The College community on campus and off was in turmoil. Some believed the show had artistic and social value. Others found it degrading and offensive. For the last three years — , , and — SWAS has appeared on campus. There is no other place in Williamsburg and the surrounding environs for it to perform. In , the show attracted little attention. We are struggling every day with a very bad economy that shows no signs of getting better soon.
We have a huge amount of strategic planning to do during the next couple of months. There are significant legislative challenges ahead. In short, diversion of time and energy from the tasks at hand will cost the university dearly. Against this background, I am personally very disappointed — and quite frustrated -- to find that the university must think yet again about SWAS.
It lessens our capacity to move the College forward. This would have been a good year, in my judgment, for SWAS supporters to have called a time out — taken a break. The College has long placed great faith in its students to choose the speakers and performers they invite to campus.
The elected representatives of the student body approve the use of student fees to help fund these events, not the administration. This experience in self-government is part of our learning process. We let this process run its course, even when it results in controversy, rather than try to play the censor.
For practical as well as philosophical reasons, I will not play the censor. It is also true, however, that a very important commitment of the university is to the Jeffersonian notion that the free play of ideas is the best route to truth. The thought that this speaker might tear the campus fabric was chilling. After struggling with what to do, I decided the best course was to let him come and say his piece but urged that he not get a free kick.
If he came, he should take questions and engage in conversation with those who chose to attend the event and contest his views. This is what happened. People showed up and debated. The evening proved to be a living, breathing instance of the Jeffersonian ideal in action. Repeated performances by a controversial group like SWAS, year after year, without a robust opportunity for the free play of ideas does not serve the Jeffersonian ideal.
Such a pattern is a singularly sterile way to explore ideas of artistic expression and sexual exploitation. The sponsors of SWAS and its performers must do much better on the Jeffersonian front than they have to date. By the same token, those who find SWAS degrading and offensive should show up, prepared to articulate and defend their views. I believe people on both sides of the SWAS controversy have the best interests of the College at heart.