Murray and Middlebury: What Happened, and What Should Be Done?

Dr. Charles Murray, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,  came to Middlebury last Thursday to discuss his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

It did not go well.

Murray was invited by the Middlebury student AEI chapter, and his talk was cosponsored (but not funded) by the Political Science department. The decision by the Political Science department to cosponsor the event was not universally supported on the Middlebury campus, nor even within the political science department itself, as chair Bert Johnson discusses here. Nonetheless, after extensive campus debate, the College administration remained committed to allowing Murray to speak, although they decided that only those with valid Middlebury i.d.’s would be allowed in Wilson Hall so as to prevent outsiders from shutting down his talk.  Despite this precaution, as chronicled in numerous national news stories, Murray never got the chance to present his views before a live audience.

This was not for lack of commitment by the administration to upholding the College’s policies on free speech. At the start of the Murray event Middlebury communications director Bill Burger reminded students about College policies regarding protests and the right of speakers to be heard. Middlebury College President Laurie Patton also took the stage to note that while many – including her – did not agree with all of Murray’s research, the College was committed to upholding its policies regarding the free exchange of ideas.  But when Murray was introduced, the student crowd erupted in a barrage of chants and sign waving designed to prevent Murray from speaking. They chanted, “Who is the enemy? White Supremacy!” and “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!” I was not able to get into the event due to long lines so, after lingering for some time watching the protests outside the event, I went back to my office to view the event on the Middlebury website. However, you can get a sense of just how quickly the event degenerated into mob rule in this YouTube video shot by Middlebury student Will DeGravio.

Additional video can be found on the Middlebury campus student newspaper website here.

After about 20 minutes, when it became clear that the students would not let Murray speak, administration officials escorted him to an adjoining room.  There he was interviewed by my colleague Allison Stanger who pushed back against some of his research regarding the role of race and genes in intelligence and asked him to clarify his views on other issues, drawing in part on questions submitted by other faculty. Students were able to join the debate by asking Murray questions via twitter as well.  The event was streamed live on the Middlebury College website and broadcast to the audience in Wilson Hall, but it was interrupted numerous times as fire alarms were pulled and students continued chanting slogans that were picked up by the audio feed. (It will be posted by the College on its news site sometime later.)

The chaos didn’t end after the interview concluded, however.  When Murray, Stanger and Burger, accompanied by school security, attempted to leave the building and go to the car that would take them to dinner, a crowd formed to block their path.  During the ensuing shoving, Stanger was grabbed by the hair and her neck twisted with such force she eventually went to the local hospital to be treated for whiplash.  (She is home now and recovering.)  Although they made it into the car, the crowd prevented them from easily leaving, with people leaning on the hood and climbing on top. Eventually, after nearly running over a stop sign someone had displaced in front of the car, they managed to break free and head toward the campus location for dinner. When they arrived, however, rumors began circulating that the raucous protesters were on their way to shut that down too, so the small dinner group relocated to a nearby private restaurant, where Murray dined and conversed with more than a dozen Middlebury students and faculty late into the night.

Judging by the dominant reaction online and among most of those with whom I have talked, the effort to block Murray’s speech is viewed as an ugly display of intolerance and violence, one that has made almost every national news outlet, and which has reignited debate regarding issues of free speech and ideological diversity on U.S. college campuses.  At Middlebury, the repercussions of this event are still unfolding even as I write this post. In an email to the Middlebury community, President Patton apologized to Murray and Stanger for how they were treated, expressed her deep disappointment at the reception Murray received, and pointedly noted that “We will be responding in the very near future to the clear violations of Middlebury College policy that occurred inside and outside Wilson Hall.” It seems inevitable that disciplinary action of some sort will be taken against the rioters, although how and in what form remains to be seen. (If I happened to be the parents of some of those students caught on the numerous video recordings of their violating College rules by shutting down speech, I would be worried right now.) At dinner that night after the event, Murray noted that it was the worst demonstration he had ever encountered and that he feared for his safety.  He later tweeted, “The Middlebury administration was exemplary. The students were seriously scary.” Amazingly, in a student-run blog site at Middlebury, someone posted the Orwellian claim that the protestors were the ones who had been assaulted by Burger and others. Their logic?  That they had only blocked the sidewalk and stood in front of the car, but it was Burger and others who were the aggressors in trying to reach the car and drive away.  Thus the protesters were the ones under assault.   (Note. This is not, as far as I can tell, an example of satire, although I deeply wish it was.)

Clearly the student riot has left an ugly stain on Middlebury’s reputation, although it is too early to say how indelible it might be. One alumnus noted to me that while he still hoped his children would attend Middlebury, his wife was now dead set against the idea.  I expect many others feel this way as well. How many depends, I assume, in part on how the College administration responds.  In the short run, of course, the protests prevented those students who wished to engage with Murray from hearing him speak and, more importantly, it prevented them from pressing back against his research.  Two days before Murray’s talk I spent my entire weekly politics luncheon discussing Murray’s research in the Bell Curve, and acquainting students with many of the critiques of his findings.  My presentation was attended by a packed audience of students and local residents, and many of the students went away primed to do battle with Murray.  A few of them, drawing in part on my slide presentation, put together a pamphlet outlining five criticisms of Murray’s argument in the Bell Curve, which they placed on every seat in Wilson Hall.  Unfortunately, due to the actions of protesters, my students never had the opportunity to engage Murray beyond a few questions directed at him via Twitter.  What’s worse, they now find themselves inaccurately characterized in media outlets as coddled, immature “snowflakes” and “liberal fascists” bent on promoting intolerance and hate.

The ability of a vocal minority of students to impose their will on the majority of their peers – and evidently to feel no compunction in doing so – raises some important questions regarding Middlebury College’s central mission and whether and to what degree it is in danger of slipping away. To be clear, as I noted above, not everyone was comfortable with the decision by the AEI student chapter to invite Murray in the first place, nor with the College’s choice not to rescind that invitation. Some of my colleagues felt strongly that allowing him to speak gave him a platform to spread views that they found racist and hurtful, and which many argue are based on shoddy research.  Others disagreed, noting that Murray’s views as expressed in the Bell Curve were not particularly controversial among some experts even when they first came out. Moreover, they pointed out that he wasn’t even presenting that research this time around.  Nonetheless, when it became clear that a group of students were determined to protest, I am told that administration officials reached out to them to negotiate how those protests might be conducted in a peaceful and appropriate manner consistent with Middlebury’s stated policy.  It soon became clear, however, that the protesters would accept nothing less than a complete shutdown of Murray’s talk.  This prompted the administration to develop the backup plan which they implemented when the students’ chanting prevent Murray from speaking.

Note that this is not the first controversial speaker we have invited to campus.  In fact, Murray himself came to Middlebury to give a talk a few years back and was met with no overt opposition. So what, if anything, has changed since Murray’s previous visit? When asked this question by a Boston Globe reporter early today, I openly wondered whether Donald Trump’s election, and more importantly some of the College’s reaction to his victory, may have inadvertently appeared to license the kind of behavior we saw on Thursday. It may be, I speculated, that in reassuring students that we did not support the more inflammatory rhetoric that was a hallmark of Trump’s campaign, some students took that as a sign that speech which they felt was hurtful could and should be shut down. To repeat, this is pure speculation on my part, as I made clear to the reporter.  But something seems to have changed to persuade a minority of the current generation of Middlebury students that if they don’t like what someone is saying, it is appropriate to make sure no one else hears it as well, regardless of whether they would like to.  (Elsewhere I have pointed out that even Trump’s supporters did not agree with all that he said even though they voted for him. However, that distinction has sometimes been lost on a few of my students.)

