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Shallow Provocateurs

In DDF’s “Weekend Links” post, he included an article written by Wesleyan President Michael Roth link in the Wall Street Journal. The article is a relatively short and interesting read about “why universities need affirmative action for the study of conservative, libertarian and religious ideas.” Here is one quote I would like to highlight:

We are not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.

This principle is something that I hope people of good faith can agree on. What do you think?

Of course, it is a much trickier question to ask, who gets to decide if some one is a “provocateur” or a “scholar”? My answer is that I trust any faculty member to decide if someone is a scholar. I do not trust students to the same degree and I am OK not giving them carte blanche to invite anyone they want to speak on campus.

Regardless of who gets to decide, I am confident that speakers will be invited that some groups will see as a “provocateur.” When that happens, what is the appropriate response? I think there are several options: protest the speaker, provide counter programming that illustrates the “provocateur’s” lack of scholarly bona fides, engage (and defeat) them in the arena of ideas, expose the nefarious motivation behind the people who invited them. However, I do would be extremely hesitant to ban the speaker or allow violent protests to keep the speaker from presenting their view.

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7 Comments To "Shallow Provocateurs"

#1 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 5, 2019 @ 11:50 am

Roth strikes as a poseur. Which Trump-supporting scholars has he brought to campus? I am unaware — pointers welcome! — of a single (public) Trump voter on the Wesleyan faculty.

#2 Comment By Abl On October 5, 2019 @ 12:40 pm

Which Trump-supporting scholars has he brought to campus?

That’s a misleading metric. “Trump-supporting scholars” (especially publicly) are a small-ish subset of “conservative, libertarian, or religious” scholars.

#3 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 5, 2019 @ 3:58 pm

Roth has been president of Wesleyan since 2007. How many publicly conservative faculty has he hired and/or tenured in that time?

They have to be public in their political views, otherwise (obviously) they won’t be provoking many “vigorous conversations.”

Would zero be a bad guess?

#4 Comment By abl On October 5, 2019 @ 5:47 pm

I 100% disagree that a faculty’s viewpoint has to be publicly available to you in order to inspire “vigorous conversations.” What matters most happens inside the classroom and few professors whose viewpoints help stimulate vigorous classroom (and hallway and office hour) conversation also represent those viewpoints in a way that are reasonably accessible to you or I. Professor Gerard has been at Williams for ages — would you have known, prior to the past ~5 years, that he had somewhat idiosyncratic (for Williams) views?

Regardless, it’s entirely plausible that President Roth has had a change of heart in this respect, and so I would measure the sincerity of his words based on who is hired over the next five years rather than who has been hired over the past ten. (Although I’m not really sure how one measures these things. It’s entirely plausible based on Wesleyan’s hiring needs and application pool, that it could desperately want to hire a conservative or libertarian faculty members next year and yet be unsuccessful.)

#5 Comment By Abl On October 5, 2019 @ 6:55 pm

David—what’s the rationale on turning off comments on weekend threads? FWIW, I really enjoyed the article on the golfer.

#6 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 7, 2019 @ 7:00 am

@abl

I am planning to write about the golf story tomorrow (I also found it very interesting), so you will have every opportunity to comment on it then.

#7 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 7, 2019 @ 8:15 am

abl: Rational is that other author might want to use those links for posts, and I don’t want to start the resulting conversation ahead of time. Not sure if that is a good rational, but . . .

Also, you are an author! Create a post anytime you like about any topic you want!