UPDATE: In a letter to the Williams community, President Maud Mandel has accepted the committee’s recommendations “in full.” The policies suggested by the committee report will all be acted on. She also says this:
More ambitiously, the Committee recommends that the college “publish and affirm a statement on expression and inclusion.” I strongly agree that Williams would benefit from such a statement, and I’ll develop a draft this summer in consultation with the Faculty Steering Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee itself. The statement, too, will be available for discussion next fall.
Let us be clear. The committee’s statement does not constitute a policy. As you see below, it’s a farrago of good intentions and desires to balance free speech with diversity and inclusion. But it offers no guidelines about what speech is to be seen as “hate speech” that threatens “dignitary safety” and therefore subject to institutional action
If Mandel and the committee thinks that this policy will quell the discontent of Williams’s woke students when they return this fall, they are sorely mistaken.
A while back, after a period of turmoil at Williams College, President Maud Mandel appointed a committee to formulate a policy about freedom of speech on campus. A year ago on this site, Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja wrote a post calling for Williams to adopt the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, which have already been endorsed by 64 American colleges and universities.
It wouldn’t be so easy at Williams, though, as many of the students and faculty, as Maroja described, oppose free speech, asserting that such speech enables hate speech and harms minorities. It would seem impossible, then, to get the Chicago Principles adopted at Williams, as they’d bridle at Chicago’s called for unrestricted legal free speech and for punishment of students who try to disrupt it.
The Williams Committe has now come up with a 75-page statement limning a recommended speech policy, and oy, is it long and turgid! (In contrast, the Chicago Principles are outlined in a bit more than two pages.) You can read the committee’s charge from President Mandel on the Williams website,
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.
. . . 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.
A pdf of the Williams committee’s report can be read and downloaded here.
What led to the composition of the committee, and its convoluted and inconclusive recommendations, is Mandel’s idea that freedom of speech should be completely in harmony with diversity and inclusion, an idea you’ll see emphasized throughout the report. But what they mean by “inclusion” is “not angering or offending anyone, especially minorities.” And those two ideas cannot be fully harmonious, because—especially on campus—some people’s free speech, however well considered, will always be construed as hate speech. This fact is what, in the end, torpedoed the Williams report.
The 13-person committee appointed by Mandel included just five faculty, as well as four undergraduates, a rabbi, a librarian, a staff therapist, and, bizarrely, the director of the 50th reunion program. (The committee that came up with the Chicago Principles was completely composed of faculty, which I think is a better strategy.) It’s a bad idea to put undergraduates (who at Williams are heavily against the Chicago Principles) on any committee designed to formulate a policy that will last long beyond the four years of any student’s education. Here is the Williams Committee:
Jana Sawicki, Chair of Philosophy and Morris Professor of Rhetoric (committee chair)
Sandra Burton, Lipp Family Director of Dance and Senior Lecturer in Dance
Michael Crisci ’21
Eli Miller ’21
Eli Nelson, Assistant Professor of American Studies
Hale Polebaum-Freeman, Reference and First-Year Outreach Librarian
Rachel Porter ’21
Mark Robertson ’02, Director of the 50th Reunion Program
Cheryl Shanks, Professor of Political Science
Fred Strauch, Chair and Associate Professor of Physics
Conrad Wahl ’20
Alysha Warren, Staff Therapist, Integrative Wellbeing Services
Rabbi Seth Wax, Jewish Chaplain
The good news (which is sparse) first. Previously, the committee had considered having a faculty adviser to each student group who would discuss with them the appropriateness of a speaker and its effect on the College community. That would have a chilling effect on inviting controversial speakers. Fortunately, that idea, broached by committee head Sawicki, has been ditched in the final report.
But the report isn’t great, as it simply won’t unqualifiedly endorse the Chicago Principles. Rather, it asserts over and over again that free speech is in harmony with “inclusion and diversity”, and tries to confect a policy that will promote both. Here are some excerpts from the report.
In short, questioning the nature of the College, its educational mission, and its commitments to inquiry and inclusion has played, and continues to play, a vital role in our history. And while the Williams of today sees the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion to its educational mission and commitment to social change, it also recognizes that there remain hierarchies of power along axes of race, gender, class, and other forms of difference. How to recognize, interrogate, and address these structural challenges effectively is a question being faced by many institutions of higher education across the country.
