Williams College’s president has taken what he called the “extraordinary step” of canceling a student-organized speaking engagement by a conservative writer who has been criticized as racist, The Berkshire Eagle reported.
The president, Adam F. Falk, said in a letter to the campus that he held free speech in “extremely high regard.” But he said he wanted to make it clear that Williams would not play host to John Derbyshire, a former writer for the conservative magazine the National Review. The magazine fired Mr. Derbyshire in 2012 after he wrote a column for another online publication that drew widespread condemnation.
“The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions,” Mr. Falk wrote. “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,” he continued. “Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it.” Mr. Falk said that many of Mr. Derbyshire’s expressions constituted hate speech that would not be tolerated at the college.
Mr. Derbyshire told the newspaper that he had shrugged at the news that the college had canceled his appearance, which had been organized by a student group called Uncomfortable Learning.
“The colleges today are dreadful,” he said. “Nothing surprises me anymore. Hence the shrug.”
The cancellation of Mr. Derbyshire’s talk is the second such incident to occur at Williams in recent months. Inside Higher Ed reported in October that students had rescinded a speaking invitation to Suzanne Venker, who has written books and articles criticizing feminism.