nose for Williams-related issues and, combined with your focus on and commitment to the College, you can make a real contribution to the college community. Ephblog often comes close to being a really wonderful resource for both Williams alums and those interested in the college more generally (like PTC). But you continually shoot yourself in the foot by taking things just one step too far or by making points inflammatory that really shouldn’t be. This is a good example of this. You’ve done a nice job finding Professor Maroja’s blog and tying it into a broader discussion that is happening at Williams–one that has national relevance. And you’ve done a good job in recognizing that there are nuances to these issues that those on all sides of this gloss over–including Professor Maroja specifically. But you really stumble with your entirely unnecessary bit re JCD.

Ephblog could be a forum for intelligent like-minded individuals with an important shared connection to consider many important issues. Ephblog is at its worst when it devolves into trolling and troll-baiting. I’d like to think that we, as a community of Williams alums, are better than that–but I’m not sure we always are. As the de facto (official?) leader of Ephblog, you can and should and do play a big role in setting the tone for these discussions. You do so many things so well in this regard, it’s infuriating when you just can’t resist adding some poke or snark at the end. So often the result is to derail what otherwise might be a thoughtful discussion of an important issue.

#8 Comment By dcat On December 4, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

It is neither your right nor your responsibility to represent views on anything. In fact I MORE AGREE THAN DISAGREE WITH ALL THREE but in your haste to yank me into your own ideologically blinkered debate you just made shit up and you phrased questions in a way that allow for little nuance.

Believe it or not: It is ok to think complicated issues are complicated.

Now, for the love of God, will you stop yanking me into a discussion I asked no part of? Jesus Christ. I can’t believe I have to keep asking you to show basic courtesy and intellectual integrity. Then again, I should not be at all surprised.

#9 Comment By frank uible On December 4, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

Privilege with respect to what? All my life I’ve always been in a minority of one and frankly have enjoyed it without complaint. What did FDR say? He welcomed the hatred of his adversaries.