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  • it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this a conversation tonight with Stanley

  • fish this is part of an ongoing series of conversations that we have been

  • having here at Amherst College for the last couple of years or so maybe it's a

  • little longer than that ever since a dramatic presidential

  • election woke us up to divided country and to a divide self and to the fact

  • that many of us we're deaf in regards to what was happening if not in other parts

  • of the country certainly in other parts of the world there was an invitation by

  • a series of alums to engage in conversations within the college and the

  • college communities that is the five colleges in other a undergraduate and

  • graduate students the faculty in the administration and essentially with the

  • community at large with a larger population on the various and opposing

  • sides of the divide inviting us to be able to listen to those that don't have

  • or share our ideas and instead of reducing them to stereotypes or ignoring

  • them because they they speak in ways that we do not do the opposite and bring

  • them in to that kind of dialogue we have had a number of very distinguished

  • guests throughout this two three years from Martha Nussbaum to Bill Kristol to

  • to Bret Stevens to a variety of thinkers activists a scholars that

  • continue to this day I want to thank or my behalf and on

  • behalf of the college the 36 members of the 50th reunion of the class of 1970

  • I think I got that right for their support particularly to two of

  • them that initiated this idea of listening to

  • the other half I want to tell you that the format of today's event is a

  • free-flowing conversation based on recent book that Stanley Fish has

  • literally just published I will say just a few things about him and about the

  • book in a second but before I do that I want to thank the

  • folks at Amherst Books that they graciously agreed to bring copies of the

  • book for you to hopefully buy and have a Professor Fish sign and to the folks of

  • Communication and to publicity and marketing Davis in particular for all

  • the good work that they put in order for this to be known by the various

  • constituencies of our community even before the event starts Stanley Fish is

  • controversial a figure who wears many hats he is a legal scholar he is a

  • literary critic a scholar of Milton who within the university has played a

  • variety of roles he was for a number of years at the University of California at

  • Berkeley he was also a at Johns Hopkins he is distinguished professor at

  • Florida International University right now a named chair a distinguished

  • professor and he is named chaired visiting scholar at Yeshiva University

  • in New York this semester he has also been a columnist for The New York Times

  • for more than a decade

  • 18 years is sometimes writing on a weekly basis in

  • others in a less pressured way it is important to remember that

  • he within the university has played a variety of roles because I think that's

  • going to come up he has not only been a student because in order to get work to

  • where he is you have to have gone through being a student a teacher that

  • is a professor but he has also been an administrator a at the University of

  • Illinois, Chicago a Dean of Arts and Sciences which will probably

  • come up in several a moment during the our conversation in his critique of the

  • role not only professors and members of campus communities

  • do but also in responses that we get from the administration I generally

  • believe that a the back of a book the blurbs as we call it in publishing is

  • really publishing mashmallow you get friends of yours to say nice things

  • about you but in this book The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech,

  • Religious Speech, Fake News, Post Truth and Donald Trump The most recent by

  • Professor Fish one of more than a dozen there is a blurb that comes from

  • the New Republic that I thought it would be a good idea to start with it says the

  • following a scholar thrillingly authoritative authoritative wholly

  • convinced giddy with aptitude Fish isn't only one fish Fish is in fact a whole

  • school of fish Fish the lawyer and Dean Fish the columnist and cultural critic

  • Fish of the right and Fish of the left Fish the philosopher and polemicist and

  • funded Fish has written on virtually every vital cultural issue you are not

  • obliged to agree with him and you are not obliged to like him but if you care

  • about the enlarging necessity of contest in cultural discourse then you are

  • obliged to read him if I want to start Stanley... Let me

  • just rest in that for a moment. You don't get that every day. That school of fish sounded like dr. Seuss

  • talking about it talking about professor that they did the public intellectual I

  • want to start way being you being this public intellectual but also a

  • positioned in the Academy as you are with a recent op-ed piece that you

  • published in The Wall Street Journal maybe not month ago two weeks ago in

  • which you talk about being invited and then disinvited from Seton Hall and you

  • say that you were that you were not censored in the gist of it him we have

  • invited you and not yet this invited you here so I'd like to start with this

  • sense of a what does it mean to be disinvited and why isn't that censorship

  • well I was disinvited I was called by a faculty member also an administrator who

