Syndicated columnist George Will told the inaugural “Disinvitation Dinner” of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale that “93 members of the California legislature have never had sex.” Will was referring to the fact that 93 legislators in the California Senate and Assembly voted to pass last year’s SB 967, the so-called “yes means yes” or affirmative consent law, which requires students at state-funded colleges to obtain permission from each other for every stage of sexual contact.
In the bill’s own words: “Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.” That, Will said, was symptomatic of a paternalistic liberalism that enforced rigid speech codes on campus and “infantilized” young adults. It also suggested, he quipped, that the legislators had no idea how sex actually happened between consenting adults. More darkly, he warned that college campuses were the site of an unprecedented assault on the First Amendment.
Will was the guest of honor at an evening held to honor the many speakers who had been “disinvited” from commencement ceremonies and other campus events over the past year, ostensibly because their ideas were too challenging for students to hear. Notable examples from 2014-5 included Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the noted critic of radical Islam who had been awarded an honorary degree by Brandeis University, only to have it rescinded when members of the Muslim community complained.
Last year, Will himself was disinvited from Scripps College, an all-female college in Claremont, CA, after he criticized the national effort to tighten rules about campus sexual assault, writing that colleges were elevating victimhood to privileged status. Ironically, the event from which Will had been disinvited was aimed at exposing undergraduates to conservative points of view they might not otherwise hear. (Protests against Will elsewhere were cheered enthusiastically by the left.)
Will noted, with alarm, that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had just declared her intent to pass a constitutional amendment that would alter the First Amendment to regulate campaign contributions and political speech. Campus speech codes had laid the foundation for that assault. However, he said, the silver lining was that universities were marginalizing themselves with increasingly ludicrous censorship, keeping them at arm’s length from government policy.
The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale was founded by then-student Lauren Noble, and continues to provoke debate and to promote conservative ideas on the campus where the Buckley legacy was born. After graduating, Buckley published God and Man at Yale, one of the most important early critiques of the left-wing tendencies of the American academy. The book propelled him to national fame and to a seminal career in conservative publishing, broadcasting, writing and wit.