In my public comments on social media regarding the Murray incident, I have stressed the need for dialogue to discuss why the disturbing effort to shut down speech occurred, and what lessons are to be learned.   But I am increasingly worried that the time for dialogue has passed. It is understandable why some students may find Murray’s research findings offensive, although I also believe many protestors actually have almost no familiarity with what Murray actually wrote.  It is less clear, however, why so many believe that the appropriate response was not to simply skip his talk, but instead to prevent others from hearing him and, in so doing, inadvertently give him the platform and national exposure they purportedly opposed. For some reason a vocal minority of Middlebury students now believes that if they find speech hurtful, it is their right and obligation to act on those feelings by shutting that speech down.

In his magisterial work On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote, “But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

It is necessary to consider separately these two hypotheses, each of which has a distinct branch of the argument corresponding to it. We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. (italics added.)”

It easy to blame those Middlebury students – and many do – for not fully understanding the importance, particularly at an institution of higher learning, of the free expression of ideas and the need to tolerate opposing views. (After all, Mill is a dead white male!) However, I wonder whether we, as faculty, should shoulder some – most – of the blame for their ignorance?  Are we teaching students why we hold so strongly to these ideals?  Perhaps if we spent as much time discussing the reason why even speech they view as hurtful should not be suppressed as we do explaining the College honor code, Thursday’s event might not have happened.  If we do not explain to students what underlies the College’s rules regarding speech, how are they expected to understand why their actions last Thursday are viewed by so many, including almost every Middlebury student with whom I have talked, as abhorrent and unacceptable, and why some may face disciplinary action?

For understandable reasons the administration decided beforehand not to respond to the student protest with a heavy show of force, for fear of escalating the violence. To be sure, not everyone agrees with that decision.  But President Patton has made it clear that this type of student rioting will not be tolerated going forward.  Disciplining students, however, is in my view only the first step toward insuring that this unacceptable effort to suppress speech never blights Middlebury’s campus again.  Somehow we, as an academic community, must teach students the reason why when confronted with what they sincerely believe to be hurtful speech the proper response is not to impose their views on everyone else by shutting that speech down. I am not sure the best way to do this.  But, at the risk of appearing naive or hopelessly idealistic, or both, I am committed to trying.  I hope you are too. Let the teaching begin!

388 comments

  1. John,

    Your point about the “market” is an important one. And it’s not just a market for students, it’s a market for alumni loyalty — not just donations but engagement across a whole lot of fronts, including alumni interviews. A classmate of mine told me yesterday that she’s seriously considering telling her scheduled interviewees to prioritize other schools over Middlebury. This is a woman whose first publicly shared picture of her recently born child was in Middlebury bunting….up until ~10 days ago, calling her a proud alumna would have been be an understatement.

    The main reason I’ve devoted a significant amount of time to this discussion, on this blog and elsewhere, is that I feel like Middlebury is at an inflection point. It’s a gut-check moment, and if Laurie Patton and the Board have the intestinal fortitude to hold faculty accountable for their actions and face down the furious parents of students who face consequences for their flagrant violations of College policy, this incident could ultimately become a positive chapter in Middlebury’s history — an example of the College defending and reasserting its values.

  2. The more time passes, the more obvious it becomes to alumni this current administration will try and do nothing but clever wordsmithing. We wait with baited breath for the sincere and profoundly moving self-congratulatory statements of purpose. The questions will remain though.

    Is the organization/house at Middlebury that organized these protests and coordinated with outside groups still open and operating?

    Have any assault charges been pressed?

    Have any battery charges been pressed?

    Have any faculty resigned?

    Students withdrawn?

    Rhetorical questions been asked?

  3. At the risk of extending myself well beyond my training or aptitude or abilities I’d like to share something from a letter in the WSJ (appended below) that seems, to me, to sum up the controversy and what appears to be the underlying political schism.

    There is a philosophical perspective that frames the fundamental political schism. It’s hard for many “educated liberal elite” (drawing heavily on my own experience) to comprehend the intensity of passion for “freedom”, and against the administrative state, that motivates the Trump supporters. The “liberals” perceive potential for bringing reason, order, equity and justice to the working of the economy and the State and are incredulous at an apparent rejection of this “potential”. But achievement of this more “just” State requires an acquiescence of power to the “vanguard elite” – this is basic Marxism. And herein lies the struggle. Educated liberals assert that their capabilities to address problems and institute solutions suffices to legitimate their claim to power. Populists insist that the only legitimate claim to power is derived from the Constitution and it’s statement of broad suffrage within the limits of the consent of the people.

    I don’t know how to resolve this, although identifying it is a first step. We’ll probably live with it for a long time…

    Letter in the WSJ from Dennis Teti, Hyattsville, Md.
    What was it that upset the Founding Fathers’ “delicate balance” of checks and balances, thereby leading to President Trump’s populist revolt? Neither demographics nor mere chance, but the progressive movement itself was the cause. An American outgrowth of German philosophy, progressivism’s purpose, however disguised, was to repeal and replace limited government with an unlimited administrative state.

    For over a century, progressivism worked on this project. It was on the verge of completion when Donald Trump stepped in. Progressivism challenged the Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident” truths that all human beings are created by God with equal rights and that government’s purpose, limited by popular consent, is “to secure these rights.” Progressivism embraced the opposite idea: Rights are disposed by history, not given by god or nature; an elite trained in social and natural sciences should rule the people who lack this knowledge through a bureaucratic or administrative state; popular consent retards progress in science’s endless transformation of America.

    Eric Hoffer, the “longshoreman philosopher”, discerned the developing disorder but he perhaps didn’t see that progressivism is the true believers’ conspiracy against government by the people. The hysteria of America’s college trained elite at President Trump’s populist rebellion stems from its inexplicable violation of its quasi-religious faith in the inexorable, scientific laws of history. Hoffer’s vision of a free people will be vindicated if, by prudent statecraft, the Trump administration can begin to restore limited government under “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”.

  4. Nawny,

    I would caution that it has only been a little over a week since Murray’s visit, and that the administration – correctly in my view – has made it clear that if disciplinary action is taken, it will only come after a complete, independent investigation occurs to determine what actually happened. I should add that President Patton put out a letter condemning the violence almost immediately after it occurred. So, to answer your questions: no charges have been filed and likely won’t be until two investigations are completed – one by law enforcement regarding the attack on my colleagues, and one by an independent source on the protests inside Wilson Hall. No faculty have resigned nor have any students withdrawn, and I don’t expect either to occur before any investigation is completed, and perhaps not even then. The organization that invited Murray – AEI – is moving ahead with an ambitious list of potential (and less controversial) speakers. And yes, plenty of rhetorical questions have been asked! Here’s the link to President Patton’s statement, in case you missed it: http://www.middlebury.edu/newsroom/archive/2017-news/node/545978

  5. Dan – the idea that Middlebury is at a crossroads, and has an opportunity to make a statement in defense of free speech and civil discourse on campus, is one I have heard extensively in both private and public communications. My sense is the administration is critically aware that this is an important moment, which is why they are moving quite deliberately to be sure they get the response just right. I think part of that process is waiting for the emotions from the event to die down just a bit before moving forward in a way that almost surely will reignite some of those passions.

  6. Murfee – Thanks for the comment. Just a reminder that, at least in regards to the most violent portion of the protest – the attack on my colleagues- it’s not clear whether and how many students were involved. Many of the protesters who were denied entrance to the talk, and who may have participated in the assault on Professor Stanger, were not Middlebury students.

  7. Jeff,

    Thanks for another thought-provoking comment, and please don’t apologize for the word count; I enjoy reading your arguments.

