In an academic version of the debate raging over “TERFS” and figures like J.K. Rowling, Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson is being condemned as “transphobic” after she opposed a referendum to admit trans male students at the all-women school. While the school previously admitted trans women, Johnson is drawing the line on admitting “nonbinary” or trans male applicants. The students, however, approved the referendum.
The college has long billed itself as a place for “women who will make a difference in the world” with graduates like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. However, the referendum would admit all transgender and nonbinary students.
That was too far for Johnson who wrote:
Wellesley was founded on the then-radical idea that educating women of all socioeconomic backgrounds leads to progress for everyone. As a college and community, we continue to challenge the norms and power structures that too often leave women, and others of marginalized identities, behind. We are not a “historically women’s college,” a term that only applies to women’s colleges that have made the decision to enroll men. We have chosen a different path, one that aligns with peer institutions including Barnard, Smith, and Bryn Mawr colleges.
What does Wellesley mean by “a women’s college”? In accordance with our admission policy, Wellesley admits applicants who identify and live consistently as women, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth…
The reaction was the Rowling treatment. The student newspaper led the condemnation of Johnson:
We disapprove of and entirely disagree with President Johnson’s email. As journalists, we understand the power of rhetoric to do good or harm. The need for newspapers to take stances on their editorial standards is more important than ever, as demonstrated by the harm caused by The New York Times’ anti-trans pivot. In the past year, the Times has published “more than 15,000 words’ worth of front-page stories asking whether care and support for young trans people might be going too far or too fast.”…
College administration and the Board of Trustees have once again monopolized conversations about Wellesley’s community and future, conversations that should be led by students, who make up the majority of the College community. We also want to remind the Wellesley community that President Johnson is the spokesperson for the Board of Trustees, which must be held equally responsible for the College’s transphobic rhetoric.
Wellesley student editors previously opposed certain speech deemed harmful and intolerable. The Wellesley News published a column entitled “Free Speech Is Not Violated At Wellesley.” The editors heralded the Wellesley students who refuse to respect the free speech rights of those deemed to be hateful. Simply defining such people as unworthy of free speech protections then allowed the editors to become actual advocates of mob action to silence them:
“Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government.”
So speech deemed as “undermining the existence and rights of others” is all that is needed to relieve the conscience of these students and allow them to indulge in their desire to forcibly silence those with whom they disagree. There is no attempt, of course, to define what constitutes speech that “undermines.” If those people still insist on being heard, the editors declared that “hostility may be warranted.”
Johnson now finds herself on the wrong side of the academic mob. For years, academics have allowed a culture of orthodoxy to take hold on our campuses, including attacks on free speech values. Many administrators and faculty have remained silent as conservative, libertarian, or dissenting faculty have been investigated and even fired. This is why French journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan famously observed during the French Revolution that “like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.”