Phi Beta Cons

Positive Alternatives at Williams

The recent disinvitation issue at Williams College introduced me to the Williams Alternative, the students who sponsor the Uncomfortable Learning series and who invited Suzanne Venker to speak critically  about feminism. The same group disinvited her when it appeared to Zach Wood, the leader, that he could not prevent possibly dangerous protests at her presentation.

The group has a lively blog, which I now subscribe to. Today it published a letter from a liberal Williams professor of social sciences, Sam Crane. The thrust of his message is that there is plenty of conservative thought on campus, and the Williams Alternative is not only unnecessary but it reeks of  “conservative privilege” because it has outside funding and doesn’t need to follow the rules and procedures that student groups normally go through to obtain funds.

Not only is there conservative thought at Williams, but if there isn’t enough on campus, the school is connected to the wider world, says Professor Crane. And there’s plenty of conservative thinking out there.

We live in an intensely saturated media environment, instantly connected to national political debates. When presidential candidate Jeb Bush utters the sentence, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” those words circulate through and around Williamstown. In this case, feminists are not shielded from anti-feminist thinking; rather, they are confronted on a daily basis with challenges to their standpoint.

So, says Professor Crane:

What we are left with then is something rather familiar: a group of conservatives, most notably conservative alumni, who are able to use significant amounts of money, unavailable to others, to advance their ideology. All of this is couched in the language of “fair and balanced” discourse–but we’ve heard that before.


To recapitulate: conservative arguments are present at Williams, in both curricular and extra-curricular ways, and, more powerfully within the political discourse and actions that surround and permeate the campus. If conservative students wish to increase the presence of their views on campus, there are regular procedures and rules that can be followed, as has been done by Williams for Life and other groups.

By the way, some of the speakers they have brought on campus include KC Johnson, Greg Lukianoff, Richard Vedder, and Richard Sander (Democrats and Republicans both, all with ideas worth listening to on campus).

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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