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Free Speech Climate Improving at Williams, but still below average

Updated: Apr 7

Whenever we alumni interact with current Williams students, we often hear the same thing: they’re afraid to speak out lest their remarks be misconstrued or they be shamed or otherwise shunned for saying the wrong thing. Faculty and administrators are also aware of the problem.

This fear extends from social settings to the classroom even to meetings with certain faculty. But, as we’ve learned in setting up WFSA, there are faculty who delight in engaging students, who entertain opposing points of view.

We have been working with them to help restore the Williams that we loved where we talk with and listen to students and faculty from different backgrounds and holding different opinions from our own. The recent rankings from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) confirms what we have observed. Williams ranks 219th out of 248 colleges surveyed on student comfort in expressing their opinions. It’s even worse for administrative support of free expression where our alma mater ranks 231st.

Overall, however, Williams is up a notch from last year where we ranked 161st of 203 colleges, this year we’re at 145 of 248, just slightly below average.

Mediocre though our ratings are, at least we’re beating Amherst. The defectors of 1821 clock it at 195, well below average.

While we aspire to see the college moving up even higher, putting us in the top ten, all is not bleak. Some of our founders and members of our steering committee have met with or otherwise talked to President Maud Mandel and trustees. We have listened to concerned faculty, many who welcome our efforts. Together we are developing strategies to ensure the college adopt the Chicago Statement on Free Speech.

And this latest study shows we are nowhere near where we should be. We hope that President Mandel, the trustees, and faculty will take note of these findings and take action to promote free speech, civil discourse, and open debate.


Full disclosure: Our alumni team has worked closely with FIRE to set up WFSA and get it running.


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