Setting the record straight

March 29, 2023

Update: The Wall Street Journal published an edited letter to the editor from President Davis on March 30.

Dear Furman Family,

Some of you may have read an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal written by Mary Eberstadt, who had been invited by Furman’s Tocqueville Program to speak on campus this week but decided to cancel. I wanted you to have the facts, as the piece misrepresents what happened and falsely maligns our students. Her descriptions of an “angry” and “hateful mob” are not accurate.

This isn’t the Furman you have experienced and certainly not the Furman we experience every day. In my time here, we have had no incidents of violence nor disruption of speakers, nor have we canceled a speaker for any reason.

Indeed, Furman did not cancel Ms. Eberstadt; she independently chose to cancel her appearance. She did not give Furman a reason for doing so or provide administrators an opportunity to address any concerns she may have had.

Over the years, Furman has invited a number of speakers to campus, some of whom have generated strong reactions from people across the political spectrum, but all of whom spoke anyway. While not everyone has agreed with invited speakers, Furman has remained steadfast in its support of the free exchange of ideas and open and civil discourse.

In hopes of correcting the record, I submitted a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal the night that Ms. Eberstadt’s op-ed appeared online. Furman Professor of Politics and International Affairs Danielle Vinson also submitted a letter describing her first-hand experience of a previous speaker event that Ms. Eberstadt mischaracterized. The Wall Street Journal had not published either letter as of this afternoon.

Quoting Professor Vinson: “[I] was in the audience to hear [Scott Yenor’s] talk. While there were about 80 people silently standing with signs outside the room where Professor Yenor spoke, there were no signs inside the room, and people listened quietly. The questions asked by students were respectful and thoughtful, and no one interrupted his responses. It was a model of civility. While I cannot speak to Professor Yenor’s feelings about the silent protest or seeing his own words on their signs, I can attest that he was given a respectful hearing in the room.”

“My university is committed to providing students exposure to a wide variety of viewpoints, including conservative voices,” Professor Vinson added. “The misrepresentation of events in Eberstadt’s op-ed suggests some of these voices are more interested in creating controversy than having a conversation.”

Student Protest

Here are the facts, addressing some of the mischaracterizations in Ms. Eberstadt’s op-ed:

  • Ms. Eberstadt canceled her appearance without expressing her concerns or giving Furman an opportunity to address them.
  • Cultural Life Program (CLP) credit for the talk had not been denied; it was under appeal (which is permitted by policy) but had not been decided when Ms. Eberstadt canceled. Either way, the talk could have continued, as CLP credit is not a requirement or expectation for speakers.
  • The protest of Mr. Yenor’s talk that Ms. Eberstadt referenced consisted of a group of students who applied for permission to protest, in accordance with university policy, and did so peacefully and silently outside of the venue in which he spoke. It was in no way an “angry mob,” as the attached photo shows; nor was the speaker shown in the picture escorted by armed police, as Ms. Eberstadt claimed.
  • Students who attended Mr. Yenor’s talk were engaged and respectful, as Professor Vinson and others who attended the event have confirmed.
  • Students had also applied to protest Ms. Eberstadt’s appearance but agreed to conduct it in the same manner – silent and outside of the venue.
  • The op-ed in the independent student newspaper, The Paladin, which Ms. Eberstadt referenced, was critical of Ms. Eberstadt and other speakers who have appeared as part of the Tocqueville Program and of the program itself, but was not threatening. It was an opinion piece, and we support our students’ right to express their opinions, even if we may not always agree with them.

To see what’s truly happening at Furman, we invite you to attend any event on campus to see for yourself. In fact, we will be highlighting our students’ engaged learning experiences, including their scholarship and research, at Furman Engaged on April 14, and the work of our faculty and staff at the Furman Showcase on April 15.

I am certain that, if you attend any of these events or any others, you will witness students, faculty and staff who are engaged, thoughtful, and passionate about pursuing truth and knowledge. That is the Furman we all know.


Elizabeth Davis