Scripps College has a special lecture series in which speakers are invited in part because many students at the women's liberal arts college may not agree with their views. The speakers have tended to be prominent conservatives or neoconservatives, people like Peggy Noonan, Charles Krauthammer and Ben Stein.
George Will might seem to fit in with such a group, and he was originally invited to be the next speaker. But the college opted not to go ahead, citing a controversial column he wrote about sexual assault on campuses.
Will told The Claremont Independent, a conservative publication for the Claremont Colleges (of which Scripps is one), that his invitation had been revoked and that he believed it was because of his column on sexual assault. The conservative blogosphere jumped on the story Tuesday (without Scripps commenting), particularly noting that Will was being uninvited from a lecture series designed to expose students to views that they might not share.
For much of the day, Scripps declined to comment. But late Tuesday, President Lori Bettison-Varga issued an email to the campus and to Inside Higher Ed in which she acknowledged that Will had been approached for the lecture and that the college had decided not to proceed because of the column about sexual assault.
The column was widely condemned by advocates for women who have been sexually assaulted for the way it criticized campus efforts to prevent and punish assaults, and for how it characterized those who have reported assaults. A line that caused particular anger said that such efforts "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
In another phrase that outraged many, he referred to the "supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault.' " Many also objected that the column suggested that some of those bringing charges may not have really experienced anything terrible, but may have been encouraged to come forward because of the campus climate. "Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses -- by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations -- brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates," Will wrote.
Numerous groups called on The Washington Post, where Will's column is based, to fire him.
In her statement Tuesday, Bettison-Varga wrote that "important issues ... are being conflated," in the discussion of the withdrawn invitation to Will.
"We invited George Will to speak as part of our Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program because he is a prominent conservative commentator, and we believed our community would benefit from the healthy intellectual debate that has been the hallmark of the program since 2006," she wrote. But Bettison-Varga added that the "issue of sexual assault is complex, serious, and personal to Scripps students."
As to Will, she wrote: "Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy. 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.... We will continue to welcome thoughtful, respected speakers representing diverse political perspectives to campus, and we look forward to the stimulating intellectual discourse that will occur as a result."
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