A group of Wellesley College professors claims speakers with “objectionable” views are not only offensive to students, but actually diminish their liberty.
Six professors at the Massachusetts liberal arts college — members of the faculty Commission on Ethnicity, Race, and Equity (CERE) — wrote an email to fellow faculty Monday, saying students are harmed by controversial guest speakers because they have to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.”
The email, a copy of which was obtained by higher education watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), was written in the wake of a campus visit by Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern University professor who has criticized certain aspects of Title IX enforcement. Kipnis’s talk earlier in March was part of the college’s “Censorship Awareness Week,” a program sponsored by Wellesley professor Thomas Cushman in support of free expression on campus.
In the email, the professors express concern that, after hearing certain speakers, students will be so preoccupied objecting the hurtful opinions that they will be “unable to carry out their responsibilities as students without standing up for themselves.” The commission members recommended higher “standards of respect and rigor” when selecting guest speakers to come to campus.
The Wellesley professors’ email contrasted with a statement of principles released by faculty members at Middlebury College in the wake of a campus visit earlier in March by Charles Murray, a social scientist and author of the controversial 1994 book “The Bell Curve.” During Murray’s stop at Middlebury, a group of students assaulted him and professor Allison Stanger, shutting down the event and sending Stanger to the hospital with a concussion. (RELATED: Angry Students Disrupt Conservative Scholar’s Speech at Middlebury College)
After the dust-up, at least two dozen Middlebury professors signed a list of 15 principles, reaffirming their commitment to free speech and educational inquiry within educational institutions. The first tenet states: “Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.”
At Wellesley, the CERE commission’s email acknowledged the importance of defending free speech, but went on to argue that certain ideas are beyond the bounds of legitimate discourse.
“Pseudoscience suggesting that men are more naturally equipped to excel in STEM fields than women, for example, has no place at Wellesley,” the professors wrote. “Similar arguments pertaining to race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and other identity markers are equally inappropriate.”
Kipnis was skeptical of the Wellesley professors’ concern for their students well-being in the face of supposedly unpalatable views, telling FIRE that “protecting students from the ‘distress’ of someone’s ideas isn’t education, it’s a $67,000 babysitting bill.”
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