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Ad Hoc Update, 2

In February 2016, the (now defunct) student group Uncomfortable Learning invited Dissident Right author John Derbyshire to speak at Williams. Then-president Adam Falk cancelled Derbyshire’s talk, causing a public relations black eye for the College. Current President Maud Mandel seeks to undo the damage associated with that decision. We have named the associated controversy Self-CARE Now. This week, I will review Mandel’s latest e-mail and her draft charge to the Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion. Day 2.

Mandel’s e-mail continues:

Faculty, student and staff governance bodies are helping me build a committee roster, and I expect to have a final version to share with you in my start of semester message on January 30. In the meantime, below is a copy of the proposed charge for the committee. I hope this will help you and our whole community understand the scope of their work and the framing questions I’m posing to help them get started.

My original recommendations were sensible. I reprint them below, along with some additions.

Administration: Jim Reische, Keli Gail, Dukes Love.
Black Faculty: DL Smith. Maybe Neil Roberts if it is clear he will play ball. Maybe Leticia S. E. Haynes if no Black faculty member can be found.
Hispanic Faculty: Joseph Cruz ’91, Peter Montiel, Greg Phelan.
Asian Faculty: Eiko Siniawer ’97, Lee Park.
White Faculty: Karen Merrill, Katarzyna Pieprzak, Darel Paul, Steve Miller, Fred Strauch, .
Athletic Faculty: Lisa Melendy, Marshall Creighton.
Students: Jake Bingaman ’19, John DiGravio ’21, Ariana Romeo ’19, Alex Jen ’19

With either Joe Cruz or Karen Merrill as chair.

But this is now (sadly?), out of date. I thought — and I suspect Mandel originally planned — that the committee would consider the broad issue of free expression at Williams and, after 6 months or so, recommend that the College either sign the Chicago Statement or something similar to it. However, I now think that Mandel is going in a different direction. Key sentence from her charge:

I am charging an ad hoc committee with recommending to me, by May 2019, a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion. ”

The Commitee’s charge is remarkably narrow. You aren’t going to get anywhere near the Chicago Statement, or the broader issues associated with it, if you are restricted to discussing “speaker invitation guidelines.”

That means that this Committee is a side show, a distraction from the main event. So, who cares who is on this committee or what they decide? Not me!

Or maybe, more deviously, Mandel has decided to set this committee up for failure by stocking it with some of the most polarizing — and least likely to compromise — figures on campus. Perhaps Luana Maroja, Steven Gerrard and David Gürçay-Morris ’96 on the pre-speeech side and Joy James, Kai Green and Kimberly Love on the pro-safety side. Such a Committee is unlikely to make much progress. But a high profile failure might allow Mandel to swoop in from the side and institute a broader solution . . .

UPDATE: I wrote this series last week. We now have new evidence that the analysis is spot on! Consider the all-campus e-mail from College Council which went out yesterday. (Thanks dshakirov!) You can tell that the Committee on Campus Speakers, Inquiry and Inclusion — Is this the official name? — will have no real power because:

1) It has four students on it! That is way too many. Williams loves its students but, as an institution, it does not trust them that much.

2) The naming of those students is being left (completely?) to the discretion of the College Council Appointments Committee. Williams loves CC but, as an institution, it does not trust CC with truly important decisions. Note that CC played zero role in, for example, naming the students appointed to the search committee which chose Mandel.

3) CC is likely to (and should?!) name students deeply involved in this debate. Why not include at least one (and maybe more!) of the students involved with CARE-Now? If you were on CC, wouldn’t you appoint Liliana Bierer ’19, Audrey Koh ’21, Isabel Peña ’19, Isaiah Blake ’21, Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí ’20, Suiyi Tang ’20, Annalee Tai ’21 or Rocky Douglas ’19 if they applied? These students are all intelligent and committed. Good stuff! But, from Mandel’s point of view, they are highly unlikely to come up with the answer that she wants.

4) The name of the Committee begins with “Campus Speakers.” This is further evidence that the Committee’s charge will be exceedingly narrow.

If Mandel’s strategy for freeing Williams from the legacy of Falk’s folly depended meaningfully on this Committee, she would put fewer students on it, ensure that those students were carefully selected and entrust the Committee with a broad mandate. She is doing the opposite. Therefore, we know that this Committee will be unimportant. More evidence over the rest of the week.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Ad Hoc Update, 2"

#1 Comment By Jon Serviam On January 15, 2019 @ 10:00 am

Current student here. The correct number of students on this committee should be zero to begin with, and the fact that the student appointments will be made by College Council is a sign that this project is seriously headed in the wrong direction. CC’s current copresidents (plus many others in the organization) are bonafide radicals, so you can expect no pro-free speech students whatsoever to be chosen.

It’s a good thing this committee is shaping up to be less powerful than originally thought, but you can still expect their final “speaker guidelines,” however meaningless, to be completely twisted and restrictive. I fully anticipate them doing something like recommending MinCo and/or WGSS, etc. department(s) to have final veto authority over all speakers. Not saying that’s going to be implemented, but it’s not too much of a stretch so imagine that kind of stuff being in their final report (not to mention the ensuing flurry of bad press for the College). Most students on campus are (quietly) pro-free speech, but the folks who sign up for something like this definitely aren’t.

#2 Comment By Dan Man On January 15, 2019 @ 11:01 pm

The tone of that email from the student council was pretty casual and informal. Does Williams not teach etiquette/business communication?

#3 Comment By abl On January 15, 2019 @ 11:18 pm

The tone of that email from the student council was pretty casual and informal. Does Williams not teach etiquette/business communication?

I doubt Williams does in an official manner. Regardless, the first lesson in any sort of communication class is that audience and context matter. In this day and age, given the context, this seems appropriately formal for an email sent from students to students.

#4 Comment By frank uible On January 15, 2019 @ 11:37 pm

It appears that Maud is an education executive as opposed to an educator much less, heaven forfend, a teacher.

#5 Comment By Doug On January 16, 2019 @ 9:49 am

Seconding what Jon said. Having people like Lizzy or Moises choosing student appointments for a free speech committee is a horribly misguided decision. CC does not represent the student body well; only half the student body votes in their elections, and at that it’s a popularity contest (i.e., friends voting for friends), since CC has extremely minimal relevance for most students’ day-to-day affairs. It has become one of the most PC-obsessed institutions on campus and has no track record of ever helping to defend free expression. I think selecting interested candidates lottery-style would be a fantastic way of helping to ensure there’s a more diverse range of viewpoints at the table. Using CC as a proxy for student body opinions would be similar to using the football team.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have radically far left students on the panel, but they shouldn’t be the only representation. That’s what will happen if CC chooses who gets to sit.