Washington & Lee Professors Join Students in Seeking to Ban Conservative Speaker

Over 600 people have signed on to a petition calling for conservative commentator Matt Walsh to be banned from speaking at Washington and Lee University on March 30. That is hardly surprising given the regular cancel campaign on our campuses. However, what was striking was how many faculty signed the petition, including a number of law professors, despite its anti-free speech sentiments. The petition notably does not even contain the customary homage to free speech before eviscerating its underlying premise. Indeed, free speech is not mentioned even once. Instead, the petition denounces the university for allowing “one-sided platforms for harmful ideologies” to be held on campus. Notably, these faculty do not object to speakers holding opposing views from being one-sided. Indeed, the letter later objects to other speakers who engage in “both-sideism” on panels. The petition also states:

“While W&L’s Facility Use Policy states that allowing an event on campus does not imply endorsement of the views shared at the event, the school cannot escape responsibility for providing a platform for one-sided, non-academic, harmful rhetoric.”

Again, the objection only raises additional questions. Have these faculty members also objected to “non-academic” speakers from the left or insisted that such speakers have opposing views stated at the event? Have they objected to controversial, one-sided speakers from the left?

A couple years ago, Ibram X. Kendi spoke at the university without opposition from these faculty over his one-sided and controversial views. Kendi, the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, previously attacked Justice Amy Coney Barrett over her adoption of two Haitian children and suggested that it raised the image of a “white colonizer.” He suggested that the children were little more than props for their mother. In addition to calling for “defunding the police” and limiting free speech, Kendi insists that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.” Kendi also maintains that “The life of racism cannot be separated from the life of capitalism…In order to truly be antiracist, you also have to truly be anti-capitalist.”

The fact is that I would not oppose Kendi coming to my campus or insist that he should not be allowed to give a “one-sided” presentation. His views are provocative and controversial, but they are precisely the type of diversity of viewpoints that higher education should foster.

Matt Walsh is clearly a lightening rod for controversy and has described himself as a “transphobe.” I disagree with Walsh but many do not. The issue is whether universities should censor such views based on what faculty may consider “harmful.” That is particularly chilling when faculty are applying such a clearly selective standard for those speakers who hold opposing views.

The “speech-as-harmful” rationale is now a virtual mantra on our campuses. This dangerous trend in academia is discussed in my law review article, Jonathan Turley, “Harm and Hegemony: The Decline of Free Speech in the United States”, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

The resulting viewpoint intolerance has produced a chilling effect on our campuses that has both faculty and students engaging in self-censorship. The current generation of the faculty and administrators are destroying the diversity of thought that sustains higher education.

This petition to bar any speaker viewed as supporting a “hateful ideology” would only reinforce what has become an academic echo chamber in higher education. Yet, the petition has the support of law professors and other faculty members who openly seek the barring of opposing views while, fittingly, omitting even a reference to free speech.

Below are the faculty in order of their signing. These are only those who listed their academic titles on the petition. They stretch across different disciplines and departments. I have removed the large number of staff members.

Brenna Womer, English Professor

Alan M. Trammell, Law Professor

Chelsea Fisher, Environmental Studies Professor

Avvirin Gray, Professor of English

Michael Berlin, Visiting Assistant Professor of English

Carliss Chatman, Law Professor

Diego Millan, Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies

Ellen Mayock, Ernest Williams II Professor of Romance Languages

Jessica Wager, Institutional History

Lubabah Chwdhury, Professor of English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Nneka Dennie, Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies

