William College gives charge to committee about adopting the Chicago Principles

Several dozen American universities have adopted the “Chicago Principles,” our university’s “Statement on Principles of Free Expression“, which is the most liberal speech “code” in the U.S. It’s basically the First Amendment applied to the campus of a private university, and in my view it’s an unalloyed good.

But of course there’s a movement against free speech on many campuses, for it is said to permit “hate speech” (often construed as “speech that I don’t like”), or to constitute some sort of danger or harm to students.

One of the resisting campuses has been Williams College in Massachusetts, widely recognized as one of the best undergraduate liberal-arts schools in America.  As I’ve reported before (see here and here), a faculty proposal to adhere to the Chicago Principles has been met with stiff resistance by other faculty and by students, who say that the principles enable hate speech and racism, as well as lacking the “nuance” needed by Williams College—but not apparently by schools like the University of Chicago and Princeton.

Now the President of Williams, Maud Mandel, has formed a committee to investigate what sort of free-speech principles Williams would have. While the membership of the committee hasn’t yet been named (it will apparently include faculty, staff, and students), a Williams alumnus, who apparently received Mandel’s “charge,” posted it on his site Ephsblog. Below is the email from Mandel with the charge.

This worries me a bit because it seems to want to balance the principle of free speech against issues of “inclusivity, hate speech, and racism,” to which Mandel doesn’t want to give a platform. As I don’t have time today to comment on this in extenso (and it really doesn’t need that), this “balance” worries me. I’ve put the bits of Mandel’s message that concern me in bold:

Williams faculty, staff and students,

As I noted in an all-campus message before break, “Williams, like campuses across the United States, has engaged in debate about how to bolster its commitment to free expression while maintaining its responsibility to ensure an inclusive environment for all community members.” In that same message I announced plans to charge an ad hoc committee with recommending policies and practices that will help us achieve these goals. I’m pleased to provide you with a brief update on that work.

Faculty, student and staff governance bodies are helping me build a committee roster, and I expect to have a final version to share with you in my start of semester message on January 30. In the meantime, below is a copy of the proposed charge for the committee. I hope this will help you and our whole community understand the scope of their work and the framing questions I’m posing to help them get started.

After the committee comes together I expect they’ll want to communicate with campus about their process and opportunities for input. In the meantime, I look forward to sharing news about the roster in a few weeks.

Sincerely,

Maud

————————–

Proposed Committee Charge

Williams, like other schools around the country, is debating how to uphold principles of open inquiry and free expression. The debate has focused on how to do so while not providing a platform for hate speech, racism, or other forces that are corrosive to a learning community. This issue was identified as a concern in Williams’ Fall 2017 accreditation self-study, which was shared with campus at the time:

“intellectual freedom… is defined broadly at Williams to include the unfettered exchange of diverse points of view, the dissemination of original scholarship, and respect for faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others who wish to share their opinions on how the college is governed. This “basket of rights” must sometimes be actively managed.” (pp. 103–4)

The conversation at Williams has recently focused on speaker invitations, as it has elsewhere around the country. I am charging an ad hoc committee with recommending to me, by May 2019, a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion. This targeted project will complement our broader attention to learning and campus climate through the strategic planning process. I further ask that they do so through a process that allows for input from anyone in our community with opinions or ideas to share on the subject.

Following are a few framing questions the committee might consider in this work:

What obligation do liberal arts colleges have for exposing students to new ideas and ways of thinking about the world?

What responsibility has Williams assumed (or should it) for helping students achieve equal footing from which to study, expound and challenge diverse ideas?

[JAC: I’m not sure what she’s getting at here. To say that students don’t have equal footing seems patronizing. After all, they were all considered qualified to be admitted to Williams.]

Given the wide range of content available on-line, including many speeches, what types of presentations (in both form and content) best support our educational mission?
What support, if any, should Williams give to campus members seeking to host, engage or debate speakers?

Are college guidelines related to campus activism toward speakers adequate?

