The Williams Free Speech Alliance (WFSA) is a non-partisan organization founded by a group of Williams alumni in January 2023 to protect and promote Free Expression, Viewpoint Diversity, Institutional Neutrality, and Academic Freedom at Williams College. An independent alumni-based organization, which includes faculty and students among our members, we hope to work with the President and Trustees of Williams College as well as with faculty, administrators, and students.
Dear Fellow Ephs,
Thank you for signing up on our website or by communicating with me personally to learn more about the Williams Free Speech Alliance. As you know, these have been trying times for advocates of free speech and civil discourse on college campuses across the country, including Williams.
Recently, I spoke with Jewish students, concerned that if they speak out in defense of Israel, they will be marginalized, even ostracized. And this just days after Hamas launched a terrorist attack on the Jewish State. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not the only issue on which students are afraid to speak out. In conversations with faculty and students, we have heard similar stories.
That is why several alumni, working with concerned faculty and with FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), last year laid the groundwork for the Williams Free Speech Alliance (WFSA), with our website going live in April.
In September, FIRE released its annual College Free Speech rankings, confirming the stories we have heard. Williams ranks 219th out of 248 colleges surveyed on student comfort in expressing their opinions and 231st on administrative support for free speech, measured by student perceptions of the college administration.
Overall, the picture is slightly better, our alma mater edging up a notch from last year’s ratings. Now, Williams ranks 145th, just slightly below the national average. Last year, we were 161st out of 203. (FIRE surveyed more colleges this year.) The only silver lining to this cloud is that we’re beating Amherst on free speech, that school clocking it in at 195th.
But there is hope for Williams. Last month, in response to concerns she had been silent on events in the Middle East, President Maud Mandel acknowledged that, in the past, she had erred in sending out “public statements about various world events.” Such communications, she wrote, “do more harm than good.”
We expressed our support for her in this blog post–because, in addition to supporting free speech, WFSA has been advocating for institutional neutrality.
Some of our founders and members of our steering committee have shared our concerns with President Mandel. We are in regular contact with trustees and working with faculty to promote free speech, free inquiry, open debate, and institutional neutrality, and invite you to join our efforts.
Please reply to us by return e-mail if you’d like to help out or if you want to join our leadership team. In the coming months, we will be finalizing our bylaws and filing as a 501(c)(3). Unless we hear otherwise, we’ll keep you on our mailing list and so keep you updated with our work in helping restore the Williams we love.
All the best,
B. Daniel Blatt ‘85
We welcome communications from current students and faculty about their experiences at Williams with speaker disruptions, cancellations over unpopular ideas, and other speech-related concerns.