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November 10, 1980

“Everybody has the right to be a schmuck,” civil libertarian, jazz critic and columnist Nat Hentoff told a large audience in Taylor Hall when addressing the question: “Is Any Exercise of Free Speech So Dangerous That It Must Be Suppressed?” Applying the notion specifically to the protests at Vassar the previous spring that caused conservative author, editor and television commentator William F. Buckley, Jr., to withdraw, days before the event, as commencement speaker, the author of The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America (1980) applied it to several other examples, such as the American Civil Liberties Union’s loss of support after defending the rights of the American Nazi Party. “There is no honest way,” Kathy Dieckmann ’83 reported Hentoff as saying, “to get around refusing a man the right to speak….One cannot let personal concerns interfere with free speech. Furthermore, he noted, one can’t be a liberal just when it’s convenient.”

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The Years