. . . Sigal R. Ben-Porath of the University of Pennsylvania, author of Free Speech on Campus, has developed the concept of inclusive freedom, “an approach to free speech on campus that takes into account the necessity of protecting free speech in order to protect democracy and the pursuit of knowledge while recognizing the equal necessity of making sure that all are included in the ensuing conversation.” Similar themes can be found in the identically titled Free Speech on Campus by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman: “Colleges and universities must create inclusive learning environments for all students and protect freedom of speech.” Finally, a recent report by PEN America, an organization devoted to protecting freedom of expression in the written word, has reaffirmed that “the imperative for universities to become more open, inclusive, and equal for students of all races, genders, nationalities, and backgrounds can and must be pursued without compromising robust protections for free speech and academic freedom.”
Ben-Porath, like Mandel and the Committee, don’t seem to realize that free speech is going to conflict with some people’s idea of “inclusivity and diversity,” and that you simply can’t have unlimited amounts of both. A university can and should, of course, affirm its commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusivity, but if you enforce that by putting limitations on speech, then you simply can’t have free speech, for some free speech will abrogate people’s disparate notions of what “inclusivity” and “diversity” really mean.
Among the kinds of legally protected speech at issue in our charge, there are two broad classes of potentially harmful speech. The first constitutes speech that offends—sometimes deeply so—but is part of the everyday debates, discussions, and deliberations that occur on a college campus. This speech threatens intellectual safety : “the attachment to one’s unquestioned beliefs.” Such safety simply cannot be maintained on college campuses, as the questioning of beliefs is at the very heart of a college’s educational mission. The second type of protected, but harmful, speech is that which threatens dignitary safety : “the sense of being an equal member of the community and of being invited to contribute to a discussion as a valued participant.” The College has a duty to maintain this type of safety, particularly in the face of what is commonly called hate speech: “speech that is intended to menace, intimidate, or discriminate against an individual based upon a personal characteristic or membership in a group.” Such speech, inimical in all respects to a college’s educational mission, is worthy of contempt and may warrant an institutional response. Such a response could include: “counter-messaging, condemnations, direct support to targeted individuals and groups, dialogue, and education.”
Here we see that the committee explicitly rejecting some kinds of free speech: speech said to threaten “dignitary safety”, a slippery concept at best. And they propose to maintaing dignitary safety by either banning hate speech or mounting an “institutional response”, which is an official University action against “hate speech”.
But the response to perceived “hate speech” should not be institutional. Rather, it should be left, as the Chicago Principles endorse (see below), to individuals: those students and faculty who don’t like some speech. Here Williams is diluting free speech severely by 1.) having to somehow come up with an idea of what kind of speech threatens “dignitary safety”, and 2.) deciding how the College itself will counter this speech. That is a recipe for disaster—and ideological conformity.
You can bet that these counter-events and “restorative justice” are for those whose speech offends the Left, as the entire report is about offenses to the Left, with the other side barely mentioned. Below we see again calls for inappropriate “institutional responses” to unwanted speech. And that means there must be an official university position about what speech is unwanted, which is an untenable and oppressive policy:
We recommend that the College support programs to facilitate conversation that builds empathy and understanding across difference and motivates intellectual engagement with contentious subjects on campus. This might include a voluntary ad hoc group of faculty, staff, and students trained to assist members of the community in organizing counter-events as well as anticipating the need for post-event workshops, teach-ins, mediated campus conversations, or restorative justice efforts. Alerting these volunteers through a group email list and other means as appropriate might lessen the burden often placed upon those most harmed or upset by an event. We envision these as education-based approaches to mediation and conflict resolution aimed at seeking understanding and expression of feelings rather than reaching agreement or compromise.
Finally, we have this statement, which surely constitutes a chilling factor for true free speech. Once again we have the College hitting the shoals by trying to have a policy that supports both free speech and “diversity and inclusion.” (The Chicago Principles don’t try to balance free speech with anything.)
We recommend that a statement such as the following appear at the top of any communication (internal as well as external) regarding the invitation of outside speakers/performers/artists or other presenters:
Williams College is committed to building a diverse and inclusive community where members from all backgrounds can live, learn, and thrive in a context that robustly supports both inclusion and open inquiry. When planning events (speakers, artists, performers, exhibits, and others) we ask that you think carefully about the goals, format, and framing of your event and its relationship to the Williams community and its educational mission and values.
