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Canty ’88 on Banning Speakers, 1

John Canty ’88, a former op-ed editor of the Record and CIA agent, kindly sent along these thoughts on banning speakers at Williams. Relevant past discussions here and here. Day 1.

Friends, Romans, and Fellow Ephs–

Like many Williams students and alums, I am proud of the long tradition that Williams College has maintained for upholding high standards of academic freedom on campus. In the 1930s, Williams President James Baxter came under sharp public attack for the College’s decision to hire Marxist intellectual Max Lerner to the faculty; Baxter strongly defended the move as a classic example of the school’s commitment to defend free expression and divergent opinions.

1) I agree that “academic freedom” is the most effective frame for this discussion. Follow my advice in this post and the problem is solved.

2) Is that bit of history correct? I think of Baxter as much more famous for his defense of “Red” Fred Schuman. From 1948:

Although I am sure that Phinney would have defended Lerner against complaints, my sense is that Phinney’s primary motivations had little/nothing to do with “free expression.” Phinney wanted to raise the quality of the Williams faculty (and end the unstated taboo against Jewish faculty). From Jews at Williams:

Perhaps James McAllister could enlighten us about this history.

3) There is a great senior thesis to be written about Baxter’s efforts to upgrade the Williams faculty. Start here.

More from Canty below:

Intellectually I benefited from Williams’ diversity of opinions, which admittedly was always distinctly left of center. For political philosophy, I had a terrific Professor, Kurt Tauber, who clearly had a Marxist bent but who taught eloquently on Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes. I took an excellent political economy class with Professor Michael McPherson that examined major social issues from the perspectives of Free Market Conservatism, Classic Marxism, and Welfare-State Liberalism. I went to campus lectures where activists sought support for overthrowing the US-backed government in El Salvador, where Eleanor Holmes Norton discussed the feminization of poverty, and where Zbigniew Brzezinski prophesied in 1987 the collapse of the Soviet Union. While my Williams journey landed me on a path to conservatism, my experience made me a more self-confident conservative who could hear out and engage with other opinions. To this day a number of classmates treasure a summer when we shared a house on Capitol Hill when we worked at internships and debated all issues under the sun, ranging from the Bork confirmation hearings to the Reagan Doctrine.

I spent that same summer . . . uh . . . attending finishing school in the swamps of Virginia, which partially explains why I have never really run with the conservative crowd at Williams, then or now.

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2 Comments To "Canty ’88 on Banning Speakers, 1"

#1 Comment By abl On May 14, 2019 @ 1:42 pm

“Academic freedom” strikes me as a disingenuous label here. The question is: whose academic freedom? What we’re really talking about here is the academic freedom of non-Williams groups to speak at Williams. That’s just not how the term is widely used or understood.

From wikipedia:

Academic freedom is the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.

This sort of academic freedom is central to the broader mission of a university or college to facilitate the production of knowledge. If faculty members are restricted in the conclusions they can reach or the research that they conduct, the production of knowledge itself may be curtailed. This isn’t actually the problem at the heart of your posts on this subject.* What you describe is a question of who–not affiliated with the College–should have access to the College’s platform. There are reasonable arguments for or against broadening such access, but they’re different in kind from those that motivate the standard “academic freedom” debate.

*It’s possible that this may also be a problem.

#2 Comment By Nishant On May 16, 2019 @ 8:19 am

Small nit. Its CIA officer, not agent. A recruited foreigner would be an agent.