    To start with, I strongly agree with the substance of the last two major paragraphs of your last post. I think that it would be appropriate for the College to use this incident as the catalyst for a new public declaration of its institutional values with regard to freedom of thought and the importance of intellectual diversity. I suspect that something like this is coming down the pike, and that’s a good thing.

    I do take issue with a few of your other points. To start with, your “partner in a law firm” analogy is deeply flawed. While I myself am not a lawyer, my time in what Linus Owens calls “the so-called ‘real world’” has afforded me familiarity with law firms and their internal politics. It is flat-out factually wrong to say that partner status protects senior lawyers from consequences if they do something that publicly embarrasses their firm. In fact, in such a case (especially one which resulted in extended negative national media coverage), the firm’s leadership would almost certainly act faster and with more bias toward dismissal of a partner than it would a lowly associate, because partners are seen as the firm’s “culture carriers”, and thus a partner’s bad actions would be seen as indicative of the firm’s culture and values in a way that the associate’s would not — and thus, a transgression more demanding of publicly-meted-out comeuppance. (Upon reflection, this likely has something to do with why so many alumni are in the “professors need to get fired” camp; the code of organizational ethics by which many of us are governed in our professional lives says that the more senior the member of the organization who violates the organization’s norms, the more severe the consequences for that individual should be.)

    In your latest, I don’t see any disagreement with my previous assertion that Middlebury does, in fact, restrict speech to some extent in order to create a campus environment conducive to learning. I think this is an important point, and it’s relevant to your argument that “one of the great illiberal anti-free-speech moves is to try to define speech as ‘conduct.’” I’m torn by this statement because I agree with it in the abstract, I just don’t think it applies to this situation. I agree that we’re playing with fire when we start defining arguments as conduct; a university/college should be a safe space (ick, but appropriate terminology in this context) to explore points of view and consider ideas on their merits, even (especially) when those ideas are controversial within society at large.

    However, in my mind at least there’s a clear difference between making an argument — saying, “X is true and Y is not” — and engaging in spirited advocacy toward actions in the physical world. It’s one thing to hold teach-ins that arm students with counterarguments to Murray’s conclusions. This is a good thing to do, especially given the sketchiness of Murray’s scholarship (the lack of peer review, the assumption of a single general factor of intelligence, over-reliance on a single data set, etc). But it is *an entirely different thing whatsoever* to lend oneself to what, if accurately reported across a variety of sources, was nothing short of a tactical planning process for a well-coordinated operation that resulted in abusive behavior toward a guest of the College in clear violation of College policy; highly negative media attention that will have materially negative consequences for the College’s endowment (read: scholarships); and an act of violence against another member of the faculty.

    (None of this is to say that faculty members should not engage in advocacy, period; what I’m saying is that faculty members should be held accountable for their advocacy when it results in damage to the College’s reputation and tenured professors’ necks.)

    In my view it would be a cowardly category-mistake to formally categorize the egging-on of misguided campus radicals as mere “speech”. It is something more than that, and I feel that many participants in the post-assault public discussion — you included, Jeff, with all due respect — are letting your personal views of Murray cloud your judgment. To quote from Professor Eric Bleich’s recent essay in the campus newspaper (link: https://middleburycampus.com/article/nuance-free-speech-and-responsibility/),

    “It is all the less persuasive amid assertions that students were just exercising their free speech rights of ‘simultaneous dialogue’ when they impeded Murray from delivering his lecture. This is a fundamental and deeply troubling misconception of free speech. Would the protesters approve of 50 white male students standing up to shout down Shaun King or Ta-Nehisi Coates, or drowning out a lecture that decried masculinity as a threat to our society?”

    Let’s take this counterfactual a bit further. Imagine the scenario put forward by Eric, then imagine that the hypothetical anti-Coates hecklers had been explicitly told by right-wing faculty members (like I said, *hypothetical* scenario) that shouting Coates down would be OK. Let’s take out the assault part, let’s just imagine that a bunch of students shouted down an officially-invited BLM leader having been encouraged to do so by a group of professors. What kind of consequences do you think would be appropriate for those imaginary professors, Jeff? No consequences? Protected speech?

  8. Dan, Jeff and others – This exchange has been extremely helpful in clarifying my views on this issue. I hope to jump in when I clear my desk of teaching-related stuff.

  9. Jeff,

    Quick follow-on point with regard to tenure. I’m not an academic, and I’m hesitant to get drawn into a detailed debate on tenure’s reasons for existing. However, I am familiar with the Middlebury Faculty Handbook, having read it end-to-end in an effort to have at least a rudimentary background on the topic at hand, and it includes the following passage:

    “Tenure is a primary protection for academic freedom and contributes to the stability necessary for the development of the College. At the same time, tenure is not simply a guarantee of appointment until retirement.”

    My reading of this is that it protects professors’ right to espouse ideas — especially, but not exclusively, within the context of their domain specialty — without fear of retaliation for any controversial viewpoints. Perhaps this might extend to, say, Owens’ cringeworthy recent submission to the Middbeat blog, despite its entreaties against primary sources. Perhaps it might even apply to, hypothetically, a blog post ahead of the Murray lecture saying something along the lines of, “if I were a Middlebury undergraduate I’d do everything I could to stop the propagation of Murray spewing his evil hateful vitriol”, etc — although, even that is getting into “Will nobody rid me of this meddlesome priest?” territory.

    Anyway, I just don’t see how being an active participant in a down-to-brass-tacks planning session to keep the Murray lecture from happening would be covered by tenure protection. If you or Matt want to educate me on this, I’m all ears; as I said, the nuances of tenure protection are outside my wheelhouse.

  10. Thanks, Dan, I take your point about law firms. It’s an imperfect analogy, but what I meant to do was indicate the way that a tenured professor is not just any other worker-for-hire. A better analogy, perhaps, at least inasmuch as the word “tenure” is also involved, is a federal judgeship. The rationale for lifetime appointments for professors and judges is similar: it’s seen as a job that you can’t do properly if you have to worry about penalties for speaking the truth as you see it. A federal judge, of course, can’t be removed except after an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. So the bar there is even higher, whereas for a partner in a law firm, as you say, it’s lower. The job protections of tenured professors, rightly I think, are somewhere in between.

    A related point: yes, what professors say can bring some measure of public disrepute on a college. But it also damages the reputation of a college if it is seen as stifling the speech or academic freedom of its professors (or students). That’s one way its particular mission makes it different from a law firm or a for-profit enterprise. A college can, in my view, legitimately decide that a radical professor like, say, Linus Owens is bad for its public image. But it needs to decide that *before* it gives him tenure. He will have been a professor probably for at least six years, at Middlebury or elsewhere, before that happens, and the college has plenty of opportunity and a lot of documentation available to find out what he’s all about. They can interview him multiple times and at length, they can ask him to explain his positions and statements. The burden of proof, pre-tenure, is on him. He can be rejected for no fault at all in his scholarship or teaching, but simply because he’s not thought to be a good fit for the department or the college community. But once they’ve said, “OK, you’re here for life, here’s a tenure contract,” the burden radically shifts the other way. At that point, it becomes more damaging to the college’s public image to get rid of the person, absent some very specific, serious and provable misconduct. A college that seemed not to take its tenure commitments seriously would never be able to attract the best faculty (or would have to pay a huge salary premium or something to make up for this anti-selling point).