Kary Smout, English Professor

Domnica Radulescu, The Edwin A. Morris Professor of Comparative Literature

Jane Harrington, Visiting Assistant Professor of English

Romina Green Rioja, Assistant Professor of Latin American History

Mia Brett, VAP of African American History

Allison Weiss, Law Professor

Joan M. Shaughnessy, Roger D. Groot Professor of Law

Robert T. Danforth, John Lucian Smith, Jr. Memorial Professor of Law

Kristina Roney, Assistant Professor of French

Karen Woody, Law Professor

Beth Staples, English Professor

Mattie Clear, Archivist and Assistant Professor

Alison Bell ‘91, Professor of Anthropology

Keri Gould, Law Professor

Franklin Sammons, VAP History

Zoila Ponce de León, Assistant Professor of Politics

Jon Eastwood, Professor of Sociology

Elizabeth Belmont, Law Professor

Matthew F. Tuchler, Professor of Chemistry

Lesley Wheeler, English Professor

Carla Laroche, Law Professor

Bobby Jones’14 Assistant Professor / Football Coach

Russell Miller, J.B. Stombock Professor of Law

Mikki Brock, Associate Professor of History

Henryatta Ballah- Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies

Benjamin G. Davis, Visiting Professor of Law

Jill Fraley, Professor of Law

Chris Gavaler, Associate Professor of English

Josh Fairfield, Law Professor

Chris Seaman, Professor of Law

Mary Z. Natkin, ‘85L, Emeritus Professor of Law

Fernando Zapata, Ted DeLaney Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophy

Molly Michelmore, Professor of History

Stephen P. McCormick, Associate Professor of French and Italian

Erin Ness Associate Professor of Physical Education

Shane Lynch Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities

Margaret Anne Hinkle, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Geoscience

Paul A. Gregory, Professor of Philosophy

Angela Sun, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Emerson Lynch, Visiting Assistant Professor of Earth & Environmental Geoscience Megan Fulcher, Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science

Emily Filler, Assistant Professor in the Study of Judaism

Clover Archer, Director of Staniar Gallery

Heather Kolinsky, Professor of Practice W&L Law

Mohamed Kamara, Professor of Romance Languages and Africana studies

Nathaniel Goldberg, Professor & Chair of Philosophy

Holly Shablack, Assistant Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science

Jenefer Davies, Professor of Dance & Chair of Theatre, Dance & Film Studies

Bill Hamilton, Professor and Head of Biology

Fiona Watson, Associate Professor of Biology & Neuroscience

Helen I’Anson Perry Professor of Biology & Research Sciences, Neuroscience

Nadia Ayoub, Professor of Biology

Gregg Whitworth, Associate Professor of Biology

David Bello, Professor of History

Lawrence Hurd, Professor of Biology

Sarah Blythe, Associate Professor of Biology & Neuroscience


142 thoughts on “Washington & Lee Professors Join Students in Seeking to Ban Conservative Speaker”

  1. That is odd, opponents of free speech always preface their anti-free speech rhetoric with homage to free speech.

  2. The W&L faculty can always work for the “White House Plumbers Handlers” and take turns leading Brandon around. They apparently feed their staff well

  3. In the late 18th century, the university was rescued from bankruptcy by George Washington — the man who wrote:

    “For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.”

    How far they have fallen.

  4. OT – Now even the NYT has decided that censorship is bad. An op-ed by their former China correspondent takes Anthony Fauci to task for censoring the lab-leak theory even when he privately had doubts about COVID’s origin. She writes (quoting from the DM):
    “‘In public, he leaned hard into animal crossover; behind the scenes, he wrote that “I do not know how this evolved” but warned that he was concerned about “distortions on social media” of Covid’s origins,’ she wrote.
    All the while, speaking in public about the potential of a lab leak became controversial, and throughout 2020, one may have been considered a racist or conspiracy theorist for touting the theory.
    Those who wrote about it and shared articles on various online platforms were silenced en masse. Facebook banned the theory outright for several months in 2021, and mostly conservative lawmakers who pushed for answers were regarded with disdain by the mainstream media.”
    Why is this bad? Because, she says, having lived in countries where official propoganda controls the public discourse: “You end up in a society where nobody really believes anything.”

  5. Washington and Lee University is private property over which only its owners may “claim and exercise” dominion.

    W & L enrollment is 2243; it’s tuition is $62K.

    The Washington and Lee endowment is $1.6 billion.

    Washington and Lee University appears to be filling a need and succeeding very well indeed.

    Who said communism doesn’t pay?

    The only remaining question is whether society is free – whether unconstitutional regulation and taxation are the ultimate drivers of the success of organizations such as W & L.

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