by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Martin Center column tells the story of one outstanding college free-speech advocate.
Zachary Wood is a remarkable young man. He’s black, attends a predominantly liberal elite college (Williams) and believes that robust and civil arguments are vital to America’s continuing success.
He is the president of a student group at Williams called Uncomfortable Learning (UL), which has the mission of bringing to campus notable speakers who can articulate a wide range of perspectives.
Recently, UL sponsored a talk by philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers, who is a well-known critic of many of the claims of feminism (see her video blog, The Factual Feminist). She calmly and rationally argues a case that many young liberal students find jarring. Her opinions clash with so much they’ve been taught. That is what makes her an ideal campus speaker.
How did the students at Williams react to Sommers? Many of them reacted like angry children, snickering, yelling insults, and ranting instead of listening, thinking, and asking questions. ,,,
… Responding to her treatment, Wood wrote a superb piece in the Nov. 17th Wall Street Journal entitled “At Williams, a Funny Way of ‘Listening.’” He expressed his disappointment in both the students and the Williams administration.
“After one student shouted ’f-you!’ at the speaker, an administrator seemed to affirm the heckler’s veto, signaling to me with a timeout gesture that it was time to end the event,” Wood wrote. “In an effort to give as many students as possible a chance to engage the speaker, I approached the administrator and negotiated another 15 minutes for questions. But the remainder of the Q&A consisted mostly of bellicose rhetoric and long-winded stories of personal trauma, many of which had little to do with the topic at hand.”