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 4.
Following are a few framing questions the committee might consider in this work:
- What obligation do liberal arts colleges have for exposing students to new ideas and ways of thinking about the world?
- What responsibility has Williams assumed (or should it) for helping students achieve equal footing from which to study, expound and challenge diverse ideas?
- Given the wide range of content available on-line, including many speeches, what types of presentations (in both form and content) best support our educational mission?
- What support, if any, should Williams give to campus members seeking to host, engage or debate speakers?
- Are college guidelines related to campus activism toward speakers adequate?
Framing the debate is the first step to victory.
But note how these questions have little/nothing to do with the committee’s new charge to come up with “a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion.” The first two questions are too broad to be of use to a committee which is just working on invitation guidelines. Even the fifth question, which is obviously speaker-related, has nothing to do with invitations per se. A question like that is only relevant if the committee has a much broader mandate than, in fact, it has.
The whole effort is fairly schizophrenic, as if it were written with two different mindsets:
Mindset 1: This committee is a successor to Angevine in its importance. It will solve the problem of free speech/expression at Williams, perhaps via a Chicago-style approach.
Mindset 2: This committee is narrowly focused on the topic of speaker invitations. Other people/committees will handle the broader issues.
What could explain this discrepancy? (Maud and her staff are smart and excellent writers.)
My guess: The initial plan was to go the Angevine route, a committee which would solve the problem. The charge was draft during this period. Later, once it became clear that this was not going to work, the remit of the committee was drastically reduced, but no one went back to do a thorough edit of the entire draft.