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Majumder Favors Speech Restrictions

Professor Tiku Majumder in laser lab.
From WAMC:

Campuses have increasingly become ground zero for the battle over speech. And while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion from government infringement, it faces limitations at private schools like Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The interview is a short 6 minutes. Alas, I can’t find a transcript. Is there an easy way to make one from an audio recording? Comments:

1. Tiku, a personal friend of Adam Falk from their graduate student days and a member of the search committee which selected him, has Falk’s back. He doubles down on the banning of John Derbyshire from campus.

2. Why do this? The Derbyshire fiasco was one of the worst black eyes for the College in the last few years. Why even grant an interview to discuss the topic? If you aren’t going to change the policy, there is no reason to bring it up.

3) Why not change the policy? Perhaps it was impossible for Falk to admit his mistake. But Falk is gone. Can’t we let the mistake go with his departure? Majumder could do a big favor for the next Williams president by putting this controversy aside. He doesn’t have to issue a news release. He could just let Zach Wood know that Uncomfortable Learning is free to invite any speaker they want.

4) Majumder should practice more for these interviews. His opening answer — when he knew the topic ahead of time — was a mishmash of non-sequiturs. (The interviewer, JD Allen, does not challenge Majumder in anyway.) For example, pointing out, as Falk has done, that Williams is different than the main street of Williamstown, is effective rhetoric. Majumder should say that “The First Amendment protects the right of every kooky racist who rants to rant on the main street of Williamstown. That doesn’t mean that we (or you!) need to invite them all into our house.” (Of course, I disagree with that argument, but this line of reasoning is more persuasive than specific attacks on Derbyshire.)

5) Majumder won’t allow speakers that “provide no benefit in moving forward the conversation we are interested in fostering.” That sure seems like a sensible standard! What could possibly go wrong?

6) Compare Williams with the University of Chicago, which is allowing Steve Bannon to speak.

The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.

For most practical purposes, Bannon and Derbyshire have the same views on public policy.

The traditional knock on Williams, in comparison with great universities like Chicago or Yale (where Derbyshire spoke two years ago) , is that we are little more than a glorified prep school, a finishing academy where the not-really-intellectucal children of the elite go to learn some manners, to learn what they may say/think to advance in the world. Chicago/Yale/Harvard are for the true elite, for students who do not need adults to control their lives.

I have always hated that criticism, all the more so in cases where it is true . . .

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Williams presidential search news

To the Williams Community,

I hope you are all enjoying the last days of summer, and looking forward, as I am, to the new academic year.

As you know, President Adam Falk recently announced that he will leave Williams at the end of December to become president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In my role as chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, I have been asked by the Board to lead our search for Adam’s successor. I am writing today to inform you of our considerable progress in organizing the process, and to share with you our plan for interim college leadership beginning in January of 2018, which was approved by the Board of Trustees yesterday.

First, I am pleased to inform you that Protik (Tiku) Majumder, Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy and Director of the Science Center, has graciously agreed to serve as interim president, starting January 1, 2018, and continuing until the new president is in place. Tiku has an outstanding record as a Williams teacher and mentor, scientist, and faculty leader, and just as importantly has earned wide trust and respect across the Williams community. Our objective was to find an interim president with a keen understanding of our institution; a love of Williams, of its students, and of its faculty; enormous patience, tact, and insight; and an ability to respond with intelligence, compassion, and calm to the inevitable challenges that will arise from time to time. Tiku has each of these qualities, and many more. He will do a superb job of keeping Williams on track, and I ask you to join me in thanking him and supporting his leadership.

Second, we have formed a Presidential Search Committee whose charge will be to present to the Board of Trustees one or more exceptional and thoroughly vetted candidates to become our next president, and to ensure that every member of the Williams community has an opportunity to give input with respect to qualities that we should be seeking, as well as to offer nominations. The Search Committee includes representatives from every sector of our community: students, staff, alumni, faculty, and trustees. Several members are also Williams parents. As their backgrounds indicate, each brings deep involvement with the College. Service on the committee will require significant time and effort, and I am personally grateful to the members for their dedication to Williams and their willingness to take on this essential task.

The members of the committee are:

Michael Eisenson ’77, Trustee and Chair of the Search Committee
O. Andreas Halvorsen ’86, Trustee
Clarence Otis, Jr. ’77, Trustee
Kate L. Queeney ’92, Trustee
Liz Robinson ’90, Trustee
Martha Williamson ’77, Trustee

Ngonidzashe Munemo, Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity and Associate Professor of Political Science
Peter Murphy, John Hawley Roberts Professor of English
Lucie Schmidt, Professor of Economics
Tom Smith ’88, Professor of Chemistry
Safa Zaki, Professor of Psychology

Chris Winters ’95, Associate Provost

Jordan G. Hampton ’87, President, Society of Alumni
Yvonne Hao ’95, alumna and Trustee Emerita

Ben Gips ’19, student representative
Sarah Hollinger ’19, student representative

Keli Gail, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and principal staff to the committee

Third, the board has retained the firm Spencer Stuart as consultant, to help manage the search process. Spencer Stuart has been involved in numerous recent and successful academic searches at the highest levels, and is very well positioned to help the committee in its work. Searches like this are complex and sensitive, and we expect to benefit greatly from their expertise, specialized resources, and pool of outstanding candidates.

The Search Committee will begin its work shortly, and we will announce opportunities for community input as these are developed. As a first step, we have created a website where you can find information and materials related to the search. We will add to the site as additional materials are available, as further process steps are scheduled, and as we have news to share. Our future email updates will link back to this site as the place of record for search news.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to again thank the members of the Presidential Search Committee for the work they are about to do, and Tiku Majumder for his service as interim president. I also want to convey to our entire community our enthusiasm and optimism as we set out to find the 18th president of Williams College.

Sincerely,

Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees

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