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Friday, February 19, 2016

re: Seth Barrett Tillman responding to President Adam Falk, Williams College: the Allure of Forbidden Fruit

This is what President Falk, Williams College, Massachusetts, wrote:

To the Williams Community,
Today 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. The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions. 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.
We respect—and expect—our students’ exploration of ideas, including ones that are very challenging, and we encourage individual choice and decision-making by students. But at times it’s our role as educators and administrators to step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of students and our community. This is one of those times.
Adam Falk

This is my response to President Falk:

Dear President Falk,

I read your February 18, 2016 letter to the Williams Community. I do not understand it. You don't quote, link to, point to, or even summarize anything Derbyshire said or wrote. So the reader has no way to understand precisely what he said or wrote that crossed any "line" or even, when he said or wrote you allege constitutes hate speech. How is the reader supposed to understand your letter? 

You also noted that Derbyshire wasn't invited by the College. So who brought this matter to your attention? And was Derbyshire given any opportunity to respond or to address their or your concerns or to contest the truth of what he is alleged to have said or done? Perhaps, his offensive comments are moribund? Or, perhaps, he has even changed his mind? It has happened: people do change their minds. I hope you do. A fair-minded person reading your letter -- absent context which your letter fails to provide -- sees only a star-chamber procedure where disfavoured points of view are banned. Banned without a hearing, or even any explanation. 

I won't say what you did is un-American. Because it is all too common in America and Europe. 


Tillman's NRC Addendum: I do not know John Derbyshire. I am not familiar with his writings, some of which I may or may not agree with. And for my purposes here what Derbyshire may or may not have said or written does not matter; what matters is how President Falk reacted when faced with ideas with which he strongly disagrees. Ideas which he condemns, although offering no explanation in regard to why he condemns them, how he arrived at his conclusion, or what other ideas in the future he will condemn. Even witch trials were trials, of a sort, but what procedure--if any--was used here? 
The way to contest bad ideas -- at least those bad ideas which do not call for violence -- is to debate them fairly in the marketplace of ideas. Not to ban them or their spokespersons. If this is not the West's great truth, then universities serve no purpose at all. Banning bad ideas makes such ideas more marketable; indeed, it gives them undeserved good will in the form of the allure of forbidden fruit. The way to drive out bad ideas . . . is with good ones.

Twitter: ( @SethBTillman )

Welcome Instapundit and Chicago Boyz readers. My co-bloggers have posted a lot of good material, so please have a look around.

My prior post is [Here]: Seth Barrett Tillman, A Quick Thought on Presidential Recess Appointments, The New Reform Club (Feb. 14, 2016, 2:31 PM). 


jaed said...

This strikes me as a standard example of "no-platforming". This is a SJW technique aimed at denying certain identified people a "platform", meaning the ability to address people and argue publicly for their views. (No-platforming is sometimes also applied as a generalized weapon, meaning that the targeted person should be denied the ability to speak about other topics as well. For instance, someone with controversial political views might be uninvited from a technical conference where he was to lecture on something in the area of his professional expertise.)

The reference to a "platform" in the first paragraph of the letter, combined with the overall thrust of it, makes me think this. Falk does not seem concerned about the specifics of what Derbyshire might actually have said during this speech so much as about his being allowed to speak at all.

Michael K said...

National Review began the censoring of John Derbyshire, one of their best contributors, over his column (written elsewhere) on advice to his interracial children to avoid race based violence, National Review thereupon lost all credibility as a conservative publication. It is no surprise to see the reaction of colleges and other leftist organizations but it was a surprise to see such cowardice in an allegedly conservative publication.

Tom Van Dyke said...

All true, but also self-defense--Derbyshire's views on race were not a hill to die on.

Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, announced over the weekend that he was ending the magazine’s association with John Derbyshire because of a post he published in Taki’s Magazine (an online publication that promises “Cocktails, Countesses & Mental Caviar”). Lowry said that the column, “The Talk: Non-Black Version,” was “nasty and indefensible.” Given its conceit—Derbyshire explaining to his children that black people are generally dumber than they are and dangerous and should, on the whole, be avoided—it might also be described as racist. (Josh Barro, at, called it “kind of unbelievably racist.”) In firing “Derb,” Lowry directed readers to his “delightful first novel” but said, in effect, that “Derb” had become bad for the NR brand:

"We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.

bobby said...

If we're going to be judging Derb's essay, we should probably read it instead of reading about it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The New Yorker was quite fair in not just characterizing but quoting the worst of it directly

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.


(13) In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice….

(15) Unfortunately the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets….

Anonymous said...

In my time at Williams, the college hosted Thomas Friedman, Dinesh D'Souza, and Dick Morris, and those are three of the biggest idiots in America. No one was harmed. Indeed, I think some people may have benefited from confronting their ideas. And maybe those three benefited from having their ideas refuted by the people at Williams.