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!

308 comments

  1. J Dye

    I agree with you completely, however suspension is too lenient. ALL students should be expelled and faculty members fired that were involved. Until these young people see and understand their mistakes this will continue across the country. I have been having this same discussion with UC Berkley administration, faculty and students. I might as well be talking to Kim Jung Un. Some one needs to grow a pair, stand up for our country’s foundation and let these young people know we are not going to take it anymore.
    Maybe lobbying to withhold any government funding, state or federal to any institution who allows without punishment anyone who violently hinders in any way a person’s rights. In felony crimes of all kinds, they can add a hate crime statute to it because someones civil liberties were violated. Not being able to speak is a violation of everyone’s civil liberties.

  2. Thanks, MJ, for your kind comments, and for the link to the article. I’ve tried very hard in this long exchange of comments not to let my own views dictate what can and cannot be posted, although I have drawn the line on posting comments that make personal attacks on individuals. Those I feel comfortable in blocking. Although I don’t always agree with the comments – something I hope that is clear from my responses to some of them! – it seemed somewhat hypocritical of me to censor an exchange discussing free speech, unless that exchange crosses over into the personal. I trust my readers understand that the fact that I allow something to get posted here should not in any way be viewed as an endorsement of that view – only of the individual’s freedom to say it.

  3. Hi all,

    I am deeply appreciative that you have contributed to this long (and widely read) exchange in a civil, courteous manner, one that has allowed me to exert a very light touch in deciding what views are heard. This is unusual for a comments section! As you can understand, however, I am part of an academic community at Middlebury that is currently engaged in an internal dialogue on these very same issues – one that takes place on a personal level and that affects all of us. While I appreciate your interest in discussing the roles of professors in an academic setting, I am going to draw the line from here on in on publishing comments that discuss specific faculty members by name. I do so not to stifle speech, but in recognition that as a member of a community that needs to work together to address that very issue, it can become difficult to have that dialogue if individuals feel singled out for their views.

    And now, carry on!

  4. Matt, makes sense re: discussing individuals’ names at this juncture.

    Can you tell us anything more about what is being discussed internally within the faculty? Is this, like, various group email chains or is there some kind of formal process currently underway?

  5. It is remarkable (to me) that there has been little condemnation of the actions of the ‘100 students in the Hall’ by other students. Many commenters have insisted that the actions in the Hall were by a small group that may not be representative of the student body in general. But the apparent silence (at least in easily available public media) could be construed to suggest general support of a large segment of the student body. Is there a basis for this conclusion from your vantage point?

    I’m also interested to hear some discussion on a PP suggestion that the observed behavior appears to have been learnt at college (on his supposition that students did not exhibit this behavior at high school). What is it about the college ‘experience’ that would lead students to conclude that this behavior is acceptable or appropriate?

  6. John,

    In my informal conversations with students, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment among most of them that they are keeping their head down, for fear of drawing the ire of those on either side of the speech/protest debate who feel quite strongly that they are in the right. If I had to guess based on what they tell me, a strong majority favored allowing Murray to speak (although many of those were not in favor of inviting him to speak), but that they would rather not say this out loud given the current climate. Of course, I may be getting a biased sample from students who are saying what they think I want to hear. The other growing sentiment among my students is a deep desire to see some return to normalcy – they have exams to take and papers to write and they don’t have time to debate Charles Murray anymore. I confess I’m in that camp as well – I am two weeks behind in my work, and having a difficult time catching up!

    I can’t comment on the idea that somehow faculty “taught” students how to behave in ways that some feel was inappropriate because I was not at any of the meetings in which this “teaching” was taking place, nor am I privy to any conversations toward that end. Again, it bears repeating that not every Middlebury students engaged in the behavior that some see as inappropriate.

  7. Dan,

    Beyond the President’s letter which was posted on the College website, there have been a couple of emails distributed by the administration reminding us to be sensitive to not appearing to single out individuals for their behavior, which I think is a very appropriate reminder, particularly given the power dynamics involved in some faculty relations as well as faculty-student relations. Beyond that I am not privy or aware of any internal deliberations, nor would I feel comfortable talking about the specifics of those deliberations if I was privy to them, as I know you can understand. I assume the College is being very careful, as they should be, to make sure they have all the facts, and are following due process, as they work through what is a very complex situation (despite the belief of many of the commentators here that it is not nearly as complex as I make it out to be!)