The aim of this revision is to remind those inviting speakers/performers/artists as well as speakers themselves about Williams’ aspirational ideals and values. These guidelines are not designed to prevent invitations, but rather to promote more thoughtfulness and transparency in the invitation process.
This is not that far removed from Sawicki’s earlier suggestion to have faculty advisers “guide” students about what speakers might be appropriate for the College community.
In the end, the committee more or less rejects having a firm Chicago-like policy, calling instead for restrained and empathic behavior by the College community. But a call for good behavior is not a substitute for a free-speech policy. Here are soothing but meaningless words:
What is also undeniable is that commitments to freedom of expression and inclusion cannot be fulfilled by the simple adoption or endorsement of a set of policies or principles by a committee. What is required is the commitment by each member of the community to embrace a common ethos toward the respectful and thoughtful treatment of others. This commitment must be strong enough to flourish in the context of normal, everyday discourse, but also to weather those moments of extreme disagreement. It is to be expected that, in a diverse community, these moments will emerge from time to time, and while there has been an upsurge of such moments in the past few months, there remains a persistent challenge, namely: How do we nurture and sustain a sense of community at Williams?
Well, you start by adopting the Chicago principles, so every student feels safe to say what they think.
The sweet-sounding weasel words above accomplish nothing, as a former professor at Williams, John Drew, recognized at Ephblog, a site dedicated to reporting on matters at Williams College:
The report mentions, then thoroughly ignores, complaints that conservative views are absent on campus and that conservative students and faculty are fearful of speaking up. There is no sense of historical or political context either. It doesn’t seem to grasp the way dis-invitations have been solely focused on harming conservative speakers whose ideas interfere with the college’s institutional commitment to identity politics, feminism and critical race theory.
. . . Consequently, I don’t see The Sawicki Report recommending a reversal of Falk’s regrettable Derbyshire decision [the previous President, who banned a controversial speaker]. If anything, it affirms Falk’s views by making clear the administration still has the right to ban speakers. In this sense, their recommendations fall far short of the clear, decisive, and easy-to-understand Chicago principles.
On the topic of clarity, the report reminds me of Maud Mandel’s earlier response to the CARE Now students. This is because it includes a long, encyclopedic recitation of existing policies which is designed to assure the reader everything is okay if only we are up-to-speed on the relevant on-campus literature.
In other words, pay attention to what we say and not what we do.
. . . Instead of a pithy Chicago-style statement, we are left with a wordy, difficult to digest, mash up of unclear and unspecified recommendations designed to make it look like everyone has won.
Indeed! You can’t formulate a free-speech policy that satisfies every person on campus, especially the woke ones. The commitee’s report is a warmhearted, well intentioned, but ineffective word salad that will undoubtedly be endorsed by President Mandel and made into official policy. But it’s not the Chicago Policy that should be adopted by any college worth its salt.
It’s worth mentioning that the Williams report doesn’t even take up the issue of how to punish people who disrupt or shut down free speech at the College. Even the University of Chicago has a policy about how to deal with disrupters and de-platformers.
Finally, let’s return to the heart of the Chicago Principles, just to see how sensible (and uncompromising) they are:
Excerpts from The Chicago Principles (my emphasis):
Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.
Here is where the response is designed to be not institutional, but individual:
In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle 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. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
I am damn proud of The University of Chicago for adopting this policy. And the Williams community should be ashamed of their timorousness and of their refusal to firmly endorse the First Amendment. The committee-proposed policy will change nothing at Williams, nor serve to quell the unrest that roiled the College last year and led to a decline in its reputation.
33 thoughts on “Williams College finally produces a lame draft of a “free speech” policy”
Here’s my policy:
1.You can take any intellectual position on anything as long as it’s germane to where you are and what you’re doing. If you want to discuss the racial aspects of intelligence, or the woefulness of the New York Mets, in a calculus class, you can be told to STFU.
2. Where it is germane, you have to be taking an intellectual position. In a philosophy class, for example, you can argue that homosexuality violates natural law and people who engage in it should not be protected by the laws of the state. But you can’t call your dissenting class member a “faggot.”
3. People can be punished for being assholes as long as the asshole-punishing policy is enforced even-handedly against assholes of all sorts.
The policy is about speech outside of class, but some aspects may apply in class.
