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Restoring Free Speech

From The Wall Street Journal last month:

While opinions differ sharply about President Trump, everyone can agree he speaks plainly. On Thursday he issued an executive order supporting free speech on campus.

It is too early to say how much good the president’s executive order will do, but it was long past time for the federal government to face up to the rot of political correctness and intolerance that is subverting the American educational establishment. There are some points of light. The so-called Chicago Statement, for example, named for a declaration of principle from the University of Chicago, embraces open and robust debate even about subjects that “some or even by most members of the University community [find] offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” Several institutions have endorsed that document.

But many others, including some of the most prestigious, reject it outright. Students and professors at Williams College, confronted with an initiative to adopt the Chicago principles last year, took “grave issue” with its “premises” and warned of “the potential harm it may inflict upon our community.” You might have thought that supporting free speech was an obvious good. Not so fast. The Williams activists declared that the notion “has been co-opted by right-wing and liberal parties as a discursive cover for racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism.”

The authors of the Williams counterpetition made a show of demanding greater diversity at the 226-year-old Western Massachusetts school. But it’s long been obvious that calls for “diversity” usually amount to demands for strict intellectual and moral conformity on contentious issues. By that inverted standard, a campus is more “diverse” the fewer voices it tolerates.

This is precisely the situation that the president’s executive order promoting free speech on campus is designed to address. That its effect is likely to be more hortatory than coercive may be an advantage, not a liability, since serious reform of these institutions will come about not from the imposition of a law but a change of heart. The prospect of losing federal dollars is one sort of incentive. The spectacle of those passionate, articulate and besieged young students may prove to be an even greater one.

The only “change of heart” I have seen at Williams over the last 30 years is an ever-increasing restriction about what students, or their invited guests, are allowed to say. Will Maud Mandel change that? I don’t know. Any rumors on how the process is going?

Meanwhile, things have gone from bad to worse at Middlebury:

Middlebury College has canceled [yesterday] a campus speech by conservative Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko in response to planned protests by liberal activists.

A professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University and a member of the European Parliament, Legutko was scheduled to speak Wednesday at the Vermont college’s Alexander Hamilton Forum, delivering a lecture entitled “The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.”

The liberal activists took issue with Legutko’s pointed critiques of multiculturalism, feminism, and homosexuality, calling them “homophobic, racist, xenophobic, [and] misogynistic.”

“Inquiry, equity, and agency cannot be fostered in the same space that accepts and even elevates homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic discourse,” they demand. “Bigotry of any kind should not be considered a form of inquiry.”

The chairmen of both departments denied the activists requests, defending the event on grounds of academic freedom. But hours before the event was scheduled, Middlebury Provost Jeff Cason and Vice President for Student Affairs Baishakhi Taylor sent a campus-wide email indicating the lecture was canceled.

NESCAC schools may have started by banning people like John Derbyshire. They are now banning (right-wing) members of the European parliament. Where will this end?

I am having breakfast with one of the most powerful Middlebury alumni on Friday. What questions should I ask him?

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7 Comments To "Restoring Free Speech"

#1 Comment By Williamstown Resident On April 18, 2019 @ 7:02 am

Ask him at what point will alums go from donating to their alma mater to distancing themselves from same. What level of PC identity politics nonsense will be tolerated before alums turn their backs on their schools?

#2 Comment By abl On April 18, 2019 @ 2:09 pm

Williamstown Resident —

Where did you go to college? Are you an alum of Williams?

#3 Comment By Williams Alum On April 19, 2019 @ 10:36 am

I think it’s interesting John Drew has been deleting comments off his posts, including his own. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

I particularly liked the one where he said he is now deleting comments, and his understanding is that DDF is also, to make Ephblog a more welcoming place for conservatives.

Presumably you didn’t want the cat out of the bag, so you asked him to take down his own comment? Not sure why else an author would delete their own comment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On April 19, 2019 @ 10:57 am

> deleting comments off his posts

The rule at EphBlog, for 16 years, has been that authors “own” the comment threads associated with their own posts. If JCD wants to delete a comment that I leave to one of his posts, that is his prerogative. No complaints from me!

#5 Comment By Fendertweed On April 19, 2019 @ 11:08 am

Cool … so now JCD is so unhinged that he’s at war with his own posts (in addition to the rest of the world).

It’s beyond cool, it’s Cugat!

#6 Comment By Williams Alum On April 19, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

Of course! That’s almost exactly what you wrote on his post in a comment that he then deleted. Did you suggest to him that he delete his own comment?

Just wondering, no complaints from me! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

#7 Comment By fendertweed On April 20, 2019 @ 8:17 am

@Wiiliams Alum,

If that’s directed at me I don’t know what it refers to, but I take neither credit nor blame for Our Hero’s precarious mental state.