Once the committee presents its recommendations in May, I will share this information with the community, and we will organize next steps for when people return in the fall. It will be helpful if the report identifies the historical, philosophical and other considerations that influenced their recommendations. The report should also identify likely costs and benefits of any proposals.

Some people have looked at the current “free speech” debate in this country with dismay. I believe, in contrast, that this is an important step toward building the most vibrant educational community possible. I am deeply grateful to the committee members, and to Williams, for taking on this challenge.

Maud

Readers are invited to comment. I suspect that whatever guidelines Williams and the committee comes up with (especially since those guidelines will be forged in part by students who are, in general, dubious of unfettered free speech), they won’t comport with The Chicago Principles.

29 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 11, 2019 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I think they would do themselves good if they simply accepted the Chicago example and forget all the committees and other input.

    Did I just see a Caturday come and go?

    • Posted January 11, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I saw it too. Evidently it was posted prematurely as it is Friday, not Caturday. Hawaii is east of the international date line so it wasn’t that.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 11, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        No worries; premature catulation happens to a all bl*g hosts sometimes.

      • Posted January 11, 2019 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I write posts a day in advance, usually about 4:30 a.m., and in that uncaffeinated state I screwed up today.

  2. DrBrydon
    Posted January 11, 2019 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Communitarian values are always a danger to individual rights, especially free speech and religious freedom. Remember that Bryan during Scopes argued that the community should be able to decide what they wanted taught regarding evolution. Whether the community is a geographic one or a demographic one, it is easy to set their values against free expression, as we see happening in so many other ostensbily democratic countries.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 11, 2019 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    How best to ensure “inclusivity”? By letting everyone — within reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions — say any damned thing they want. Let the merits of what they have to say sort themselves out.

    Show some respect for the taste, character, and discernment of the listening audience, especially where the audience comprises students at “one of the best undergraduate liberal-arts schools in America.”

    • mikeyc
      Posted January 11, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I’m curious, how is “one of the best undergraduate liberal-arts schools in America” determined? Is it like “Top Ten Party Schools in the Pac West”? Someone vote on this in People magazine or something?

      • Posted January 11, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        I am not entirely sure, but I will offer some examples having spent time their visiting Williams while I was still an undergrad at Stanford:

        • The students are very bright, in general. Conversations in the hallways and in classrooms will be rewarding over those one would expect at a local Starbucks.

        • Opportunities and challenges are high. There are lots of resources, especially in art, history, and fundamental sciences, to provide a major impact to society later on.

        Those two alone make up a lot of ground for justifying a well deserved top rank liberal-arts school of America.

        Shame on Williams for their recent, backward and cowardly turn towards the very principles that are meant to strengthen their students, not pamper them.

        • mikeyc
          Posted January 11, 2019 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Well, I had a bit of time at lunch so googlated this. There are many such rankings (and Williams is near the top of all of them). I chose one at random*, put out by US News & Word Report; https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-us-news-calculated-the-rankings

          They claim that “Hard objective data alone determine each school’s rank.” *massive eyeroll* Whatever…20% of the score is from “expert opinion” – which are opinion polls of partly of peers and partly from High School guidance counselors. Hard! Objective! Facts! They also take into account faculty salary and as we all know higher prices mean better products. Definitely. Every time.

          Oh well, much of it are good markers of a shool’s performance and can be used to rank them, like graduation and retention rates, class size, student performance on standardized tests, etc. I particularly like their “Social Mobility” contribution – they look at graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients. Pell Grants -for non-USAns- are the chicken feed the government gives to the poorest students so they can pretend they aren’t amassing crippling college debt. Still, it seems a good ranking system and Williams does rank high in their list. I assume, but can’t be arsed to check, that the other ranking systems are similar as the same schools appear (more or less) in the same places in each list.

          *that’s a lie. actually I chose it because it was the first in the googlated list, but random with respect to whether I give a crap or not.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted January 11, 2019 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            They claim that “Hard objective data alone determine each school’s rank.”

            They would say that, wouldn’t they?