    Back to the case at hand: Since we’re talking about the crossing of a line, the issue here is when the line is crossed. I agree with you that at some point, evidence that the faculty member engaged in some sort of tactical planning, with the intent of shutting down or harassing the guest speaker, would be misconduct. The tricky question for me would be a case where the person had expressed sharp and maybe defiant opposition, encouraged protests, and perhaps alerted students to the existence of ideas like those we’re seeing broached here about power differentials and how some speech is really violence — but hadn’t clearly advocated the shutdown or harassment itself. In other words, if I have any quarrel with your formulation, it’s focused on the phrase “that resulted in abusive behavior.” The point of free speech, and ultimately of political advocacy, is ultimately to affect conditions in the world. It’s supposed to have results. But this means that things will often happen that are loosely attributable to the free-speech expression but at one or two removes from it. It’s possible in this case, for instance, that a given professor intended to help see that a vigorous protest occurred, but didn’t intend that it actually prevent Murray’s talk, and certainly didn’t intend that anybody get hurt. Then what? As I said before, I think it’s free-speech “best practice” to decide close or ambiguous cases in favor of allowing the speech, so I would say that there should be no penalty if that was what the evidence showed.

    How then to decide, exactly, what crosses the line? I would recommend starting with the existing legal rules and definitions regarding “incitement.” These might need to be tweaked somehow for present purposes, but the basic job of deciding when speech can properly be said to be the wrongful act of causing bad stuff to happen is a wheel that does not need to be reinvented. Incitement is already an established exception to free speech, and like the other few exceptions, it should be drawn as narrowly as possible. And of course, whatever rules are set down, I would urge that they be made as clear as possible in advance, not made up *post facto* — so again, any doubt about whether the rules were clear enough at the time of a given incident should be resolved in favor of the accused.

    You ask whether my view of Murray is coloring my position. I can’t prove otherwise, but I would certainly hope that I would hold to the same standards in defending right-wing as left-wing professors. Certainly, what I *mean* to commit myself to here philosophically (like any good liberal) is a content-neutral process and set of rules under which it wouldn’t matter whether the controversial speaker was Murray or Coates, Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders. (Full disclosure: I was a Sanders voter.)

    Finally, this observation: Too many academic departments nowadays, especially in the humanities and social sciences, have taken to defining “good” scholarship as trendy or fashionable or “sexy” or attention-grabbing scholarship. Linus Owens might have brilliant things to say about the sociology of the “black body” and so forth, but I don’t know; he might just know which buttons to press, which buzzwords and trendy concepts are currently going for high prices in the academic marketplace. Again, once he’s tenured, in my view, the ship has sailed; the time for evaluating this and deciding that he (or whomever — I don’t mean to single him out) is less a sociologist, or a historian, or a literary analyst than a radical activist / ideologue with a Ph.D., is *before* issuing the tenure contract. But it wouldn’t kill a lot of departments out there to start exercising better due diligence and a little more critical thinking of the kind they claim to be teaching their students. Trendiness has no doubt always been a problem in academia, but over the 30+ years of my career (in literary and film studies), it has really gotten out of hand. The titles of published papers and conference panels have become boringly predictable, recycling the same postructuralist / postmodernist buzzwords about “the body” and “marginalization” and “alterity” and “othering” and “gender binaries” and “hegemony” and Foucault and Judith Butler and….. well, anyone in these fields knows the collection of terms I’m referring to. They’re in just as plentiful supply today as they were 20 years ago when Alan Sokal tried to put a dent in some of them. It’s not that they’re wrong or useless; there are sometimes brilliant insights produced under these banners. But they’re often obscurantist, and what they obscure, I think, are cases where a given professor is not so much a good, serious analyst as a clever careerist who’s learned what sells, or a radical activist who’s too lazy to do real politics and wants a nice, safe, tenured position from which to strike fashionably radical poses. Peer reviewers should aim to do a better job of weeding out such cases instead of rewarding them.

    (PS to Matthew: Thanks, I join with others here who applaud your hosting this forum, and I’m very pleased if you find my contributions in any way helpful.)

  11. Dan, I agree, a planning session aimed at disrupting a campus event would be misconduct. I would urge Middlebury or any other college to clarify this if needed if it’s not already apparent from the handbook. Tenure, in my view, protects faculty against the expectation that they’ll simply be PR agents for the college or will stick to what it considers its party line. It isn’t or shouldn’t be protection against actual efforts to prevent the college from conducting its legitimate business. I would regard planning the disruption of an invited guest presentation as basically the same as one professor planning to disrupt another’s class and prevent it from being taught. That would certainly be actionable misconduct, and if any faculty at Middlebury don’t currently understand that, then it should be made very clear to them as of now.

  12. Jeff, thanks — your explanations have been really helpful for my understanding of this issue.

    To recap: fierce political speech might be a factor in denying a professor tenure, but once that professor has tenure, they should be immune from discipline for expressing their views, even if others find their views obnoxious, offensive, etc.

    However, tenure shouldn’t be protection against disciplinary action for misconduct.

    Point of clarification (and it’s important to note we’re dealing in hypotheticals, reports of what certain professors did ahead of the Murray visit may be inaccurate, etc): should the consequences for a tenured professor (e.g., potential firing) be different from those for a non-tenured professor in the case of misconduct?

  13. Dan, a non-tenured professor would probably be on a two- or three-year renewable contract. Since, in my view, tenure can legitimately be withheld for any number of reasons, including a judgment on the part of the department or college that the candidate just doesn’t fit with its needs or its mission, then yes, a non-tenured faculty member would be in jeopardy, perhaps not of immediate dismissal, but of not having his/her contract renewed the next time (or of not getting tenure if it was the last contract prior to tenure). Such a decision could be based not just on proven misconduct, but on saying things or taking actions which, while protected speech in other circumstances, made clear that the individual in question didn’t understand or wasn’t prepared to support the college’s values, including its commitment to free speech.

    A tenured professor, by contrast, is someone the college already had a more than ample opportunity to evaluate and to screen for basic fidelity to the college’s mission. It can’t legitimately start picking and choosing now; If it made a mistake or didn’t do its due diligence, then too bad for the college. So, no penalties unless actual misconduct is proven. But again, I would count taking steps to shut down an authorized guest lecture as misconduct, more or less on a par with plotting to shut down a colleague’s class.

  14. Sorry, let me just add: When I say that a nontenured professor would be on a two-or three-year renewable contract, I mean a professor on the tenure track. More and more American colleges and universities are gradually eliminating the tenure track altogether, and keeping an ever greater percentage of their faculties (about 70% nationally, at this point) on a kind of permanent probation. This is a serious abuse of academic norms that raises a number of issues that haven’t yet come up in this discussion. I don’t know if or to what extent Middlebury itself is guilty of this abuse.

  15. Thanks Jeff. I feel as if you still haven’t answered my question, and I apologize for any lack of clarity on my end.

    My question is: in cases of misconduct, should the administrative consequences be different between tenured and non-tenured faculty? E.g., a tenured professor gets a warning, a non-tenured professor gets fired? Should the consequences be the same? Should the consequences for tenured professors be MORE harsh in the case of misconduct, given, perhaps, a higher level of expectation of professionalism for tenured faculty?

    To be clear, I’m talking about a clear case of misconduct here; not offensive speech, not annoying blog posts, but something that a formal investigation has determined constitutes misconduct.

    My question is not, “should people be fired for misconduct”. There are varying degrees of misconduct, and while I don’t have a great deal of familiarity with what consequences are meted out for what offenses on college campuses (specifically Middlebury), I’m sure that some would be punishable by firing and others would not be. My question is whether, for a given case of investigation-adjudicated misconduct, the punitive consequences for tenured faculty and non-tenured should be the same, or different.

