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YAF Chair Andrew Collins’20 Responds to Op-Ed

Noah Sisson’s piece was a pernicious mix of deceit, spin, repetition, and half-baked research, almost impressively confined to the space of a few hundred words. Nearly every item posited as fact is demonstrably untrue. To set the record straight in order: Erik Prince was not the last speaker YAF hosted, Heather Mac Donald was; the first-hand reporting and official account of the college tells a very different tale than the one the author describes here of the nature of the protests against Prince, which I need not enumerate; Prince did not cite safety concerns to cancel the event, the College did; his talk at the Hotel Goodwin was private and closed press, and to my recollection Mr. Sisson was not in attendance, hence his supposed knowledge of the content of Prince’s speech is puzzling and his description is completely false––Prince did not talk about First Amendment issues. I am not breaching any confidences in disclosing that Prince’s remarks focused on ways to end the war in Afghanistan under what he calls the “MacArthur Plan.” 

Moving to the second paragraph, the author incorrectly refers to John Ashcroft as the Secretary of State when he was, in fact, the Attorney General. In this capacity Ashcroft did not “encourage and allow” torture, but rather authored legal opinions stating that enhanced interrogation does not constitute torture—disagree with this if you like, but get the facts straight. There also were not “many reports” of waterboarding at the state department or even at the Department of Justice––the agency Ashcroft actually led––but rather three cases carried out by the CIA. 

At this point the factual errors recede and the spin takes over. The notion that John Ashcroft’s limited Q&A somehow reflects poorly on YAF is patently absurd. Here’s the reality: Ashcroft’s talk was supposed to be an hour-long, and to be respectful of everyone’s time, we ended it on the hour. If there were hands still in the air, sorry. The characterization of the Ashcroft event as giving him a “personal soapbox from which he preached his controversial views” is an exaggerated way of saying “giving a speech I didn’t like.” Needless to say, no such description would ever be applied to the left-wing speakers that parade through campus. 

As to the author’s amusing suggestions on how best to stop YAF’s activities, I reply in order. Limiting the speakers YAF is allowed to invite only to those listed in the Foundation’s bureau is perverse on a number of levels, not least in its capacity to utterly backfire against these mopey censors. Demanding a certain amount of time for questions is also rather silly––after all, we always allot time for questions and the brevity or loquaciousness of the answers is hardly a variable over which anyone has control. The final suggestion that YAF be limited only to College-allocated funds displays such a blatant double standard I am inclined to be charitable and assume ignorance. A very cursory look into higher-education philanthropy will reveal that the use of outside sources of funding to finance speakers, reading groups, research, and even full-time staff positions is part and parcel with the operation of colleges and universities around the globe, and Beloit in particular. 

Sisson writes—no doubt with a lump in his throat—that he has come to the “unfortunate conclusion” YAF is not interested in starting a dialogue, and that YAF does not act responsibly or in good faith. Given that all he has offered to back these claims is a litany of lies, it should be clear to any fair reader that his “unfortunate conclusion[s]” are truer of himself than of YAF.

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