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‘Suspend them’: How Walter Williams would deal with ‘students who are raising hell’

WASHINGTON – If Wilt Chamberlain hadn’t been the best basketball player in his Philadelphia neighborhood, Walter Williams might have pursued an NBA career.

For the past five decades, he’s had to make do as an economics professor, syndicated columnist and author who warns that big government hurts the poor and marginalized the most.

Williams and three others were honored with $250,000 prizes awarded by the conservative Bradley Foundation at a ceremony Thursday night. All are either current or former professors.

Washington Post columnist George Will, who served as master of ceremonies, referred to them as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Prevention.”

Punishment ‘conveys a message to other students’

The veteran George Mason University economics professor told The College Fix before the ceremony how he would respond to disruptive campus protests if he were a university president.

Williams said he would tell protesting students that their disruption is not “the arena for the expression of ideas, and if you can’t handle ideas, you ought to leave the campus.”

It’s not just presidents but also boards of trustees that need to “have the guts to enforce the policy” that students may not shout down speakers, he said:

Any time you have the kind of reception that [libertarian social scientist] Charles Murray encountered at Middlebury College and at Villanova and at Notre Dame, I think that the presidents of those colleges ought to round up the students who are raising hell and suspend them. You know, arbitrarily suspend them. That conveys a message to other students that you don’t behave this way. It’s good to have debates and conferences, but you have to act civilized.

MORE: Williams says segregated housing for blacks benefits ‘white liberals’

He said it was a good practice for colleges to require student ID to get into such events – as Villanova University did when Murray spoke – so that violent outsiders can’t get in and evade punishment.

Williams said he derives a “source of comfort” from seeing how many of his incoming Ph.D. students, who learn microeconomic theory from him each fall, have gone on to “very illustrious careers” in the quarter-century he’s taught them.

“I think that I qualify as one of the more honest professors,” too, he said, explaining how he doesn’t “proselytize” his students with his own views.

‘A cowardly act’ to indoctrinate young people

In his award speech, Williams continued on the theme of professors taking advantage of students who haven’t learned critical thinking skills yet.

He contrasted the environment of his schooling with how children are taught today. His mentors “didn’t give a damn about my self-esteem,” Williams said to applause, “before it became fashionable” for teachers to care more about a student’s feelings than his performance.

“Academia is not what it was in 1967” when he started teaching. “Socialistic” professors now “use their classrooms to proselytize students,” which Williams called “a cowardly act to take advantage of student immaturity” before their pupils have learned the skills to examine a range of opinions.

MORE: Williams refuses mandatory sexual harassment training

Williams said he tells his students to raise their hands and tell him they want to learn economics if he says something subjective without prefacing it with “in my opinion.” They are more likely to agree with his opinion if Williams teaches them how to be “tough, rigorous, hard-minded thinkers,” he said.

All morality starts with private property, according to Williams. “We each own ourselves,” yet we tolerate the government using two-thirds of the federal budget to take one person’s property and give it to another, which is “a fairly good working definition of slavery,” he said.

This should also concern Christians, because God didn’t tell the Israelites “thou shalt not steal” unless Congress approves it, Williams said. Americans have an “awesome burden to preserve liberty,” which “will be dead for all times everywhere” if it falters here.

‘Armies of diversity deans’ and ‘student contentment counselors’

Honoree Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former Harvard professor of political philosophy, explained how it’s strange for him to be constantly described as a “public intellectual.”

Such a person is “the merger of a scholar and a journalist,” and it’s “liable to produce a monster,” he said to laughs.

Berkowitz has written books on “constitutional conservatism,” Israel’s defense and “classically liberal education,” all of which offend the “dogmatized” academic establishment, he said. Undergraduate education is supposed to “emancipate” students from their ignorance, but it is increasingly “the final stage of indoctrination” in America.

The irony is that liberal education simultaneously “authorizes dissent” and teaches students to more fully appreciate America’s achievements, Berkowitz said.

MORE: Berkowitz on Yale’s unbelievable punishment for essay on rape

Christopher DeMuth, who resurrected a near-insolvent American Enterprise Institute 30 years ago, gave an extended defense of the role of think tanks in his award speech.

Another former Harvard professor and current fellow at the Hudson Institute, DeMuth said both government and colleges “have lost touch with their ancient and essential purposes.”

Faculty have been displaced as colleges are taken over by “armies of diversity deans” and “student contentment counselors,” he said. Think tanks such as AEI can provide “institutional innovation” to resurrect learning and spur debate, according to DeMuth, as happened when AEI scholar Charles Murray visited Middlebury.

‘The central civil liberties issue in our era’

The most influential of the honorees these days may be Philip Hamburger, a Columbia law professor who specializes in – and radically opposes – administrative law.

“America has no more pressing problem than taming the administrative state,” master of ceremonies George Will said in introducing Hamburger. He noted that a critic of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, known for his skepticism of federal agencies’ power, recently expressed concern that the nominee was a “Hamburgerian.”

Administrative law is “the central civil liberties issue in our era,” Hamburger said in his award speech.

“It’s not really law and that’s what makes it so remarkable … it repeatedly violates the Constitution” when Congress delegates its authority to agencies against the explicit wording of Article I.

Hamburger made an extended pitch for a group he’s starting, the New Civil Liberties Alliance, whose specialty will be pro bono litigation against administrative power. It will aim to persuade judges that certain types of power threaten core constitutional rights of everyday Americans, he said.

MORE: Former student accuses Gorsuch of sexist remarks with no credibility

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.