A Sensible Lady: The President Of Williams College On Why She No Longer Issues Official Statements On Off-Campus Events
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From a message by Maud Mandel, president of Williams College:

I have not issued a public statement on behalf of the College in the days following the recent, horrific attacks by Hamas on Israelis and the deaths of Palestinian civilians in the military retaliation. I have heard from members of the community that the college’s silence in the face of these events is itself a statement, and an unacceptable one.

I am writing now to invite everyone to join me at a campus vigil, and then to explain my view on college statements and the reasons I no longer issue them, except in regards to events that directly impact our mission and work as a college.

… My policy not to send out campus-wide messages about domestic or international events or even natural disasters, no matter how tragic or painful, is based on several considerations:

First and foremost, terrible tragedies and injustices occur too frequently in life. Our awareness of specific events may vary depending on our communities, personal connections and the media’s focus. But such events are constantly affecting people from Williams, their families and innocent victims around the world—sometimes on a very large scale. I put out no statement after the many—too many—incidents of recent times: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the displacement of Armenian Christians from Nagorno-Karabakh, the earthquakes in Turkey and Afghanistan, and terrible events in Sudan, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, to name just some examples. We think with grief, too, of the many shootings at schools and places of worship. Each of you will have injustices that you could add to this list. We should each have the chance to decide which of these affect us and how we want to contend with them.

Second, I believe that our most important mission is to teach students how to think, and empower them to do so for themselves—not to tell them what to think. …

Third, the decision reflects my ongoing concern over the role of a college president. When I speak as president of Williams, I am speaking on behalf of thousands of people who together make up “the Williams community.” I feel it is both right and necessary for me to do so on topics related to our core educational mission. But when the topics are national and world events—even events that affect us personally, and on which we feel great moral clarity—I do not believe it is the president’s job to speak for the whole community, or even that it is possible to do so. In those moments, my job is to help ensure that the educational opportunities and personal support are in place so that we can reflect, study and decide what we think and believe, individually and collectively.

This position represents an evolution in my thinking. Earlier in my presidency I sent out public statements about various world events. After conversations with members of our community and colleagues at other schools, I have become convinced that such communications do more harm than good. They support some members of our community in particular moments while intentionally or unintentionally leaving out others. They give some issues great visibility while leaving others unseen. …


When I was at UCLA in the early 1980s, Malcolm Kerr (the father of Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr) resigned from his very nice job as Vice Chancellor of UCLA to become president of the besieged American University of Beirut at the peak of the endless Lebanese civil war. His WASP Arabist ancestors had helped found that institution and he felt it his duty to do what he could to save it. A few years later he paid for his courage and noblesse oblige with his life when he was assassinated in Beirut.

Now that’s the kind of statement on overseas events by a college administrator that I respect.

On the other hand, college presidents strike me mostly as august academic politicians and classy salesmen, constantly trying to balance off how much trouble the DIE lobbies might cause them vs. how peeved the big donors will be, rather than as great moral arbiters.

Personally, I don’t actually want to hear their official opinions as representatives of venerable institutions (e.g., Williams was founded in 1793) on the Middle East, George Floyd, whether there are enough black fighter pilots in the Marines, or whatever the latest Twitter topic of the day demanding a Hot Take is.

Hot Takes are my business. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.

But not college presidents.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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