  16. Anthony Murawski Actually I did not ponder that question at all, that was a hypothetical used by Matthew Dickinson. My answer also would be Yes. How ever not because it would expand his platform, but because it is a God given Constitutional right.
    You also help make my second point with this statement. Even the most reasonable professors in that department must be aware that if they signed the Statement of Principles, they would have no career options outside Middlebury. That’s because academia has become for the most part a radical leftist bunch who preach ideals instead of teach. There are however 2 words in the Statement of Principles that cause me to question the whole thing and they are “every quarter.” To me that implies prohibiting freedom of speech. Also in a later response to a post that included the Statement of Principles I apologized to Mr. Dickinson for generalizing and including all students, administration and faculty of Middlebury and will continue to do so in future discussions. I will, however, not exclude all other Institution of Higher Learning in a generalized manner until that institution publicly disavows in any manner suppression of speech.

  17. Does the college have cameras on campus? Can they not see the people engaged in these actions? You had a link in your own post. Get those students, round them up and suspend them. Students seen on top of that car should be expelled. Students and non students should face whatever legal penalties the prosecutor decides to bring with NO interference from the College President or legal counsel.

    ‘Timeliness’ is also a virtue. I am familiar with academia. They can (and likely will) be seen as dragging their feet and hoping people forget this. A professor, seeing Suzy engaged in violations of your honor code, will try to defend her “She is so bright and eager and happy.” Yes, she is brightly, eagerly and happily acting like a Maoist Red Guard, bashing her sign across the top of the car and screaming at the top of her lungs.

    You have cameras. You have a code of conduct. You are also a national disgrace.

    So are you going to teach the rest of the nation that violence gets you what you want? Are you going to let your ‘trendy’ and ‘edgy’ faculty continue to give their ‘wink and nod’ to violent campus radicals even as they barely stay within your supposed codes of conduct? Though ‘tenure never means having to say you are sorry’ is not particularly much of a defense. Is ‘incitement to a riot’ not a crime? It seems that tenure may not be the defense you seem to think it is.

    Would a professor, on the eve of such a speech, suddenly giving a class in ‘radical groups across the ages, their strategy and tactics’ with an elective on Molotov Cocktail creation, be seen as ‘free speech’ and benign?

    According to your defense of tenure, yes it is.

    Excuse me if I remain unpersuaded.

  18. If your organization wants a simple solution, then re-invite Murray. Pay all his expenses, all NECESSARY security and let your student body know exactly how thin the ice under their feet actually is. Make your most ‘trendy’ and progressive faculty personally responsible for order in the auditorium.

    In other words, put your money where your mouth is.

  19. Matthew Dickinson
    After going back and reading this entire post I believe for the fourth time I feel this a good place for a story. To do so let me tell you a little bit about myself, I am a 53 year old divorced, retired military man, I have 5 brothers (3 of which have passed away) and 1 sister, who recently had to quit his pathetic job to become full time care taker of my ill 81 year old parents. I was born and live in West Memphis, AR, which is a very poor town made up of mostly minorities, some whites, barely any of whom are middle class much less wealthy regardless of color.
    In my childhood West Memphis was segregated into the south side and the North side.The north side was white and the south was black. The elementary school I went to was 4 blocks away and myself, my brothers and friends would walk to school. Now mind you there was only 2 elementary schools in West Memphis at this time, the school lines were divided up along a east west line, and were both on the north side of town. So I walked my 4 blocks to school the blacks had to walk miles to and from every day. I made a black friend for life in these very racially charged times. His name is Bill Rowe. We were both looked down on for this by almost everyone. Both our parents were maybe the only ones who thought it was fine that 2 people from two different ethnic backgrounds (one black one white)could be friends. I think mostly because they are and were god fearing people. Then in 1978 I moved to a even smaller town, but much richer town in north west Arkansas named Mountain Home. Not one black in any direction for 200 miles. I was mesmerized by this fact. I trudged through High School not completely losing touch with Bill, but having very little contact with him. I graduated in May 1982, left for active duty in June of 1982. During this time I all but forgot about West Memphis, until my parents moved back here in 2012 which is the year I retired. Being divorced my daughter in college and nothing holding me any where I came back to West Memphis. I even moved back into my childhood home. As I went thru the process of adjusting to a different world with out the military I wanted to look up all of my old friends. First on my list was Bill, low and behold he lived in the exact same house also, however his parents had passed which was quite depressing because they were beautiful, loving people and deserved to be around much longer. After the standard going over the ignorant things we did as kids, and finding out what each other has done for the past 35 years we came to the conclusion we were both the exact same people we were when we were kids. Except for one thing, he was a Democrat and I a Republican. Now as every one knows politics have been a little, lets say testy for the last 8 years. So as myself and Bill got back to being the friends we were we discussed many many different points of view. Through this I believe I have become even more close with him. Dont get me wrong, on more than one occasion our discussions became very heated. In the end we both decided to agree to disagree or one would see the others point and all was well. During the 2016 campaigns both Hillary and Trump came to Little Rock for rallies we went to both. The first one was President Trumps. While standing in a crowd of 10’s of thousands of people a lady asked Bill what he was doing there, and he said what do you mean. She said normally a man of color would not be at a Republican rally. Bill said yes I know thats the biggest part of the problem. He continued on saying, I believe that a person has his own mind to make up and not let some one else do it for him. If I am to truly going to make a decision on something I need to know and understand it. Bill voted for Donald Trump. The point of this long boring monologue. Is giving a chance to see and understand all points everyone is capable of deciding for themselves. With out the complete truth others are making decisions for you or you are being told what to think. This is such a great country, a truly beautiful place to live. Our rules and laws are not based on hatred, greed or disrespect. They are based on morals that all humanity should agree with and respect, but when we as citizens of this wonderful country can not abide by the foundation of these rules and laws why should anyone else.

  20. Dan, I haven’t studied that particular question, but I don’t think most faculty handbooks differentiate between tenured and non-tenured when it comes to penalties for misconduct. Nor do I see a good reason why they should, although I haven’t thought through all the scenarios. If you’re doing something like disrupting campus events, it seems to me, that’s equally wrong regardless of whether or not you have tenure.

    But there’s a huge caveat to this. One reason that “adjunctification,” permanent probation, never-tenurable faculty positions, short-term contracts and other such increasingly widespread practices are so harmful is that it’s very easy for a college just to refuse to renew a non-tenured professor’s contract when its term is up, which is often at the end of the current year or semester. Colleges and universities nowadays typically reserve the right to do this without giving any reason, and this power makes misconduct provisions almost moot. There’s little reason for administrators to go to the trouble of trying to prove misconduct in the first place, since the proceedings needed to do so literally could take longer than just waiting a few months until the adjunct professor’s contract expires — at which point the college can impose the maximum penalty available, termination, simply by not signing another one. Huge percentages of American university instructors are now part of this “precariat,” literally easier to fire than the janitor or gardener, because those positions at least are more likely to be unionized, and they don’t include the hazard of requiring that you express your views on things all the time as professors necessarily have to. Further, for whatever it’s worth, adjuncts often are not represented in academic senates.

    Obviously, given all this, “NTT” (non-tenure track) faculty have no effective academic freedom no matter what the handbook says. They can speak “freely” only at great personal risk.

    Similarly with not-yet-tenured professors on a tenure track: if any of them look to be troublemakers, PR liabilities, internal critics likely to give the administration grief, or anything else the college finds undesirable, the easy solution is just to wait for the next contract renewal, or tenure review if that’s coming next, and then say “no.” I’m even inclined to think that this is somewhat more justifiable in those cases, because as I said earlier, colleges are shaping their long-term identities when they tenure people, and they ought to be able to do so in ways consistent with their missions (which, one would *hope*, would include promoting freedom and a reasonable diversity of views — but maybe not; a Christian fundamentalist college, for instance, should be able to develop a faculty of Christian fundamentalists if it so chooses).

