Phi Beta Cons

Banned from Williams

This morning Williams College president Adam Falk sent the following email to the entire campus community:

From: Adam Falk 

Date: Thu, Feb 18, 2016 at 10:18 AM

Subject: John Derbyshire’s Scheduled Appearance at Williams

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


John Derbyshire has certainly made statements that many people find objectionable, and his provocative opinions have gotten him into trouble before, including here at National Review. But there is a difference between expressing opinions as a paid employee and doing so as an invited guest at a college. President Falk needs to be reminded that a college’s job is not to determine which ideas are so beyond the pale that they may not even be uttered. The answer to speech that offends is more speech. This dis-invitation shows a liberal arts college trying to immunize itself from all controversial opinions and remain in a “safe space.” It is to Williams College’s shame that President Falk has “found the line” and banned Derbyshire from speaking.


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