More on Free Speech

Free Speech and Its Enemies is a peculiar title to a philosophy course purported to foster open discussion (“Free Speech and Its Enemies,” summer 2018). By implication those supporting the cancellation of the Derbyshire visit are the “enemy.” That’s not how I recall Philosophy 101. Free speech is not a virtue unto itself, any more than, say, loyalty, obedience or humility. On the other hand, truth, as I learned from Plato, is. Those who agonize over disinviting Mr. Derbyshire misdefine all speech to be honest debate and in so doing compromise virtues far more vital to ethical society than the rules of how we discuss them. We don’t debate the benefits of Auschwitz or the killing of escaped slaves, because there aren’t any. Let’s do as my professors did. A student’s duty was simple: Be thoughtful. If someone in your class got an “A,” whereas you got a “D,” it was not because Bob Gaudino or Kurt Tauber violated your free speech rights. Does Derbyshire’s proselytizing further the virtues of thoughtfulness, truth or good faith? Then give him his “D” and be done with him. A community of learning must decide what consequences it chooses to be party to. Philosophy 101.
—Chris Curtis ’73, Accokeek, Md.

Until a few years ago, I was a loyal supporter of my undergraduate alma mater but ended that status. I was not about to support in any manner a school where free speech was being regularly vilified. However, if the “learning community” described by the new president, Maud S. Mandel (“Intentional Joy,” summer 2018), proves to be more than empty opening remarks, perhaps my support is restorable. I would strongly suggest that the course Free Speech and Its Enemies be made mandatory. As Professor Steve Gerrard states in the article about that class, “The purpose of a Williams education is to help students acquire skills to be thriving citizens in a pluralistic society. That involves learning how to confront views they find abhorrent and how to deal with that in rational ways.” Whether one is a budding physicist or a dance major, that statement of purpose needs to be a guiding light for the four years in Williamstown—and for one’s life thereafter.
—Ted Baumgardner ’57, Winter Park, Fla.

More on Normalization

A letter to the editor highlighting the dangers of “normalizing” the Heritage Foundation specifically—and the views of Republican Ephs like Michael Needham ’04 in general—is excellent (“Letters,” summer 2018). But the writer does not go nearly far enough. Consider this modest proposal: Williams Magazine should never mention any right-of-center views or organizations. Even better: Williams itself should no longer hire Republican/conservative/libertarian faculty, nor should we admit high school seniors like Needham, who show signs of opinions inconsistent with our “stated values.”
—David Kane ’88, Newton, Mass.

More Rumors

I loved the article “Rumor Has It” (summer 2018). I have one addition to make. You describe two Williams-Williams marriages before 1972. There is another. Tom Phillips ’61 married Betsy Stoddard ’61 (daughter of the late Whitney Stoddard ’35, Professor of Art History, emeritus). They have since divorced.
—Harvey R. Plonsker ’61, Glencoe, Ill.


“Black Lives Matter … captures the spirit or the ‘afterlife’ of Frederick Douglass because it’s a movement that is profoundly concerned with identifying anti-black acts and developing processes of rehumanization as well. Instead of silence. Instead of denigrating others. Instead of not taking action. … I’m hoping that the volume can not only contribute to Douglass’ legacy but actually capture the spirit of movements that have emerged recently and will likely emerge in the future.”

—Neil Roberts, associate professor of Africana studies and faculty affiliate in political science,
in an interview with WXIR Radio and the Rochester Community Media Center about the book he recently edited, A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass.