President Maud Mandel has accepted the “recommendations in full” from the final report (pdf) of the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion, chaired by Professor Jana Sawicki. Consistent with our prediction from November and following the advice we laid out in February, academic freedom has returned to Williams. See here, here, here and here for related EphBlog discussions. Maud Mandel has now cleaned up Adam Falk’s legacy. Let’s discuss! Day 2.
The two biggest failures of the report — given their recommendation that Williams, in essence, adopt the Chicago Principles — were to not discuss a) Mark Hopkins’ decision to ban Ralph Waldo Emerson from speaking on campus, and b) Robert Gaudino’s claims about the importance of “uncomfortable learning.”
1) The Report, while well-written in places, was disjointed, clearly the result of a committee, perhaps a committee which was not as united as it ought to have been. A better chair than Sawicki might have recognized this and used her power as chair to, at least, write an Introduction which told the story of Mark Hopkins and Ralpha Waldo Emerson.
That is from page 162 of Mark Hopkins and the Log by Professor Frederick Rudolph ’39. The Report cites this book, but did anyone actually read it? I have my doubts. How about?
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century, was banned from speaking at Williams in November 1865, by Mark Hopkins, legendary president and occupant of one half of the proverbial Log. For more than 150 years afterwards, Williams upheld the highest standards of academic freedom, never banning a book, an idea or a speaker. Are we a College which bans or are we not?
OK, OK. This is not so good. But it isn’t bad! And the basic idea — that a well-written description of the most important example of speaker-banning in Williams history is the best way to start the Report — is spot on. Indeed, whatever committee is charged with writing “a statement on expression and inclusion” should steal this idea. You’re welcome!
Liberal education strengthens the mind and spirit so that a human being may more fully engage the world. Since Mark Hopkins’ time a string of Williams educators has further developed this idea. In the middle of the last century Professor Robert Gaudino pushed his charges to learn uncomfortably, in India, in rural America, in situations within the classroom and without that challenged the safe and familiar worlds they’d brought with them. If Mark Hopkins was the first professor to ask his students, “What do you think?” then Gaudino and others, including faculty of today, have raised the asking of that question, with all its implicit challenge, to a form of art.
Our faculty walk in the footsteps of Hopkins, Gaudino, and so many others.
Falk recognized, correctly, that Gaudino was one of the most important figures in recent Williams history, second only to Mark Hopkins in his influence on how Ephs think about themselves and about the education they receive. Gaudino’s notion of “uncomfortable learning” is central to the debate about free speech. This excellent article (pdf) from the Alumni Review provides a sense of what Robert Gaudino would do if a controversial speaker were invited to campus.
And yet the Committee seemed not to know about this! There are no (meaningful) mentions of Robert Gaudino in the report, no acknowledgment that the very name of the student group — “Uncomfortable Learning” — that invited Derbyshire was a direct reference to his vision of a Williams liberal arts education.
What a missed opportunity!