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 2.

Canty continues:

I never recall in all of this time anyone attempting to shut anyone else up.

Exactly right. Of course, it is dangerous to rely on faulty memories for testimony about the Williams of 30+ years ago. (And it is pathetic that the Record archives are not on-line so that we might investigate this claim.) But I agree with Canty that, back in the day, no one suggested that we ban speakers.

The news that my beloved Williams College and Williams Record (see December 5th 2018 editorial) are struggling with a move to endorse—as many other colleges and universities have done–the University of Chicago Principles of Free Expression is therefore personally appalling. Let me briefly recount the Chicago Principles. Like Williams, the University of Chicago has a long and honorable tradition of academic tolerance. Stemming from a number of controversies over recent years where colleges banned speakers from lecturing due to concerns with invading student “safety zones”, a panel of scholars released the Chicago Principles in 2015. University of Chicago Law School Professor Geoffrey Stone, an acknowledged First Amendment scholar, played a key role in drafting the statement, which the University of Chicago endorsed. The Williams Record December 2018 editorial spends far too much time dancing around who is for them and against them. Let’s just look at the Chicago Principles.

For further discussion, see my five part review of the Woodward report, Yale’s 1975 anticipation of the Chicago Principles.

More from Canty below:

For the sake of brevity, I will quote a section of the statement that lie at its heart—and I would argue, are the essence of Western Civilization’s ideal of a university:

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

I love this statement. It radiates with a democratic vigor flowing from a deep faith that the open exchange of arguments, evidence, and views in the free market of ideas can only produce social, economic, and political good. Ideas that wither under scrutiny and criticism are not ultimately good ideas. Ideas that gain currency and strengthen from healthy debate have power; as the French playwright Victor Hugo observed, “Greater than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.” As a result, it becomes essential for any college claiming to promote the free mind to uphold a high standard of tolerance for competing viewpoints. Just as President Dwight Eisenhower urged students at Dartmouth not to “join the book-burners” during the height of the McCarthy Communist inquisitions, Williams College has a moral and existential duty to promote free debate, even if it believes that speaker to be wrong, offensive, or demeaning.

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