George Will and the Liberal Inquisition on Campus

October 7, 2014

By Tom Wilson at Commentary Magazine

Few will be surprised to learn that the conservative commentator George Will has become the latest public figure to have fallen victim to the growing trend of colleges disinviting their guest speakers. There has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of these cancellations in recent years, with conservatives inevitably bearing the brunt of it. But the case of Will’s cancelation comes with an added poignancy, one that makes the affair sound like parody even by the standards of this already ridiculous phenomenon. For Will had been due to speak as part of Scripps College’s annual Elizabeth Hebert Malott Public Affairs Program. And the thing about this program is that it was specifically created to bring conservative speakers to the campus. Just not too conservative, apparently.

The mission statement of the Elizabeth Herbert Malott Public Affairs Program asserts its belief that “a range of opinions about the world – especially opinions with which we may not agree, or think we do not agree – leads to a better educational experience.” As such, the program undertakes to bring to campus speakers with views that differ from the majority of those at the college. No doubt a worthy and much needed undertaking at this progressive all-women’s liberal arts college where a recent survey failed to find a single registered Republican among the faculty.

Even so, it still seems somewhat odd that such initiatives should be required in the first place. Has academia really become so uniformly liberal that specific programs now need to be created so that for one day a year a conservative can be shipped in and paraded around like some rare and exotic creature? Held up before the students so that, should they ever meet one in later life, they will know what a conservative looks like?

Either way, George Will is one conservative that students at Scripps won’t now be exposed to. Will himself maintains that his invitation was revoked on account of acontroversial column he penned back in June, although the college hasn’t actually specified that to be the reason. The column, which was on the subject of sexual assault on campus, certainly caused some uproar. When Will questioned both the stats and the disciplinary procedures that colleges have been adopting regarding sexual assault, he provoked an almighty backlash against himself. Will subsequently claimed that he was actually seeking to take sexual assault more seriously, not less. But four Democratic Senators thought the wrongheadedness of Will’s views to be of such national urgency that they authored a letter to him on the subject, while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch felt compelled to drop Will’s twice-weekly column.

Whether it was this column or something else that offended sensibilities at Scripps, it seems ludicrous to have a program dedicated to showcasing individuals with alternative views only to then disqualify those individuals who have dared to question certain sacred cows of liberal-think. One by one, all the issues get set beyond the realm of debate or discussion and the walls of the liberal echo chamber become ever more impenetrable. It is hardly surprising then that just so many conservative figures have found themselves deemed beyond the pale of acceptability, with students and faculty alike petitioning their institutions to disinvite conservative speakers. In recent years Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, and critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali have all had their invitations to speak on campus withdrawn.

A disturbing culture of perpetual indignation seems to be rendering students apparently unable to so much as countenance hearing alternative points of view, and it has only grown worse in recent years. Research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education suggests that since 1987 there have been 145 cases of speakers being disinvited by colleges. But alarmingly close to 100 of these have occurred over the past five years.

Theoretically, Will should have been sheltered from this storm of censorship now being demanded by liberal students and academics. Yet even a program dedicated to allowing some conservative views on campus wasn’t safe from the inquisition. Perhaps Will’s tone was indeed hurtful and offensive to many people. But as the cliché goes, the only society worth living in is one in which your deepest feelings can be offended. Liberals, however, have for some time now been engaged in a project to turn academia into a society of their very own, one in which they will never have to hear an opposing view ever again.

Some have suggested redressing the political imbalance by creating “conservative studies departments” at our universities. But as with the program on which Will was due to speak, by placing all the conservatives in some kind of menagerie rather than having them as tenured academics in standard departments, the message is only reinforced that conservatives are an oddity not for mainstream academic life.

Following the disinviting of Will, Christopher DeMuth, the former head of AEI, has resigned his position on the program’s selection committee. Perhaps this is just as well; conservatives should hardly be bestowing upon such Stalinist institutions the veneer of tolerance and openness.

Schools: Scripps College