I disagree with your numbers 2 and 3 because of the inability to determine what constitutes “offense”. Many people would, for example, find the phrase “blue lives matter”, which is not necessarily an intellectual position and is construed by many as the statement of an asshole.
Is it really so hard to distinguish between “Jewish Lives Matter” and “K**e”?
Classrooms have never been considered “public fora” for free-speech purposes, even at US public universities where the First Amendment obtains.
Were unbridled free expression ever forced into the classroom, pedagogy as we understand it would cease to exist.
necessity of making sure that all are included in the ensuing conversation
That sounds like compelled speech.
Ben-Porath also says “The weaponising of free speech on campus, and other toxicities”
Somehow I doubt the “respectful and thoughtful treatment of others” they call for will extend to conservative students and speakers. All too often “diversity” means “everyone having the same point of view on certain topics” and “inclusion” means “exclusion and punishment of those who hold contrary views”, in the name of making everything “safe”.
Oh well. As enforced ideological conformity slowly spreads through my own field as administrators flex their D&I muscles – every employee at my company had to write an open letter recently describing how they will work to increase “diversity and inclusion” – I don’t see what I can do but keep my head down and my mouth shut and hope for another 20 years so I can retire in peace.
Taking 75 pages to draft a policy doesn’t make you want to go there to get educated. Imagine if they had to write the Constitution or Declaration of Independence? We’d still be waiting . . .
That crew ever walked into a bar, the barkeep better have a punchline ready.
This is what happens when “inclusivity” is valued above expertise. Here we have an issue of great importance, with a deep and long intellectual history in law, philosophy, classics, rhetoric, etc. and the near-total dismissal of subject matter experts. It seems to undermine the whole idea of the value of scholarship. Who needs to know anything?
That is quite literally the point for them. They don’t want experts weighing in because they believe the experts have been taught was a white supremacist patriarchal cisnormative heteronormative kyriarchy, and are therefore compromised and not to be trusted. They think that anyone who has studied this issue outside the area of “critical studies” is just a stooge for the diversity- and inclusion-destroying idea of free speech.
I believe the U.S. team just won – 2 to 1 against Spain.
The supreme court just ruled on a speech case. The company wanted to use the name
FUCT but others thought it was too nasty. Anyway the court said they could do it.
This is such a lengthy report, it gives me a headache to think about what I can say or can’t. Common sense comes to mind. What’s important at the end of the day is kindness. Moral Compass works well. Some people don’t have a filter, I know a few of those. Freedom of Speach is the right in the United States. Use your words wisely.
What the Williams committee terms “dignitary safety” can be adequately protected by rules and laws that prohibit conduct (including certain types of verbal conduct) — harassment, stalking, assault, etc. There’s no need to restrict speech based on its ideational content alone — not as long as the listener has the opportunity either to avoid such speech or to respond to it in an appropriate forum, anyway.
Is it true that “harassment” in the legal sense in your jurisdiction has to be repeated behaviour (i.e., a 1-off, however understood, cannot be harassment)? We had that concern at a local CFI event once. (In the context of figuring out what the popular know-nothing Jordan Peterson was on about.)
John Drew here. Thanks for the shout out this a.m. I appreciate it.
One minor correction. I’m not an alum of Williams College. I was a professor there.
Thanks; I’ll make the correction now. I’ve edited out your email address for your own privacy.
Thx. You’re the best.
I was a bit slow in correcting the post as I was out and about in Honolulu, but it’s been made.
My hope is, once they have a policy in place, no matter how lame, they can gradually improve it toward the Chicago statement. Students (and faculty) will leave and times will change making improvement possible.
I agree that the “dignitary safety” concept is a potential slippery slope. However if a private college wants to ban insults, then outside of a few contexts I don’t necessarily see it as a hard core free speech issue, as there are precious few ideas that can *only* be parsed as insults. Certainly racism doesn’t need insults to be racist.
The contexts where this would make no sense would be in an academic study of speech use, historical studies of civil rights or hate groups, art theater or drama studies, poetry or expressive writing classes and the like; i.e., any subject or study where the range of human expression (rather than just ideas) is part of the content.
There is a very big difference, and not one that is hard to make out, between expressing racist ideas, in a context where ideas about race are relevant, and expressing racial insults, either toward individuals or a crowd. The former should be protected; the latter does not have to be.
