Letter: Buzz phrases used to squelch dissent


To the editor of THE EAGLE:

As a teacher of language and literature, I want to take this opportunity to decry the reflexive use of the phrases "political correctness" and "free speech" as blunt instruments for squelching any sort of criticism of the status quo, however nuanced and thoughtful it might be ("Williams' litmus test," editorial, June 7).

A careful reading of the open letter signed by some 90 members of the Williams faculty and staff reveals that our protest had nothing to do with trying to prevent Mr. Bloomberg from exercising his right to free speech. In fact, it is our job to foster vigorous discussion and rigorous, complete analysis of all issues, and we would welcome the chance to go head to head with Michael Bloomberg on both those counts, in a forum that allows for questions and dialogue.

But it seems that any cry of "anti-free-speech" is supposed to stop protest -- ironically, a speech form that is the very exemplar of the first amendment -- in its tracks immediately. "Political correctness" has become an even emptier, but equally powerful, means of silencing dissent; no one wants to be accused of demanding blind allegiance to a formulaic thought template.

But such an approach is about as far from the process that has taken place at Williams leading up to the weekend as can be. The letter, collaboratively written and agreed upon by a varied group of around 25 colleagues, was signed by people who vociferously disagree with one another on the floor of faculty meetings -- people who undoubtedly disagree with each other on the fine points of Bloomberg's policies -- but who agree that it is wrong for the college to honor him in light of the wholly unacceptable practices of racial and religious discrimination he has come to stand for.

Bloomberg's status as a symbol of those practices matters. Language matters. And I wish the Eagle had not fallen into the all too common trap of using it so carelessly.



The writer is Harold J. Henry Professor of German and Comparative Literature and a faculty fellow at Williams College.


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