Miami University Welcomes George Will Despite Campus Rape Controversy

Miami University plans to go forward with a scheduled speech by George Will after another college canceled his planned appearance at their school in light of his offensive column on campus rape.

In a June 6 column, Will disputed evidence that 1 in 5 women on U.S college campuses experience sexual assault and argued that efforts to fight sexual assault have made “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges.”

Will's column sparked widespread criticism. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing his “offensive and inaccurate” arguments, and women's rights groups called for the Washington Post to fire him.

Last week, Scripps College of Claremont, Ca. canceled an upcoming appearance by Will. College president Lori Bettison-Varga explained in a statement that the school had decided not to finalize the speaking agreement after Will had questioned “the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students.” According to Bettison-Varga, “Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy.”

But Will is set to appear at Miami University's Farmer School of Business in Oxford, Ohio, for its annual Anderson Lecture Series on October 22. He will be paid $48,000, according to the university.

Media Matters reached out to Miami University to ask if the Will event would proceed given the backlash at Scripps and other criticism.

In an email, Kirk Bogard, the Farmer School assistant dean for external relations, stated:

We are aware of the controversy surrounding Mr. Will's column on sexual assault on college and university campuses. As an institution of higher education, we pride ourselves on engaging in open, respectful, intellectual dialogue about the challenges facing our campuses and our country.  Members of our campus community may rightfully have questions about Mr. Will's writings on a number of issues and we support their right to pose those questions.

He added that Will's lecture will focus on “The Political Argument Today,” and “offers our community the opportunity to hear from a nationally prominent political commentator about the issues that impact the strength and direction of our national economy.”

Will's appearance comes amid Miami University's own troubled recent history regarding campus sexual assaults.

In February 2010, the University “grabbed attention across the state” after three women reported rape or suspected sexual assault in a span of three weeks.

In October 2012, the campus was rocked by a media firestorm after a "disturbing flier offering tips on how to rape women was found in the men's bathroom of a coed freshman dorm."

A student sued the university in November 2013, claiming a rape could have been prevented if officials had expelled her attacker for prior misconduct. 

These incidents prompted Miami University President David Hodge in September 2013 to call for a new policy and culture related to sexual assault. He stated in an email to all students that the campus had an “obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence.”

Will has refused to apologize for the column and later doubled down on the claims. The Washington Post stood by him, telling Media Matters that his comments were “well within the bounds of legitimate debate.”