Thursday, September 19, 2019

No Win for You: Student Member Asserts Sawicki Committee Report Was Not a Victory for Free Speech Watchdogs

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA - In a recent Press Record podcast, one of the student members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion, Eli Miller '21, pushed back on campus watchdogs who believe the Sawicki report supports free speech to the extent that it would allow controversial speakers like John Derbyshire to appear on campus. Miller, a math and statistic major, was interviewed by a fellow student, Rebecca Tower '21.
Rebecca Tauber 
Do you have any last thoughts on the committee, their report, going forward? 
Eli Miller

I think my one concern is that this committee -- which I don’t think I’ve seen very much here, but I’ve seen sort of from like campus watch dogs -- is that this is seen as a victory for people who believe that free speech is like an absolute right and that people on college campuses who try to dis-invite people are like liberal snowflakes.  
That whole narrative is very popular, and my concern that this report gives those people a win.

I don’t think those people are correct in assuming this report supports them. But I think that definitely people have read it that way. And I guess I wish we had done more to resist that reading because I think it is a lot more nuanced and complicated than that. But I think at end of the day people are going to want to read what they want to read. 
As was reported in the Williams Record, the committee recommended the adaptation of both the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and PEN America frameworks for free speech, both of which give student groups the right to invite any speaker of their choosing without prior approval and allow the administration to disinvite speakers only in the “rarest of circumstances.”

Critics of the report including John Drew a former Williams College political scientist and Jerry Coyne a biologist with the University of Chicago, have decried the weakness of the report by pointing out that its recommendations allow for the censorship of campus speakers if those speakers should be a threat to "dignitary safety" or, more specifically, “the sense of being an equal member of the community.” As Coyne has pointed out, it is physically impossible to support both inclusion and freedom of speech. Eli Miller's comments verify the critics' views.

In a Williams Record article, Miller reports he was unhappy with the process because the group never attempted to reach a consensus on whether or not the administration should have had the authority to disinvite John Derbyshire, a political commentator for VDARE, who had been dropped by the National Review for a satirical piece he wrote for Taki's Magazine.

“It became clear that the goal of the committee was less to reconcile the differences that people have — on the most basic level — about whether John Derbyshire should’ve been allowed to speak on campus, and it was a lot more focused on taking the temperature of the campus and doing outreach to as many groups as possible,” Miller said. “It felt like the primary objective was just to calm people down.”

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist and a former Williams College professor. He is an occasional contributor at American Thinker, Breitbart, Front Page, PJMedia and WND. 


Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of John Derbyshire before he was disinvited from Williams. Today I read both his controversial article "The Talk: Nonblack Version" and a few of his other articles posted at TakiMag ("In Praise of Broken Windows Policing" and "The Trump Presidency: A Tragicomedy"). I found his writing to be clear, well sourced, and uncontroversial, even when I didn't agree with some of his conclusions.

I don't think any set of white parents hasn't had some version of "The Talk: Nonblack Version" with their kids. Heck, I know some black parents who give the same talk to their kids about largely black gatherings and events. I call my version "Clothist not Racist." I tell my kids to watch for certain clothing markers of gang affiliation: drooping pants, exposed underwear, gold tooth-caps, hats with price tags dangling, face and neck tattoos, hoodies covering the entire face, etc. I also warn about swarms of unaccompanied youth, especially if running or loudly swearing. Ultimately, my talk is not very different from Mr. Derbyshire's. Mr. Derbyshire sourced his comments with ample links to well-researched facts. While we can all have feelings about those facts, it is dishonest not to acknowledge that those facts describe reality.

Avoiding discussions of facts and the authors who quote those facts because of feelings is as anti-academic as I can possibly imagine. I discontinued my alumni donations to Williams before Mr. Derbyshire was disinvited, and my comment to the school at the time referenced the disinvitation of Suzanne Venker and the silencing of conservative perspectives. I have personally discouraged several families from sending their student to Williams, and I no longer speak with pride about the school in any setting. My donations will not recommence until there is evidence that the school takes seriously the academic imperative to debate all perspectives with civility, respect, and intellectual honesty.

Sadly, to protect the safety of myself and my family from Leftist violence, I feel I must post this comment Anonymously. I'll sign this only as Female Alumni Class of 1988.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I've discouraged a few families from sending their children to Williams College too.