Neither of you seem to appreciate that criticism of individuals or their behavior can easily be construed as “racist” or “hate speech”.
Eric, do you think the Supreme Court erred in allow racist language or racist insults as protected free speech?
Do you tolerate someone in your class calling a fellow student he disagrees with a n****r? If not, why not?
“Maudit anglais” (to me) has happened and IMO has no place in a classroom (since insults are always off topic.) However, the bigot that wants to express it can hold up a sign, tell it to my face in a bar, etc. if he wishes and the ToS of wherever allows it. That’s a bit different than “Anglophone Quebecers should leave the province so we can form our own country.” I think this is *driven* by racism, and can be defended (badly, but still with arguments). So I would be ok with that where it would be on topic.
Some people cannot or will not make the distinction between the types here.
When you say, “not one that is hard to make out”, I think you are assuming a level of reasonableness that no longer applies. It is not actual racism that is at issue but the belief, held by many, that criticism of an idea or movement is by itself a racist insult. For example, there are some on campus that consider criticism of Black Lives Matter to be a racist insult. Or, in the recent case of Coleman Hughes’ testimony before Congress, to criticize reparations is inherently racist. The latter case is especially revealing of the current insanity; one of his detractors actually argued that since his criticism of reparations was racist it is OK to use racists slurs against him. Pure insanity. That is why your statement misses the point.
One of the problem spots is this: “speech that is intended to menace, intimidate, or discriminate against an individual based upon a personal characteristic or membership in a group.”
It sounds good, but is in fact woefully subject to interpretation. “Intended to” is an easy accusation to make, and a hard one to prove one way or another. A biologist pointing out differences between males and females could be claimed “to intend discrimination.” Who makes the final decision about that? Is there a fact of the matter?
I, for one, am glad they took a strong stance against here:
“Student Organization Policies: Chalking
Exterior chalking is allowed only on uncovered horizontal solid surfaces where rain waters will naturally wash it off. For example, chalking is allowed on open sidewalks on campus; chalking is not allowed on wall surfaces (such as the Paresky Snack Bar oval or the pillars on Chapin), nor on horizontal surfaces covered by a roof or overhang (such as the front porch of Paresky).
Chalkings must include the name of the person, group, or office responsible for them. Any chalking that falls outside of these parameters will be removed and the person(s) responsible, if known, will be charged for clean–up/removal.”
Kids who play hopscotch— remember to sign it, so you can be billed for “clean up removal.”
Is there anywhere in the 75-page report an indication that in preparing the document the committee was aware of their own exercise of free speech? That their words might make the advocates of free speech feel excluded or otherwise threatened?
Is their blindness willful, or a mental block?
You make a bunch of mistakes in the above. Details here:
After letting you use my site to direct traffic to yours, I will ban you for insulting the host (what a rude person you are in your post, a characteristic you must have gotten from the woke Williams students).
First, though, since you had the temerity to call me a fool, let me reply that you are an arrant jackass. The only “mistake” I made in my post was characterizing the universities who use the Chicago Principles as “adopting them” rather than, as the FIRE site says, the 65 schools “Have adopted or endorsed the Chicago Statement or a substantially similar statement.”
As far as Amherst statement is concerned, it is indeed so similar to the Chicago statement that large parts of it must have been copied directly. Here is from the 2014 Chicago statement, for instance:
And here’s from the 2016 Amherst statement:
And you say this isn’t a copy of part of the Chicago statement? Don’t make me laugh. It could even be construed as plagiarism.
Oh, and the Amherst website says that its own committee joined Chicago in endorsing free speech:
Note that, of course, Amherst’s statement came two years after Chicago’s.
Now begone to your own blog to entertain your three or four like-minded equine readers. I have better things to do than swat down odious Ephs.
Well put sir.
As law professors like to do, let’s apply the new Williams principles to a hypothetical to see how they would work. Let’s consider a proposed speaker who would criticize affirmative action. That’s clearly a topic of genuine debate, which has been and is currently the subject of litigation, referenda and legislation. It’s also a subject that might well adversely affect the “dignitary safety” of minority students who might interpret the attacks on affirmative action as personal attacks on their right to be at Williams. Would the Williams principles allow such a speaker to be barred from speaking on that subject? It seems so, whether that speaker was from outside the school or a current student or professor. How this could be considered acceptable at an institution of higher education is difficult to understand.