Scripps College administrators this week defended their decision to revoke a speaking invitation to conservative syndicated columnist George Will, accusing the pundit of trivializing campus rape by questioning the oft-cited but controversial figure that one in five women is sexually assaulted during college.
“Sexual assault … is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy,” stated Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga in a letter to the campus community. “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.”
Administrators and faculty did not respond to numerous emails and phone calls by The College Fix seeking additional comment about their decision to disinvite Will, who had been asked to speak on behalf of the university’s conservative speaker series.
Will, for his part, illustrated recently how university leaders actually misunderstood the whole point of his column, which is that rape is too serious of a crime to be exaggerated, used as a political tool, or investigated or prosecuted by anything less than the criminal justice system.
He made the comments in an interview Wednesday with radio talk show host Dennis Prager:
George Will: ‘It was clear that they [Scripps College officials] changed their mind after there was a brouhaha about a column I wrote concerning the current hysteria about the rape culture and sexual assault on campus, the column in which I said the current administration is using spurious statistics.
Statistic one, that one in five women is sexually assaulted during four years of college, and spurious statistic two, that only 12 percent of sexual assaults are reported. If you put those two together and do the arithmetic, you come up with absurd results.
But anyway, they are using spurious statistics to generate hysteria for the purpose of sweeping away 300 years of due process protections. My argument was that sexual assault is so serious – we rank it in our Western law as just shy of murder … and we have lots of laws against it. And if someone is accused of rape – it’s serious business – and should be put in the hands of professionals, that is the criminal justice system, instead of jerrybuilt, due-process challenged, semi-courts on campuses.
Well anyway, there was a lot of kerfuffle and people said I should be fired and flogged and all kinds of things, and at that point Scripps withdrew.’
Prager then summed up irony of the situation, saying: “It’s unbelievable, because as you point out, you’re the one taking this seriously.”
But Scripps officials have not budged from their decision, even after Christopher DeMuth, the highly respected former president of the American Enterprise Institute, resigned his role on the selection committee for the Scripps conservative lecture series over the cancellation of Will’s speech.
DeMuth said the decision to revoke the invite was entirely on Scripps College administrators.
“Mr. Will’s invitation was withdrawn by the Scripps administration without any pressure from students,” DeMuth told The College Fix in an email.
Chris Gaarder, co-editor-in-chief of The Claremont Independent campus newspaper, is highly critical of the decision to uninvite Will, calling it “disappointing, but not surprising.”
“Far-left liberals talk about tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness but then when faced with someone with a different perspective it’s amazing how quickly they seek to silence that person,” Gaarder told The College Fix via email. “We lose a great deal as an academic community and as a society when we shut people down because of their ideas.”
Will, who holds a PhD in political philosophy from Princeton University, was also defended by fellow conservative scholar and Princeton Professor Dr. Robert P. George.
“By any account, George Will is one of our nation’s most thoughtful and influential public intellectuals,” George, a friend of Will’s, told The College Fix in a message. “He is a man of exceptionally broad and deep learning and penetrating insight.”
“Any putative academic institution that would bar him from its campus is simply not an academic institution,” Dr. George went on to say. “At true academic institutions, intellectually impressive and accomplished people such as Mr. Will are welcomed by students and faculty from across the spectrum, and their visits are occasions of serious reflection and dialogue.”
Gaarder said he hopes the trend of uninviting conservatives will become anathema to college administrators as they live up to leftist students’ own demands for tolerance.
“History has plenty of lessons about intolerance for those who think differently,” Gaarder said. “I’d hope the smart students at the Claremont Colleges and other schools around the country would learn from them.”
Read the full letter from Scripps College President Lorri Bettison-Varga.
College Fix reporter Derek Draplin is a student at the University of Michigan.
IMAGE: Penn State/Flickr