Open Letter to Adam Falk, President of Williams College

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Professor Falk,

I have taken a number of days to collect my thoughts.  I am still not entirely sure I have the words.  But if I have to use a simple declarative sentence, this is it: I cannot endorse my beloved Williams as a wise choice for young people seeking a well-rounded education for as long as you are the president.  I would be inclined to say that your actions are an embarrassment to the very ideal of the liberal arts, but I am forced to admit that they are much in keeping with the destruction of the liberal arts by the intolerant and illiberal political left, a process that has been decades in the making.  You SHOULD be embarrassed, but I suppose there are enough like-minded censors in the higher education establishment for you to hide behind.

I refer, of course, to your disinvitation of John Derbyshire.  I do not much care for Mr. Derbyshire, or his opinions on a wide range of topics.  But if he is wrong, then that should be demonstrated.  If he is right–and you have not attempted a demonstration that he is wrong–then the fact that we recoil from his statements ought to give us pause, and motivate us to seek out the solutions to very real problems that he identifies.

When I was a student years ago, the Black Student Union invited one of Louis Farrakhan’s acolytes to speak.  Jewish students on campus were upset–because of course, various Nation of Islam speakers have said much worse about Jews than Mr. Derbyshire has ever said about anyone.  Yet he was permitted to speak.  And of course, the JCC was permitted to host events complaining about the portrayal of Jews in some parts of the black community.

Once the LGBT union put up a display in Baxter featuring homosexual pornography.  Students wrote long comments on post-it notes, some to complain, and some to praise.

These sorts of controversial events promoted what in those days, we referred to as “education.”  I remember being told at some sort of welcoming ceremony that the purpose of education was to force us out of our comfort zone by challenging out deeply held beliefs.  At the time I took that at face value, not realizing that apparently, the point was to force people with politically incorrect opinions out of their comfort zones, while ensuring that students with proper opinions should never hear a speaker who disagreed.

A common defense of the censor’s impulse is to ask, should the college invite Klansmen to speak?  And the answer is, of course not.  Nor, I suppose, will the physics department invite some free-energy crank to give a colloquium.  But the argument proves nothing.  John Derbyshire is not a Klansman, and to make the comparison is to reveal either a dishonest attempt at misdirection or a boneheaded inability to make distinctions.  He is a man with views that are disturbing, but whose correctness is subject to rational examination.  They should be so examined, by students and faculty alike.

Unfortunately, for the second time this academic year, Williams has yielded to the anti-intellectual impulse and refused to even listen.  That is unworthy of any educational institution, but most especially one which purports to be training thinkers and leaders.

I don’t see how I can send entrust my children, or recommend that anyone else entrust their children, to a college that seems to have given up on education in favor of coddling and indoctrination.  It is a shameful legacy for you, and for the faculty at large, and I hope you will find a way to correct it.

Robert Lyman

Physics ’99

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