  • told me that the Seton Hall University was about to inaugurate a new president

  • and that it's part of the ceremonies they wanted a series of lectures mocking

  • the occasion and I was being invited to give the first one and I said fine but

  • it depends on the date and whether or not my schedule can accommodate it this

  • gentleman told me that he would get back to me in two weeks or three weeks with a

  • couple of dates but and he did but not to give me dates but to tell me that the

  • invitation had been withdrawn mm-hmm I asked why and he said that a

  • committee which did not meet in person but communicated its members

  • communicated with one another via email had decided that mine were not ideas

  • that the Seton Hall community should be subjected to and

  • so we had a brief conversation he was extremely embarrassed interestingly

  • enough he insisted that the invitation that he had issued to me over the

  • telephone had been authorized by the Provost and that she had in this case

  • decided that this particular battle was not one she wanted to take on which as

  • an administrator as an administrator I fully understand a decision like that

  • one you know I'm going to save my energy for whatever it is that I believe is

  • crucial to Seton Hall University either having Stanley fish here or not having

  • Stanley fish here it's not crucial to Seton Hall University and I think that's

  • absolutely right she subsequently apologized and I met with it last week

  • and I was given an entirely different version of the story and I don't want to

  • make a judgment between the two versions I'll leave them with you she told me

  • that it was an instance of signals being crossed that the person who called me

  • was not supposed to have made the invitation but was supposed to have done

  • something else I don't know what that something else might have been because

  • in the Academy someone doesn't call you up to say we're thinking of inviting you

  • if we did in fact invite you would you accept doesn't work that way and and I

  • didn't ask her at this lunch because it wasn't the appropriate context in which

  • to posed the question well if there were signals crossed

  • what preventing what prevented you from issuing the invitation anyway so that's

  • the entire story an apology that wasn't an apology but an apology that passed

  • the buck to someone whose signals had been crossed there there it is now the

  • ideas that Seton Hall didn't want to hear at least according to what I was

  • told when the shamefaced gentleman called me

  • to disinvite me the ideas were the ideas that I've been retailing for many years

  • which could be summed up as the idea for example that while social justice is

  • surely a good thing it's not an academic good thing and that no academic activity

  • should be in any way concerned with or associated with issues of social justice

  • now that's an that's a position that a lot of people would disagree with and

  • presumably someone on that committee disagreed with that position strongly at

  • least that's the only reading I have now why wasn't I censored I wasn't censored

  • because first of all I had no right to be invited to Seton Hall that is I

  • didn't have the right to be invited and I had no right not to be invited it was

  • just the administrative decision made on both ends as far as I can tell

  • rather clumsily by the administrators which is no surprise to me at all

  • since academic administrators are in general a a clumsy lot and I say that of

  • course very much aware that I was one my one myself so that's the context in

  • which I don't think I was censored or anything like that now everything

  • depends on the reason for which the invitation was withdrawn

  • was it withdrawn because I had it had been discovered that I had a criminal

  • past let me assure you that I don't have a criminal past No so it was read it was

  • withdrawn I said in the op-ed for reasons that were non intellectual and

  • therefore non education and that's the and and that's the objection that I have

  • to the entire experience it turns out that in the same week that this happened

  • to me and you may have read about this some students at Williams College I'm

  • not sure how many of them sent a letter to the William College

  • community in which they pledged to boycott all courses in the English

  • department that were not centered on race and I took that to be an action

  • parallel in many ways to the action that Seton Hall had taken with respect to me

  • why because the decision as to what course or courses to take or to support

  • was again being made on non-educational non-academic and frankly political

  • grounds it turns out so happens that the last course I taught in the liberal arts

  • arena was of course called major poets of the 17th century and the poets I

  • taught were John Milton John Donne Ben Jonson George Herbert and Andrew Marvell

  • not I think a list that could be quarrel with an association with the term major

  • and of course there are issues of race that turn up in the works of those poets

  • as some of you will no doubt know Ben Jonson wrote a mask that is a quart

  • production called the mask of blackness in which Queen Anne and 11 of her

  • handmaidens appeared in blackface Milton in one of his prose tracks just said

  • that Asian and Semitic peoples were particularly prone to being slaves and

  • in a poem called anagram John Donne writing a parody of the usual

  • celebration of the lady's virtues and beauties described his mistress as

  • having a complexion that made Moore's look white so there's that stuff but

  • that's about it you know if I were going to teach a course

  • on those poets I might name those things but if I were to focus on those things

