[A momentary break from my usual blogging focus to address a local controversy]
[Update: for the sake of clarity, I have deleted one phrase and added another. Readers will see this below at the strikethoughed text]
I am a teacher. Every day I make decisions about what my students read and write, and what kinds of speech are intellectually meaningful in our classroom discussions. Within the limits of my pedagogical goals, I encourage them to freely explore arguments, push and pull ideas in unexpected directions, make mistakes. When it works well, it’s like John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things: marvelous innovation within the limits of the melodic structure.
From that perspective, I can see why President Adam Falk was right to cancel the planned appearance of a speaker widely recognized, on both left and right, for his racist views. Williams College does not have an open-ended obligation to provide a platform for unmediated racist speech, nor is it a place of absolutely unlimited speech. Because we are an institution of higher education, our mission is to promote and support speech, and writing and learning, that is intellectually meaningful. The planned event did not meet that standard and, thus, was rightfully cancelled. Indeed, it should never have been scheduled in the first place.