    So the upshot is this: while professors *should* be treated equally in misconduct proceedings, in practice the difference between tenure and no tenure is so enormous that it’s hard to imagine they ever would be. Maybe in cases of minor infractions that no one would think to fire someone for — although there are precious few of those: as with any boss, it’s very easy to run afoul of a department chair or dean even without doing anything wrong, and sometimes just by being right when *they’re* wrong.

    (The savvy observer might have detected that there’s a perverse incentive here. One of the few protections a professor in real trouble might be able to call upon is public sympathy for his or her position, and the possibility this creates of bad PR for the college. So if you’re going to do something you might get fired for, it’s almost best to make sure it’s something both high-profile and likely to be politically popular with the college’s stakeholders — something like, say, leading a newsmaking charge against a conservative speaker at a left-leaning college. Basically, you want to *dare* them to fire you in the full glare of adverse publicity.)

  21. MD,

    You stated that the administration could in no way ‘anticipate’ the actions and overreactions of the protestors.

    It is not like they had protests such as this in DuPaul.

    It is not as if they had protests such as this in Berkley.

    UC Irvine

    This is a repeatable phenomena. At this point no college administration can use that excuse for…allowing…a protest like that to get out of hand. And ‘allowing’ seems to be the correct ambiguous term.

    What happens if George Will is invited to campus and a riot breaks out? How often do you think that excuse is available to the administration.

    After DuPaul and Berkley, they should not have been able to use that excuse at all.

  22. Jeff,

    Interesting points. To one of them — as far as I can tell, the Middlebury Faculty Handbook makes no distinction between tenured and non-tenured faculty in its discussion of the consequences of misconduct, which is quite vague. Actually, an interesting question for anyone in the know who is following this thread (Matt?): when was the last time a professor at Middlebury was fired for misconduct? Were they tenured? Has this ever even happened, period? If it has, what do we know of the circumstances?

    Upon rereading the Handbook I get the sense that its Faculty Misconduct section is generally a pro forma document and that, if it were something that actually served as a functional handbook for real-life proceedings, it would have been iteratively rewritten over time to be a bit more detailed (cf, the part that describes the tenure review process). But that’s just my impression, and I’d love to hear from someone who has firsthand knowledge on this topic.

  23. Dan,

    Several years back a tenured professor resigned her position after pleading no contest to charges of embezzlement allegedly occurring while she served as treasurer for a local organization. My understanding was that she resigned under pressure from the administration which was actively trying to remove her. As I recall her case prompted the College to clarify how, and under what circumstances, tenured faculty could be removed. I’m assuming those changes resulted in modification to the College Handbook, but my memory is fading on this point. This was not a free speech case, of course. (You can find the circumstances of the case easily enough via an online search.) She has since moved on from Middlebury and is doing very well in the private sector.

  24. J Dye,

    After thinking about your comments, I think you have a point: perhaps the College should have been more proactive in anticipating that the protest might get out of hand. In their defense, I think they worried that excessive show of force might incite greater violence. Again, I would distinguish between their response to the student protests inside the Hall, which were at least peaceful, but also disruptive, versus the naked act of aggression outside the Hall in which demonstrators impeded individuals’ progress, rocked their vehicle and generally created an unsafe situation. I am willing to be persuaded that stronger security measures were called for to insure the speaker’s safety when leaving the event to get the car that was to take him to dinner. Of course, I say this after the event.

    These are not easy decisions to make, of course, but with hindsight I can also see where you might argue that a more stern announcement at the start of the event to students of the consequences of blocking speech might have served as more effective deterrence.

  25. J Dye – This has been discussed. While inviting him back may strike some as a principled stand for free speech, I’m sure College administrators have also to consider the practical implications of doing so, which almost certainly would be to provoke stronger protests from people who are not affiliated with the campus and who would be determined to make a statement. That would mean higher security costs, and potentially putting students at risk. I doubt the administration could defend the decision to invite Murray back if a Berkeley-like incident broke out. Appealing as it sounds in principle, then, to invite Murray back, I don’t see it as a realistic or even a reasonable option.

  26. Matt,

    I do remember that incident now that you mention it — I had her (and her now-ex-husband) as professors and both were great teachers, and I was sad to hear about what had happened. Didn’t realize the extent of the pressure she was under from Old Chapel at the time she resigned.

  27. She was a great teacher and a good friend. I should be clear that I was not privy to what occurred behind the scenes regarding administration efforts, if any, to remove her. A more recent case involved someone who had received an offer of tenure, but the offer was almost immediately rescinded when questions were raised regarding the veracity of the materials he had submitted for his tenure review. He, too, eventually left the College. I was chair during this incident, and it was a long, and very intense period of negotiation leading up to his departure.

    In both instances the faculty resigned in response to personal conduct issues, rather than due to what they taught, or said. I think that gets to the heart of what you and Jeff have been so eloquently discussing – what, if anything, constitutes personal misconduct by tenured faculty in this recent incident?

  28. Jeff,

    For additional clarity on our current topic of conversation, there’s actually a fair amount of detail in the Faculty Handbook; mea culpa for not surfacing it earlier:

    “Criminal activity may constitute faculty misconduct where such activity could reasonably be seen to substantially compromise a faculty member’s ability to carry out his or her responsibilities as a teacher, scholar, and contributor to the functioning and governing of the College. Civil disobedience, non-violent protest, and expression of opinions, even where such activities result in civil or criminal penalties, do not amount to faculty misconduct under this section. Crimes involving violence or deliberate and consequential dishonesty, on the other hand, may constitute misconduct.”

    “Only the most serious violations of a faculty member’s responsibilities as a teacher, scholar, and contributor to the functioning and governance of the college, especially actions that pose an imminent threat to the safety of others and the flagrant interference with the efforts of colleagues and students to exercise their rights of free inquiry and expression, can be considered as adequate cause for termination.”

    “Considerations of political opinions, race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, legally recognized forms of disability, or economic considerations—e.g., relating to the individual’s salary level, length of contract—are absolutely prohibited in determining grounds for misconduct or assigning penalties for misconduct.

    “The principle of equal treatment should apply: instances of misconduct that are similar in nature and magnitude should be met with penalties that are similar in nature and magnitude, regardless of the identities of the faculty members involved.

    “Public perceptions and media representations of a faculty member should play no role in determining if misconduct has occurred, or in assessing any penalties that result from misconduct.”

    So, my reading of this is that, per the Handbook, tenure status doesn’t matter in terms of penalties conferred for misconduct, and that actively helping plan and coordinate the shouting-down of a visiting College-sponsored lecturer would be a fireable offense. Right?

  29. I should clarify my comments on the lack of clarity in the Handbook. As evidenced by the excerpts I pasted into my last comment, there is quite a bit of detail on what constitutes misconduct. Where I see the lack of clarity is in a lack of classification of levels of misconduct and description of penalties that would be expected at each level. Upon further reflection, I’d surmise this is intentional, in order to allow Old Chapel (and whatever faculty board is involved) the maximum amount of flexibility in deciding consequences.

    As it says in the Handbook,

    “While the Board of Trustees has ultimate authority in matters involving faculty misconduct, in keeping with the principle of faculty self-governance, the Board will give considerable deference to the recommendations of the faculty and administration regarding faculty misconduct. In the event that the Board disagrees with the faculty’s or administration’s recommendations, the Board will provide a substantive written justification for its decision.”

    Matt — what does the “faculty” part in “faculty’s or administration’s recommendations” refer to? I assume there’s some kind of committee involved? Is it a standing committee, is it a randomly selected jury, is it the offending professor’s department, etc?

