My appearance at Vassar College on October 25 to lecture on “hate speech” and free speech continues to reverberate.

For background, see my USA Today Op-Ed: My pro-free speech views made me a target at Vassar College, as well as these posts at Legal Insurrection:

The Vassar student newspaper just published an extraordinary Open Letter to Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley from an alumus. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Dear President Bradley,

On Oct. [24], you sent out a message [here] to the Vassar community “to help prepare” the students, faculty and administration “for tomorrow.” While you oddly included two additional and unrelated events in your message, the sole reason for “preparing” was the lecture to be given the following day by William Jacobson, professor of law at Cornell University. It was only for this event that you were “made aware of the very real and legitimate pain that students are feeling.” …

What was the cause of all this childish caterwauling? A lecture. A lecture by a law professor. A lecture by a law professor from Cornell. A lecture by a law professor from Cornell on free speech. A lecture by a mainstream, right-of-center law professor, falsely accused by H2A [student group Healing to Action] of affiliation with white supremacists and neo-Nazis. You knew all this, and yet you still stoked the fires of “real and legitimate pain” when there was absolutely nothing real or legitimate about it.

There are two problems with your message in addition to the obviously false accusations against Professor Jacobson on which it was based. The first is your acceptance, endorsement, and encouragement of the infantilization of the Vassar student body. For $68,110 per year, students deserve better than to be treated as preschoolers. In the end, this produces nothing but resentful, angry, and closeminded graduates, ashamed of their own inability to engage in cogent argument and discussion, and unable to cope with the real world. It is a terrible disservice to the lives of these young people.

The second problem is your embracement of H2A, who you profusely thanked for their “excellent and compassionate work” and for working “tirelessly and creatively to develop safety teams and plans.” …

Compare and contrast the position of H2A [on free speech] with the position of Mr. Jacobson. Professor Jacobson is no provocateur. Not a single utterance in his lecture was outside mainstream legal or constitutional thought. I challenge you to find a single word in his lecture that you even disagree with, let alone ones that could inflict “real and legitimate pain.”

You sent out the message, loud and clear, that while Mr. Jacobson and his ideas are, at best, to be grudgingly tolerated, H2A and its ideas are to be encouraged, supported, and thanked. This is shameful coming from any faculty member, and egregious coming from the president of the College. Now more than ever, the students of Vassar need to hear the ideas expressed by Professor Jacobson. It should have been you who personally invited Professor Jacobson to speak. You should have personally endorsed his message, and you should have personally asked the Vassar community to attend.

To the eternal shame of Vassar, it appears that not a single member of the Vassar faculty or administration publicly supported Professor Jacobson or his free speech message. It also appears that many, like you, actively supported H2A.

In their silence and actions, the faculty and administration at Vassar have clearly learned a lesson from Nicholas and Erika Christakis at Yale University. This couple dared to speak truth to power, and it cost them their careers.

You owe Professor Jacobson a public apology, and you owe the Vassar community a statement thoroughly repudiating H2A and its ideas.

Sincerely,
Paul S. Mansour ’87

You can read President Bradley’s response to the letter here.

Another Vassar alum wrote a Letter to the Editor of USA Today:

It saddened me to read William A. Jacobson’s column “My pro-free speech views made me the target of a smear campaign at Vassar College.” During his speech, he dared to talk about the inherent tension between free speech and safe spaces. But since the term “hate speech” was in the title of the talk (An Examination of Hate Speech and Free Speech) some overly sensitive students took that as a trigger warning. To them, the speech itself was not only alarming but also quite dangerous. If Jacobson’s words were uttered on campus, those words would themselves be a form of violence in their midst.

This is not the Vassar College I once knew.

When I was a student there, more than 35 years ago, The Vassar Spectator was founded on campus. I enthusiastically participated in helping to get this conservative literary journal up and running not because I was particularly aligned with the ideological views of the publication, but rather because I thought it essential to have a variety of opinions and perspectives well represented and expressed on campus. Many students, faculty and administrators expressed similar enthusiasm for the intellectual diversity that this publication helped foster.

It’s too bad that there has been a dramatic change over time in this ideal. Ironically, it’s at the most liberal of liberal arts schools where the fear of ideas not aligned with one’s own seems to have become an acute anxiety disorder.

This episode saddened me, but it did not surprise me. Nothing surprises me anymore about the goings on at my alma mater.

Paul E. Greenberg; Brookline, Mass.

Thanks to the letter writers for voicing opinions on this important issue of free speech on campuses. I have received messages from some students indicating that others on campus share this frustration with the way I was treated, and that my free speech message made a difference.

As to the apology suggested, I agree it’s owed, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

For those of you who missed it, here is my speech and the Q&A.

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