Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Don't Be Afraid Of George Will

The letter in June from to syndicated columnist George F. Will from Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey was both diplomatic and direct.  The four Democrats stated

Having an ongoing interest in ways to reduce sexual asssault on college campuses, we read your June 6 column on campus sexual assault with particular dismay. More egregiously, you trivialize the scourge of sexual assault, putting the phrase in scare quotes and treating this crime as a socially acceptable phenomenon.

In a political environment in which conservatives attempt to convince people they are going to die in their bed from ISIL, Ebola, Benghazi, or the IRS, typing "sexual assault" is rather small potatoes.

The Washington Post's Fact Checker Glenn Kessler explained

In the Winter of 2006, researchers used a Web-based survey to interview undergraduates at two large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South. A total of 5,446 undergraduate women, between the ages of 18-25, participated as part of a random sample. The survey was anonymous and took about 15 minutes to complete. (Participants received a $10 certificate for participating.)

The Campus Sexual Assault Study, conducted on behalf of the Justice Department, found 19-20% of women were the subjects (objects?) of "unwanted sexual contact" during their four years and, Politifact found,  "the majority of all sexual assaults involved oral, vaginal, or anal penetration and thus met the legal definition of rape in most states."

Will (defending his position, below) slams the researchers' math more than the study's methodology, which yielded what Politifact termed a "relatively small response rate of 42%" and included students from only two colleges." He criticizes "capacious definitions of sexual assault that can include not only forcible sexual penetration but also nonconsensual touching"  and that women who had been drinking were counted as victims. That inclusion, however, appears justified because 

Legal definitions of sexual assault factor in one’s ability to provide consent, and individuals who are incapacitated because of the effects of alcohol or drugs (or otherwise incapacitated, such as when they are unconscious or asleep) are incapable of consenting.

Ultimately, Will is more interested in scoring ideological points. When conservatives come upon a right with which they disagree- such as freedom from sexual harassment or the opportunity through Social Security and Medicare to a reasonable retirement- they label it an "entitlement." So he characterizes as "a student's entitlement to serenity" an "entitlement" which

has already bred campus speech codes that punish unpopular speech. Now the codes are begetting the soft censorship of trigger warnings to swaddle students in a “safe,” “supportive,” “unthreatening” environment, intellectual comfort for the intellectually dormant.. 

Channeling Glenn Beck- who has been scapegoating "progressivism" for several years- Will concludes

Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses — by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations — brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates.

What government is inflicting on colleges and universities, and what they are inflicting on themselves, diminishes their autonomy, resources, prestige and comity. Which serves them right. They have asked for this by asking for progressivism.

But no matter.  The Claremont Independent now reports

A prominent conservative political pundit was uninvited from speaking at Scripps College, in a program designed to promote conservative views on campus, because of his conservative views.

Nationally syndicated columnist George Will was slated to speak at the ninth annual Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program, the mission of which is to bring speakers to campus whose political views differ from the majority of students at the all-women’s college, but had his invitation rescinded after he wrote a columnabout sexual assault on college campuses.

“It was in the works and then it wasn’t in the works,” Will said in an interview with the Independent. “They didn’t say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason.”

Will also told the Independent that Christopher DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the country, resigned from his position on the program’s speaker selection committee over the decision to revoke the invitation.

The Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program was established under the belief that “a range of opinions about the world – especially opinions with which we may not agree, or think we do not agree – leads to a better educational experience,” according to the Scripps College website.

It has not been announced who will be selected to replace Will at this year’s series. Previous speakers invited to campus by the program include conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and Peggy Noonan.

News of the cancellation comes shortly after the release of arecurring study by Claremont McKenna College Professor Emeritus Ward Elliott that aims to measure political attitudes at the Claremont Colleges. In the most recent update of the report, Elliott could not find any Scripps faculty members who are registered Republicans.

On October 8, the president of the all-female Scripps College, part of a Claremont College consortium, issued a statement which included

Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy. For that reason, after Mr. Will authored a column questioning the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students, we decided not to finalize the speaker agreement.

Weasel words. In its statement, Scripps maintains "We do not shy away from bringing strong conservative viewpoints into our community."  But it did not fail to invite a Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative journalist who has been a leading voice on the right for four decades, but went to the effort of withdrawing an invitation already made to him.  

Scripps rejected Will because he expressed a conservative viewpoint with conservative arguments, the latter including jabs at speech codes, academia, government (especially the Education Department, a sore spot with conservatives at all times (except when President Reagan decided to preserve it), Joe Biden, and "victimization" (which Republicans love to attack except when claiming it for themselves).  

The college has every right to do so; there is no constitutional right to an invitation to a college campus to participate in a public affairs program. Nonetheless, one can reasonably conclude that Scripps wanted someone it could designate as a living, breathing "conservative" but who wouldn't question the official consensus on campus sexual assault.  Refusing a reasoned, thoughtful dialogue is usually a conservative game. Not this time.

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