Last year, in the fall of 2018, I tried to stand up for campus free speech.
A small group of faculty at Williams College in Massachusetts, where I teach philosophy, had circulated a petition to have our institution sign a national pledge of allegiance to principles of free expression that originated at the University of Chicago. Over 50 colleges and universities, including Princeton and the Citadel, had already adopted the mainstream liberal principles, protecting both speakers and protesters.
I was cautiously optimistic. Like many liberal arts colleges, Williams had gone through a free-speech crisis — and survived. In 2016, our then-president canceled a talk from a conservative writer (the first presidential cancellation since 1865, when Ralph Waldo Emerson was barred from speaking on campus); he also ordered that a mural of the school’s founder be temporarily boarded over because of objections to its depiction of Native Americans.