As readers of The Torch may recall, FIRE has seen an increase in recent years of universities disinviting speakers due to their unpopular or controversial views. Columnist George Will and the students of Scripps College in California may be the most recent victims of this trend.
As reported by the Claremont Independent (Scripps is one of seven institutions collectively constituting the Claremont University Consortium), Will was invited to speak as part of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program. That program is based on the 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.”
FIRE could not agree more. A conservative writer and FOX News contributor whose columns appear in more than 450 newspapers, Will would seem to be an exceptionally good fit for the program’s mission. Yet after he published a particularly controversial column about campus sexual assault on June 6, his invitation was abruptly revoked.
As Will Creeley, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, recently explained on HuffPost Live, colleges should “let students engage with ideas they find interesting, even offensive, even loathsome ... make sure that students are allowed to engage the wide world of viewpoints so that they can form their own.” Creeley was talking about the recent controversy surrounding the choice of Mumia Abu-Jamal as commencement speaker by students at Goddard College in Vermont, and the principle applies equally here.
The students of Scripps College have been deprived of a valuable opportunity to engage with and learn from Will. It does not appear that Scripps students publicly called for the revocation of Will’s invitation to speak.
Though Scripps College administrator did not provide comment to the Independent, Will attributed the cancellation to his June column:
“It was in the works and then it wasn’t in the works,” Will said in an interview with the Independent. “They didn’t say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason.”
Will also told the Independent that Christopher DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the country, resigned from his position on the program’s speaker selection committee over the decision to revoke the invitation.
FIRE will be looking into the situation.