A Victory for Free Speech at a Liberal College
Williams College has spent months awaiting word from the “Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion,” which was tasked with defining the boundary that separates free expression from incitement. The committee was considering what Williams should do about controversial outside speakers, like John Derbyshire, whose invitation to speak there was withdrawn in 2016. Derbyshire had been bounced from the National Review in 2012 over a column he wrote for Taki’s Magazine, which dripped with race prejudice. Zachary Wood, an African-American student who headed the club that invited Derbyshire, spoke for many critics of the decision to disinvite Derbyshire: “We should hear what he has to say, and take him to task for it.”
Two years later, over one hundred faculty members at Williams signed a petition urging their colleagues to adopt the “Chicago Statement,” which affirms “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.” They were met by protests and a counter-petition, signed by over 350 students, which asserted that free speech, “as a term, has been co-opted . . . as a discursive cover for racism, xenophobia, sexism” and other injustices. President Maud Mandel struck the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion to recommend a “set of speaker guidelines” that would balance the college’s commitment to free inquiry with its commitment to “inclusion.”
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