  • and tease them out into the content of the course I would be abdicating my

  • pedagogical responsibilities because that's not what most of the poems

  • written by these poets are about what you should do I said in this op-ed is

  • teach the material and not in fact tale of the material according to some

  • political or social pressure that is now being exerted so I wanna I want to

  • continue on or pursue the idea of the the current generation of students that

  • is activists and has a vision of what should and shouldn't be taught and in

  • there's a there and ask you to summarize some of the views that you have and you

  • expressed in the book about microaggressions about the trigger

  • warnings and so on I myself a joint you in some of these

  • views there is no way one can teach the Bible or Shakespeare without including

  • all the aggression the violence the blood that goes in it you believe

  • however that a alerting students to what is about to come is a color linked to

  • them and it's not what we should do on campuses though I don't think it cuddles

  • them that's the argument of Jonathan hate and Greg lukianov in in their book

  • they don't think students should be coddled and therefore they're against

  • trigger warnings and such things I have no interest in students being coddled or

  • not being coddled in fact in a very strong sense I have no interest in

  • students that is what I mean by that is I want to give students the experience

  • of a course that introduces them to materials they were previously

  • unfamiliar with or not as familiar with it's perhaps they might be at the end of

  • the course it's maximum maximum form I want to

  • teach you a course such that the students who take it could if they

  • decided to turn around next week and teach it that's my goal now what the

  • sensibilities of my students are what they are feeling what their inner lives

  • are like how many grandmothers have died during the semester there's the three

  • grandmother rule that you know that you you tell your students only three

  • grandmother's deaths per semester as an excuse I couldn't care less about that

  • I'm only interested in putting these materials on the table whether I'm

  • teaching poetry or more often these more often these days teaching

  • cases and of course on let's say the two I teach most often are jurisprudence and

  • religion and the law so I'm interested in in in putting these materials before

  • the students and joining with them in an attempt to analyze what's going on

  • and atomize the structure the history the tradition do some comparative work

  • how is this done in other precincts and other countries and stuff like that

  • that's what I do in class that's what I assume everyone does in class that's the

  • only thing you should do in class now occasionally it might be the case as it

  • was this semester that something occurs to you and you say it I was teaching a

  • course called law at the movies this semester and one of the movies I showed

  • and then we discussed was the movie the People vs Larry Flynt which is about

  • pornography and about a famous Supreme Court case a hustler versus Falwell

  • which I happen to believe was incorrectly decided but that's a whole

  • other set of questions but I told the students before they saw the movie that

  • this is not only a movie about pornography

  • it's a pornographic movie and I thought you know they should know that but

  • that's about it so that would be the limit I suppose

  • of my activity in the way of issuing trigger warnings behind all of this is a

  • more basic point do students have rights the answer to that question is a flat no

  • students don't have any rights they certainly don't have a right to

  • participate in their own education they certainly don't have a right to choose

  • or monitor the materials being offered and of course now of course there are

  • some instructors who in fact do give students that right I am NOT one of them

  • and I look with I look askance at those instructors who do but that's the

  • instructors prerogative students have one right that I will be willing to

  • stand by and that's the right to competent instruction and by competent

  • instruction I mean first instruction given to you by

  • someone who is aware of the present status of the field or discipline

  • whatever it is who comes to class prepared who creates a syllabus and a

  • series of readings that in sequence illustrate and lead to the exploration

  • of the large issues that of the content of this subject matter whatever it is if

  • you're not getting that as a student and in fact if you're getting rather some in

  • structure some instructor who comes in and tells you what his or her political

  • views are or anything in that direction and you're not getting competent

  • instruction because you're no longer being instructed by professional

  • academic you are instructed by a political agent which you never want to

  • experience do you include political views in your classes of course

  • political views any view can be brought into the classroom so long as it is

  • interrogated in an academic way including yours and well I don't bring

  • my views into the classroom in in a direct way except I did in fact

  • tell my students that I thought that the hustle of case was wrongly decided but I

  • invited a good friend of mine from NYU who is who in fact had a role in the

  • movie and it's a noted First Amendment scholar and who has views directly

  • opposed to mine and so we had a good time and then can I ask you I'm going to

  • pursue that that the topic of rights on campus and outside a but before I go

  • there could you offer us a diagnosis or an explanation sadly of why the current

  • generation of students has they the values that it does in it presents and

  • fights for those values in its own way how has in in how many years have you

  • been teaching 56 have has 57 one of those incredible numbers this students

  • body changed in that incredible number of years well what's happened is that

  • the student