The appearance of columnist George Will at Miami University drew cheers and jeers, with more than 100 people protesting his visit, and Will himself defending his controversial remarks about victimization.
Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, drew criticism last June for a column that stated being a sexual assault victim on a college campus was a “coveted status.”
About 100 protesters — men and women — lined the corner of Patterson Avenue and High Street, holding signs decrying Will and chanting “Nothing less than yes.”
“I’m out here protesting because I think that Miami, as an institution, shouldn’t be supporting the type of sentiments George Will expressed. I’m not trying to restrict anyone’s freedom of speech, but this is our freedom of speech as well,” said Lana Pochiro, a Miami University student from Newton Falls, Ohio.
Not all of the protesters were from Miami University.
“I think this man is being paid far too much by a university that clearly does not condone the opinions this man advocates … I think it puts a bad light on the university and a bad light on the community,” said Charles Mullenix, a senior at Talawanda High School.
Two men held a minor counter-protest, with one person holding up a sign that said “God hates free speech.”
Brian Beebe, a Miami senior from Cleveland, said, “We’re not saying we support him or are against him either way. We’re protesting the fact that people tried to get him not to speak.”
Will’s talk at the Farmer School of Business was part of the university’s Anderson Lecture Series. Will is being paid $48,000 from a gift fund for this lecture series, according to Claire Wagner, a spokeswoman for the university.
One student was in line for Will’s talk said he expected a memorable evening.
“I think it’s going to be pretty intense,” said Rob Alston, a senior from Aurora, Ohio. “Most Miami students have read the article, and they’ve seen his views on liberal arts colleges justifying the victim culture in sexual assault. I think that goes against the progressivism that we’re trying to demonstrate at a liberal arts college. A lot of women especially are definitely against all this.”
Will didn’t address the controversy during his lecture, called “The Political Argument Today,” which dealt largely with the country becoming over-reliant on government.
However, Will did respond to a question about his controversial column, saying that he meant to criticize the idea that those accused of sexual assault would be denied due process.
“Our society has decided rightly that rape ranks close to and not far behind murder as the most serious crime. Therefore, we have rightly said rape should be subject to severe penalties. Therefore, it is particularly important that people accused of this heinous crime have all the protections … (but) lawyers of the office of civil rights in the Department of Education, wielding the hammer of withdrawal of federal funds, which no school, public or private, can withstand, is now forcing colleges to say that all the due process normally associated with criminal investigations must be suspended,” Will said.
Will acknowledged that his controversial column “certainly got the attention of this campus,” but he added, “The only time you need to protect speech is when it annoys somebody. And if you’re not annoying someone when you speak, you’re not speaking right.”