  30. MD,

    The term is ‘defending’ our freedoms.

    This does not mean ‘write pithy letters or blog posts’. This does not mean even ‘have a focus group or intense conversations inside the faculty lounge’.

    It means there are those who are happy to actively attack other people’s liberties and these people are on your campus AND ON YOUR FACULTY.

    There is staff at your own college who feels that their opinions are worth more than the freedom of speech.

    What a horrible precedent.

    Let’s talk a bit about ‘responsibility’. Your campus has campus security, I imagine? Does that not mean that you, the campus has undertaken the responsibility for keeping EVERYONE safe on campus? Did they?

    Let’s talk about calculations. As you stated, they were afraid a show of force would escalate things. So the thinking was ‘if we have a lot of force on hand, we might harm paying students acting in a criminal way, but if we do not have a show of force, then someone whom the faculty has already clearly indicated that they loathed will get hurt. And he isn’t a paying student.’ Hmm.

    As educators and academics, your faculty has a responsibility to enforce the ideals of our freedoms, not engage in reliving their youth or attempting to impress their own students by acting in a manner contradictory to the entire imperative of education.

    If this does not mandate some response by the President, I do not know what would.

    Lastly, a comment by you. You said ‘we won’t be inviting him back because that would be a stick in the eye’.

    Yes. How dare we possibly offend people who discarded civilized norms and shoved a ‘stick in the eye’ of civilization.

    Instead, by your tone, it seems that the staff at Middlebury will think twice as hard about inviting ‘controversial’ speakers on campus. Or…at least Conservative ones. To avoid ‘shoving a stick in the eye’ of people PAYING you to EDUCATE them on civilization. You are allowing them to control your selection to avoid hard choices.

    Does this seem like a correct response? Should people pay for this kind of lackluster education and leadership?

  31. MD,

    Sorry. You don’t have an edit function.

    My main question is ‘what do you think you should do about people who do not abide by civilized norms on your campus? At what point SHOULD you ‘show force’? Does Academia in general need to have someone killed or maimed for this to happen?

    Meanwhile you also have people on your campus DEFENDING their actions.

    I await the end of these investigations with great interest. How long are they going to drag out?

  32. Dan,

    As I recall (and I was not actively involved in the deliberations), this is precisely the issue that was at the heart of the College’s effort to clarify the rules for dismissal in the wake of the incident I mentioned earlier. On the one hand, college officials did not want to tie their hands too tightly by suggesting that certain offenses, and only these offenses, constituted firing offenses. What if something unanticipated came up that they felt justified removing faculty, even though it wasn’t listed in the handbook? On the other hand, faculty were quite naturally worried about giving administration officials too much discretion to determine when faculty could be removed; they wanted as much clarity as possible on the matter. The final handbook language represents an effort to strike a balance between those concerns.

    Regarding removal procedures, in the one case in which I was involved, a subset of faculty in our department drew up a list detailing what we believed to be were inaccuracies in a candidate’s tenure file, and we forwarded that to the responsible faculty dean. I believe those charges were reviewed by the Dean and an ad hoc committee put together to make recommendations. Where it went from there remains somewhat fuzzy in my memory.

    In any event, since then the procedure for dealing with matters of faculty removal are clearly spelled out here: http://www.middlebury.edu/about/handbook/faculty/misconduct The process involves an initial finding by the Vice President for Academic Affairs, working with an ad hoc committee of faculty, which together forward a recommendation to the Provost. Depending on the Provost’s recommendation, and the response of the person charged, the case might also be considered by the Promotions Committee. The Board of Trustees can also get involved, depending on how the process plays out. So, it is a multi-step process that is not going to happen overnight – assuming anyone even believes charges are warranted in the Murray case. The process is specified in some detail in the Handbook.

  33. Matt, I think we’re in agreement here — and the intentional ambiguity you describes makes sense to some extent, although in this situation I fear it will be a factor in the administration bowing to its own fears of further rancor on campus and failing to mete out meaningful consequences for what happened during Murray’s visit.

    To your earlier point that, “Appealing as it sounds in principle, then, to invite Murray back, I don’t see it as a realistic or even a reasonable option”, two questions:

    1) To recycle my earlier expansion of Bleich’s counterfactual, what if the on-campus rancor had been a bunch of right-wing students protesting Ta-Nehisi Coates, abetted by right-wing professors and local yokels in MAGA hats? With all due respect, I think your orientation to the best course of action might be different, and if push came to shove, I’d imagine that Laurie Patton would ask Pete Shumlin to send down a platoon of Green Mountain Boys before canceling Coates Part II.

    2) Hypothetically, let’s say the following consequences were handed down in a timely manner:
    – Some faculty who helped coordinate the shouting-down were fired effective immediately (worst offenders, e.g., Owens) and others were censured and suspended for the remainder of the semester (e.g., other members of the “Resistance” who contributed to the planning but were not central organizing figures)
    – The core of students who helped organized the shouting-down were expelled (as they were explicitly warned was a possibility by Laurie Patton in her opening remarks) — we’re talking, say, 10-15 individuals
    – The students who participated in the shouting-down but did not have a hand in organizing it were suspended and banned from campus until next September (the remaining ~100 individuals participating in the chanting, stomping, and general harassment)

    Hypothetically, under such circumstances, wouldn’t the likelihood of a repeat outbreak of violence be significantly lower if Murray came back later in the semester? This isn’t a rhetorical question; it’s easy to imagine that the students in McCullough that night were just a small subset of the current population of Midd students willing to use such tactics.

  34. Dan,

    My opposition to inviting Murray to campus again has nothing to do with his viewpoints, or a lack of commitment to principled protection for free speech. It’s that it would likely generate a massive movement among the rent-a-mob crowd in Burlington to come to the campus to engage in violent protests. That’s unfortunate, of course, but I also think it is a realistic assessment of what would happen. As President, Patton has the responsibility to protect the security of students, and that means accepting the world as it is, rather than how we would like it to be when the circumstances suggest we have little power to change it, at least in this immediate context.

    Regarding your hypothetical (which deserves a more detailed response, but which I can’t give while in the middle of preparing for tomorrow’s class!), my answer is yes, those actions by the administration would serve as a significant deterrent against a repeat by students of what we saw during Murray’s visit.

  35. Matt, is it really that hard to defend campus against the break-Starbucks-windows-during-G8-protests crowd? I find that hard to believe; these people are cowards who usually rely upon the sanctuary of a larger group of like-minded (if not equally-violent) activists to accomplish petty acts of vandalism and assault.

    It is not that hard to cordon a place like the CFA or Bi Hall and maintain positive control over entry/egress routes.

    And anyway, if this is such a concern, isn’t the right thing to do to publicly ask for help to ensure that the masked anarchists don’t invade campus, rather than capitulate to the fear that they might do something bad? Isn’t capitulation exactly what they want?

  36. I think that’s my point. You could call out the national guard, establish a security perimeter, bring Murray back under armed guard, etc. But all at GREAT expense, and without any guarantees that violence would not occur anyway. Is it worth it to make a point that can be made more easily in other ways?

  37. Personally I’d say it would definitely be worth it to make that point, yes. I think making the point “more easily in other ways” would be making a different point altogether.

  38. MD: You said

    “I think that’s my point. You could call out the national guard, establish a security perimeter, bring Murray back under armed guard, etc. But all at GREAT expense, and without any guarantees that violence would not occur anyway. Is it worth it to make a point that can be made more easily in other ways?”

    Was the costs of Brown vs. the Board of Education ‘worth the expense’ to make a point?