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 11, 2019 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

              I can’t hear that phrase without thinking of Mandy Rice-Davies. 😎

              cr

              • Posted January 12, 2019 at 4:22 am | Permalink

                So do I. It’s funny, that. it’s not as if she invented the phrase, but she certainly gave it good exposure, so to speak.

      • Posted January 11, 2019 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        US News and World Report?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted January 12, 2019 at 8:25 am | Permalink

          Think it uses an ampersand (“&”) rather than “and” in its name.

          • Posted January 12, 2019 at 11:02 am | Permalink

            I used the and because don’t think they deserve respect.😀

  4. Posted January 11, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    If they don’t want their “is one the best liberal arts schools” reputation to become “was once among the best liberal arts schools,” they better support liberal values.

  5. rickflick
    Posted January 11, 2019 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Mandel’s language seems to show she hasn’t made up her mind about the principle of free speech. Or perhaps is hedging since she’s worried parents will choke when their sons and daughters are subjected to some Nazi behind the lectern.

    • Posted January 11, 2019 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      I suspect it is hedging but not so much due to fear of parents’ reactions but those of administrators and faculty who are totally committed to the SJW mindset.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 11, 2019 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Free speech is supposed to lead to this type of debate, is it not? And many or most nations have hate speech laws to balance human rights.

    Unless the Chicago principles is the law of the land, diversity should be welcome. After all, we still don’t know if “hate speech laws” (or solely “free speech”) is beneficial one way or the other.

    • Deodand
      Posted January 11, 2019 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that a lot of the people promoting ‘hate speach’ laws assume that people who think like them will be the only ones in control of the mechanisms created.

    • Posted January 11, 2019 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      So if diversity should be welcome, do you agree that a speech code that bans discussion of, say, affirmative action, or criticism of the tenets of various religions is welcome? After all, maybe it would be beneficial!

      And who do you propose should decide what constitutes “hate speech”?

      The Chicago Principles are in fact the law of the land in the United States.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 12, 2019 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, as the OG Latinxs used to say. 🙂

    • Posted January 12, 2019 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      The trouble is that you can’t have diversity of thought without free expression.

      Furthermore, I would argue that even in cases where the answer is settled, having a diversity of views is a good thing even if some of the views are obviously wrong. For example, the great materials scientist Kerry Joyne wrote her seminal classic What? Evo-stik is Glue? entirely because of the rise of the Adhesive Deniers in society. If it had been illegal to deny adhesive, the need for the book would never have been perceived and it would not have been written.

      Even this debate: it’s always seemed obvious to me that Free Speech is a Good Thing, but it’s only when my views started to be challenged by Free Speech Deniers that I was forced to examine why I think Free Speech is a Good Thing. The only thing is that the deniers can’t be allowed to win, because, by definition, the debate would then be over.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 12, 2019 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        “Kerry Joyne” — any relation to the allegorist Peremy Jeriera?

      • Posted January 12, 2019 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        I think it is good to bring out the long version of why free speech is good. The Authoritarian Left seem to have lost track of it or never learned it in the first place. Though after saying that, I wonder if that is really true. A more cynical point of view is that they understand it very well but have successfully created a world in which they get to make the rules and it is all justified in their minds because they are fighting the righteous fight against hate, racism, the evil patriarchy, etc. Their message is so good it trumps free speech.

        • Posted January 12, 2019 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          I agree. That is what they think.

        • Posted January 12, 2019 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          “…they understand it very well but have successfully created a world in which they get to make the rules…”

          They’d better be careful with this. There has been a case – being a non-American, I have forgotten the details, but the essence is: at a time when Democrats were in control of all elected bodies, one of them found it a good idea to replace some required 2/3 or 3/4 majority with simple majority; and now, when Republicans are in control, Democrats have troubles with this change.

  7. Posted January 11, 2019 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    They want to decide how to actively manage unfettered free speech.

    That is an interesting concept.

  8. Posted January 15, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Williams College is private so I understand they do not exactly have to honour the 1 amendment. So we might get some weird vandguardism out of that, alas.


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