Far-left students at Massachusetts' Williams College reject the tenets of the "Chicago principles" as an "ideology of free speech absolutism."
Professors at tweedy Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts probably didn’t expect a full-scale Gen Z revolt to break out on the tiny, liberal arts school’s campus last fall when pedagogues proposed that the private college adopt a free speech declaration known as “the Chicago principles.”
But according to a recent piece by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf in Inside Higher Ed, it sounds like some profs got a dose of public humiliation when a faculty committee met to discuss a petition in favor of accepting the University of Chicago’s groundbreaking commitment to free speech, also referred to as the Chicago Statement.
Bauer-Wolf reports that at least 60 institutions of higher learning have adopted a version of the original statement, which guarantees “free and open inquiry in all matters” and the “broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.”
Which means no trigger warnings or safe spaces, no matter how offensive the speech involved.
But Williams’ progressive student body wasn’t about to take this unbridled freedom stuff lying down. Bauer-Wolf quotes liberally from a blog post by Brazilian-born biology professor, Luana Maroja, who was troubled by the actions of student protesters, in no small part because it reminded her of the Brazilian dictatorship of her youth.
A group of about 15 students waving posters stating “free speech harms” came to our discussion on November 15. The professor leading the meeting was extremely nice, welcoming the students in the room and reading their response aloud (the response is now a petition [JAC: they closed the Google document to non-Williams people but The Feminist Wire still has the petition online.]).
But many of the students were disruptive throughout, finally asking white male professors to sit down and admit their “privilege”. They pointed out how horrible the college is in welcoming and including them, but then stated that they want to be protected by the president! They equated free speech with “hate speech” and with the desire of professors to invite John Derbyshire back (Derbyshire a figure within the alt-right movement, was invited by a student group and disinvited by president Falk a couple years ago).
Bauer-Wolf also quotes the professor as telling him that the students were screaming, “that we were trying to ‘kill them.'”
In her blog, she related how she argued with the students, explaining “how censorship hurts the very cause they are fighting for,” and that they “need to be able to defend their positions with strong reason and argumentation.”
Majora pointed out that, “Disinvitations invigorate bigots,” and that the reason she and her colleagues wanted free speech “is not because we want to invite bigots, but because we don’t want to see discussion shut down.”
But apparently “reason and argumentation” are a tough sell to Generation Z, especially those whose parents can afford Williams’ $70,000/year price tag, including room and board. A couple of weeks after the meeting, Members of the group Coalition Against Racist Education Now (CARE Now) offered their critique of the “ideology of free speech absolutism” in an op-ed, published in the campus paper, The Williams Record.
CARE Now declared in its screed that it was, “not interested in entering a debate about free speech in this current moment,” and it rejected the college president’s creation of a committee to address the issue of campus speech.
The diatribe reads, in part:
Prejudice cannot be talked away; more “dialogue” is not the answer. Oppression can’t be fixed with rational debate because oppression is not rational. Once we all agree that bigotry simply is not an “opinion” that can be swiftly invalidated in a “two-way discourse,” that such discourse instead needs to involve dismantling the very institutional and systemic forces that demean and denigrate marginalized students, and that the faculty petition represents institutional anxiety towards a more diverse student and faculty population, then we can take steps and move forward. Perhaps the authors and signers of the faculty petition did not have the intent to harm and silence students and faculty of marginalized identities, but they have chosen to enter a national debate that is harmful, toxic and ultimately must be recognized by the faculty and administration. Intent does not equate to impact.
Fear of such reactionary sentiments has quashed any hope of Williams signing on to the Chicago principles anytime soon, though Bauer-Wolf reports that the president’s committee should be submitting its recommendations next month.
And when that happens, expect another explosion of white-hot liberal outrage.