    And for the administration to have credibility about not doing such a thing, they need to offer these ‘other ways’ that are like ‘Fraud Waste and Abuse” or ‘diversity’. Nice buzz words, but until something firm and substantial comes out, it seems as vague hypotheticals to get the administration off the hook with its faculty unexamined, its paying students mildly reprimanded and hoping to sweep this whole thing under the rug.

    Essentially, the administration has already burned up all its credibility by its incredible lackluster actions on defending free speech of someone they clearly did not want to defend.

    So the onus is now your side to make that strong statement without the National Guard. Nothing comes to mind at the moment. But I am open to be wowed.

    I am hoping in the prior 9 days, they have done more than start an organization to discuss the committee to appoint the focus group to select the investigators…who will of course need to set an agenda, an ethnically diverse table of organization and an environmental impact statement.

  39. Dan, I read the handbook provisions you quote the same way you do. It does seem that they would support the firing of a tenured professor who deliberately helped plan a campus disruption, if that’s what the administration wanted to do.

    I would just add that with respect to adjunct and non-tenured faculty, those lovely-sounding provisions are basically nullities. For instance:

    “Civil disobedience, non-violent protest, and expression of opinions, even where such activities result in civil or criminal penalties, do not amount to faculty misconduct under this section.”

    “Considerations of political opinions, race, creed, [etc.] are absolutely prohibited in determining grounds for misconduct or assigning penalties for misconduct.”

    It would be almost impossible for a non-tenured adjunct who was fired in contravention of these rules to prove it and get the rules enforced. Moreover, even where proof is available — and I’ve seen such smoking-gun cases — you might find if you look at the front of the handbook that there’s a general disclaimer that says something to the effect of, “The rules set forth here may be suspended or set aside at the discretion of the college.” Or if that’s not in the handbook itself, it may be in professors’ letters of appointment, at least those sent to adjuncts.

    Faculty handbooks are basically window dressing. I could give you some hair-raising examples to illustrate this if you’re interested, but I don’t mean to “threadjack” this discussion into an interesting but tangential point — especially since I don’t actually know how big the “precariat” is at Middlebury itself. Maybe Middlebury is resisting the great national tide toward abusive faculty hiring, review and disciplinary practices. If so, I applaud that, although frankly I’d also be surprised.

  40. Denman,

    Thank you for this – it is an important perspective, one eloquently stated, that I suspect is perhaps underappreciated on our campus. It deserves to be widely read. I hope people on this site do so.

  41. J Dye,

    “I am hoping in the prior 9 days, they have done more than start an organization to discuss the committee to appoint the focus group to select the investigators…who will of course need to set an agenda, an ethnically diverse table of organization and an environmental impact statement.”

    This made me chuckle. Hope it’s not the case. My guess is that Laurie Patton is getting bombarded by angry phone calls from alumni, parents and other people connected to the College, and this is probably driving a sense of urgency that might otherwise be lacking in other situations. We shall see….

  42. Wow. I am an old alum who has always enjoyed the pleasant, self-acknowledged, delusion that Midd students are better than this. Hard to keep up that charade now. I hope the college will respond with fair, well-reasoned, but committed and appropriately tough, sanctions for students and, especially, faculty involved with this or any assault on free speech. I have placed a stripe of black tape over my Middlebury car decal. On another note, from reading these online remarks, it’s nice (?) to see that long-windedness still thrives at Middlebury. Reminded of DK Smith’s story of the verbose Vermont preacher and the two fellows in back: “What’s he sayin’?” “He don’t say.” ; )

  43. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for chiming in. We do have some rather detailed conversations going on here, but their length is, in part, a testament to the complexity of some of the issues, such as what constitutes unacceptable conduct for a faculty member based on the College code of conduct. I think it also reflects the fact that people, including Midd alumns like yourself, care deeply about this issue, and in particular want to make it clear how much they think is at stake regarding Middlebury’s identity as a place that fosters tolerance for opposing viewpoints and the free exchange of ideas. Finally, I care less about the long-windedness than I do about the fact that the conversation has, so far, remained civil! No examples of Godkin’s Law here!

  44. There is no complexity. Faculty and Students engaged in criminal acts against other people, acts against the Bill of Rights, acts against the school’s own code of conduct and acts against the academic traditions of free speech and inquiry.

    This should be a no brainer.

    The only ‘complexity’ is that the people who did this are tenured professors whom the administration does not wish to alienate and paying customers and parents.

    That and the person involved is politically reprehensible to the majority of your staff, further tying the hands of the President, whose pro forma statement before the speech can (and does) look like she did not care about taming the protestors at all. Essentially it boiled down to ‘I don’t want to be here either, I don’t want him to be here either, but we got these rules set by tradition so I am forced by my position to tell you this.”

    That and the guy winking about the campus guidelines as he was being heckled does not seem like a strict laying down of the law.

    You know who the protest group is. Why aren’t they already suspended and their group barred from campus? Colleges do that to fraternities in a minute.

    This is an uneven application of the law

  45. There was something you said. To paraphrase, it was ‘do we, as educators, need to shoulder some of the blame for what happened by not teaching our students about the free inquiry and open minded acceptance of different idea?’

    Well, yes and no.

    Do you think that even a small minority of these kids came into college thinking it was OKAY to jump on top of a car and beat on it with picket signs? Do you think they came into college thinking it was okay to scream at the top of their lungs to shout down people they disagreed with?

    Do you think that is what their parents taught them? Do you think that is what their prior education taught them?

    Or is it possible that their radicalization occurred, ahem…at Middlebury? One doesn’t read about a lot of high school kids beating on cars and screaming their heads off. Just in colleges.

    So maybe our educational institutions need to do a bit more self analysis of the faculty than just ‘oh…why didn’t we fix these broken violent kids properly!’

    I doubt you got them that way. So what happened in the last 2-4 years?

  46. J Dye,

    “You know who the protest group is. Why aren’t they already suspended and their group barred from campus? Colleges do that to fraternities in a minute.”

    Although there is no Greek life per se at Middlebury (the College administration got rid of them in the 80’s), there are something similar called “social houses” — basically a coed frat-lite living in on-campus housing — and you are right, the administration does not drag its feet in punishing them whenever a party gets a bit too wild.

    One hopes the 10+ days of radio silence from Old Chapel is due to them taking care to get their ducks in a row before publicly announcing consequences.

  47. Matt,

    Question for you based on a conversation I had yesterday evening with a very engaged alum from the 70’s. Cliffs Notes version of it as follows:

    Me: “I’m concerned that what’s going to happen here is that there’s going to be a drawn-out investigation by committee after committee after committee, and by the time summer rolls around the only concrete action by the Administration is going to be some highfalutin’ new policy in PC-ese that affirms Middlebury’s commitment to free speech.”

    70’s Alum: “The investigations and committees and whatnot don’t ultimately matter that much. The Board has extraordinarily wide powers. If they want a faculty member gone, they can fire them, tenured or not. No formal finding of misconduct is needed from a legal perspective. Their main consideration would be blowback, e.g., faculty resignations in protest, etc.”

    Does this strike you as true?

  48. If this had been a social house, the community council meetings would already be on the agenda. The only complexity here is of the administration’s making. If they were not so obviously biased, these students would be gone. Every day that goes by, the shame grows. I wonder if the college understands its alumni interviewers are coordinating behind the scenes? They will steer potential students to other institutions (some are already actively doing this).

    The Board of Trustees needs to act if the President does not. Much more slow walking and it’ll be her resignation the alumni are asking for.

  49. Simpler question:

    Why is Chellis House being treated differently than other campus organizations?

    Can you name any other house that caused this kind of international uproar by their coordinated actions?

    Why are they still open and in good standing?

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