Yesterday, Adam Falk, the president of Williams College, disgraced himself, the college that he leads, and the institution of free speech that he has claimed to support. He did this by disinviting John Derbyshire, the mathematician and commentator, from speaking at Williams for a student-run program called “Uncomfortable Learning,” a series specifically designed to bring serious but alternative points of view to the expensive (this year’s tab: $63,290) and coddled purlieus of Williamstown, Massachusetts, where nearly all the faculty are left-leaning and the students, with rare exceptions, are timid if irritable politically correct babies.
This is not the first time someone scheduled to speak for the Uncomfortable Learning series has been disinvited. Last fall, the author Suzanne Venker was first invited and then disinvited by the organizers themselves. Her tort? Harboring unacceptable opinions about feminism. Imagine, she even had the temerity to publish books with such inflammatory titles as The Flipside of Feminism and The War on Men. Everyone knows that feminism is a wild success and that the only social war in town is the supposed “war on women,” punctuated every now and then by a “war on blacks.”
Ms. Venker was disinvited by the crybullies who could not bear to contemplate the presence of someone with a different perspective on feminism present in the same geographical space as themselves. But the invitation to John Derbyshire required bigger ammunition. It couldn’t be left to the students themselves to disinvited him. No, Adam Falk had to dust off his lofty horse, trot into the public square, and discharge a smug, emetic proclamation designed first of all to highlight his own greater virtue while also castigating John Derbyshire as the author of “hate speech.”
In its way, Adam Falk’s campus-wide email is a thing of wonder, a chiseled, gem-like epitome of the self-righteous intolerance that has so blighted academic life for the last couple of decades. “Today,” Adam Falk wrote, “I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech by John Derbyshire, who was to have presented his views here on Monday night. The college didn’t invite Derbyshire, but I have made it clear to the students who did that the college will not provide a platform for him.”
Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard. [Yes, of course you do, so long as it challenges no aspect of the politically correct dispensation.] The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions. [Right. That’s why, years ago, I was first invited and then disinvited from speaking there in a political science series and why, just a couple of years ago, the FBI was called when some unidentified person scrawled a racial epithet on a college dormitory.] We have said we wouldn’t cancel speakers or prevent the expression of views except in the most extreme circumstances. In other words: There’s a line somewhere, but in our history of hosting events and speeches of all kinds, we hadn’t yet found it.
We’ve found the line. Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it. Many of his expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.
You must be wondering what sort of monster this Derbyshire fellow is. Does he recommend murdering babies? No, no: that is the province of Planned Parenthood. Harvesting fetuses for fun and profit comes under the Orwellian category of “reproductive freedom,” you see, and as such it’s a progressive attitude that the brave souls at Williams College would doubtless endorse. Perhaps he suggests beheading people whose religious views differ from his own: nope, that would be the procedure undertaken by certain members of the Religion of Peace, to criticize whom is to be guilty of the unprogressive attitude of Islamophobia.
I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: John Derbyshire’s unpardonable offense is to have opinions about race that differ from those certified by the examining board of politically correct attitudes. Those opinions mandate, for example, that it is OK to say “Black Lives Matter,” but not “White Lives Matter,” or even “All Lives Matter,” which is held to be racist (yes, really). It’s OK to say that you believe in genetics, but you must never, ever ask questions like: “Is intelligence or social behavior heritable?” That, too, is held to be deeply racist, just as asking questions like “Do men, in general, display greater aptitude for math than women?” is impermissible. (And note well: you can’t even ask the questions, let alone answer them in the wrong way.)
John Derbyshire inadvertently burned his bridges with the politically correct establishment back in 2012 when he published an article expressing some of his thoughts on the realities of race in contemporary America. You can read his offending column here and learn a bit more about his views from an interview he conducted with Gawker here. I wrote about the affair at the time in this column. In the course of that column, I quote the inimitable Mark Steyn on the issue of free speech. “The Left,” Mark notes:
is pretty clear about its objectives on everything from climate change to immigration to gay marriage: Rather than win the debate, they’d just as soon shut it down. They’ve had great success in shrinking the bounds of public discourse, and rendering whole areas of public policy all but undiscussable. In such a climate, my default position is that I’d rather put up with whatever racist/sexist/homophobic/Islamophobic/whateverphobic excess everybody’s got the vapors about this week than accept ever tighter constraints on “acceptable” opinion.
Exactly. I am proud to have published many articles by John Derbyshire at The New Criterion, and will continue to do so. By his disreputable actions yesterday, Adam Falk has indisputably joined the ranks of the neo-McCarthyites who, basking in the conviction of their own virtue, present themselves as staunch defenders of free speech just so long as there is no cost to do so. As soon as anyone with a challenging opinion shows himself, their native intolerance rises up and they start babbling like a character out of Ring Lardner: “Shut up, he explained.”