Washington Post columnist and former Reagan White House staffer George Will is facing backlash from students at Michigan State University, where he was named as speaker for the college’s fall commencement ceremonies.
According to Jezebel’s Anna Merlan, students are demanding the faculty rescind its invitation to Will and halt its plan to award him an honorary doctorate of the humanities or else they will protest his appearance, which is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 13.
Will is a regular on ABC’s This Week and is lionized in Washington as a fair-minded conservative who hails from a bygone, more civil era. Students on the MSU campus, however, are not as impressed with the rock-ribbed Republican stalwart.
The Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday that more than 700 protesters are expected to turn up Saturday to protest Will’s appearance on the campus.
Will’s critics are objecting primarily to a stance he took earlier this year regarding sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses. He wrote in June that women will trump up false reports of rape because at universities, “they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.”
The university system, Will said, is “making itself ludicrous” in its attempts to mollycoddle victims both real and imagined. He decried “campus speech codes” against racism and hate speech as a form of “soft censorship” that seeks to entomb students’ minds in “intellectual comfort for the intellectually dormant.”
Emily Kollaritsch, an MSU senior and co-organizer of the planned rally against Will, told the Free Press, “It makes me really, really sad to call myself a Spartan, to even feel I belong to this institution” the the college would invite Will to speak and confer upon him an honorary degree.
“He might have his opinion,” said Kollaritsch, “but for the university to affiliate with him is another story. They are affiliating with a rape apologist.”
After his column was published, Will spoke at Miami University, where he said that he supports services for “real survivors of real rape,” as opposed to those people who are apparently just crying rape for the attention and status and privileges he believes that it will confer to them.
MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon issued a statement refusing to back down from the choice of Will as speaker, saying that going to college is all about exposing oneself to different viewpoints.
Titled “Reaffirming values in challenging times,” the statement said, “(R)ight now I am hearing from a number of survivors of sexual assault and their supporters questioning Michigan State University’s sincerity due to the scheduled appearance of George Will as a commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient. These survivors are expressing dismay and distress that needs to be addressed.”
The decision to invite Will to speak, Simon said, was made well before he published the inflammatory column. He is an important, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist with a long and august history of publications, he wrote.
“I’ll leave it to Mr. Will to defend his comments and values,” wrote Simon, “because this isn’t about George Will. This is about us. And it is about the role of universities in a democratic society.”
“Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written,” she said. “It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault.”
However, she said, “Great universities are committed to serving the public good by creating space for discourse and exchange of ideas, though that exchange may be uncomfortable and will sometimes challenge values and beliefs.”
“Holding this value in no way diminishes the value we place on student safety or our commitment to continue our efforts against sexual assault on this campus. We will continue to bring the issue into the light. Nothing changes that,” Simon insisted.
Emily Gillingham, a third-year MSU law student said, “For us, it’s not a difference of opinion. For us, it is just an insensitive choice. I feel bad for survivors who will be there, their graduation marred by a speaker who is a symbol of how we treat campus rape survivors.”