  8. I would like to send a letter of support to Dr. Murray. I am a grassroots activist currently working with the ACLU—and I support free speech—of all stripes. It is ironic that when something like this occurs, it emboldens those who are truly racist and intolerant—and allows those who support equality and social justice to be tarred with the brush of intolerance. The attack on Dr. Murray was a victory for people like Steve Bannon and Rep. Steve King—and will serve for years to come as a talking point for conservatives who want to tie together progressive dissent with intolerance. If you doubt this take a look at some of the articles on the conservative website National Review.

  9. Richard, you’re exactly right — and the really scary thing is that within the complex and multipolar world of popular opinion (amplified by social media sharing), alumni engagement and donations, faculty recruiting and retention, admissions applications (or lack thereof), etc, a widespread perception that Middlebury is an intersectional Marxism indoctrination farm could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are poised to become the Oberlin of the NESCAC. Wesleyan without the Hollywood hookup.

  10. “I can’t comment on the idea that somehow faculty “taught” students how to behave in ways that some feel was inappropriate because I was not at any of the meetings in which this “teaching” was taking place, nor am I privy to any conversations toward that end. Again, it bears repeating that not every Middlebury students engaged in the behavior that some see as inappropriate”

    I venture to guess that you were at some of these ‘meetings’ and ‘taught’ a few of those lessons. There seems to be this view in many in Academia that the actions of the (frequently destructive and violent) campus radicals of the 60’s were ‘inspiring’ and ‘authentic’. That the myriad protests were not only a legitimate form of opposition but a necessary and good one reflecting ‘the will of the people’

    So no, there was no ‘PS 304: Alinsky and You. Bombings for Liberalism’ class. But a group of supposedly adult* authority figures speaking benignly with almost one voice about ’60’s protests in the past, and admiringly of what happened in Portland and Berkley…the ‘lesson’ was very likely passed along loud and clear.

    Your current crop of radical wannabes want to be ‘inspirational’ and ‘authentic’ too. And when the staff seriously and ponderously speaks of ‘the death of democracy’ with Trump, the question isn’t why it didn’t happen. It is amazing it isn’t happening more often! (Students still have to answer to parents)

    * Anecdote: When I was in HS more than 30 years ago, we had a stage presentation of Hamlet by a British Acting Guild. The students became a touch noisy and rowdy. Which is to say they were the common cold compared to the ebola of Middlebury.

    One of the adult actors came on stage alone, watched the students till they settled down and essentially told us to pipe down in direct terms and an intimidating English accent.

    We piped down.

    An authority figure called us on actions we knew were beyond the pale and we responded.

    The adults in Middlebury? They were in the crowd of students! Why wouldn’t the students feel they had license when Professor Z is shouting next to you, as he tries to relive the days when he had a full head of hair and a waist?

    You can add that to the list of failures on behalf of the staff. If the President had stopped the presentation and stated “Every student in this room will need to submit their IDs on leaving so we can discuss breaches of decorum and the code of conduct, up to and including expulsion”…I’m guessing that might have gotten some attention.

    It wouldn’t have hurt to try.

    But your staff tried nothing and nothing worked. You may bristle at this perspective but that is how it looks from the outside. No security there or as back up, no correction, no threats and staff egging them on.

    How did you think this was going to end?

  11. Let’s look at the bright side: At least Middlebury has taught every single other college in America how NOT to deal with student protests.

    So they are fulfilling their core function of providing an example and teaching. Perhaps not in a way they particularly relish, but helpful all the same.

    Granted, one would think that Berkley would have been enough of an example, but alas, Academia while fine teachers, seem to be slow learners.

  12. If the faculty is in the staff chanting next to the students, why wouldn’t the students feel they have license to do what they are doing?

    That is a very difficult question and has ramifications on the staff. That one has free speech does not mean that one is enabled to always freely indulge it when one works in certain jobs.

    A CIA operative cannot write a tell all book. A general is not normally allowed to publically say a war is won or lost. A Federal employee or a SCOTUS Justice isn’t supposed to campaign for one or another candidate. (Ahem, Madam Ginsburg)

    AND…college faculty screaming in a protest rally with students should not be done. Ever. By anyone.

    There are plenty of ‘non-campus’ rallies to attend.

    I do not know why this would be controversial?

  13. Having read the recent pieces coming out of campus and having talked to students yesterday, it has become very clear that the Administration of the College is going to attempt to sweep this under the rug and pretend nothing happened. Citing the “righteous anger” of the mob is both offensive and disturbing. Charges need to be pressed. organizations shuttered, students expelled.

  14. Matthew Dickinson

    I do not know any members of the faculty of your institution, or even anyone who lives in your state. However if they are willing to storm a stage in public and air there view that violates a basic human right then there name should be in neon light in Time Square. Censoring a name of a adult who has already been in public demonstrating his\her beliefs is a vile, hypocritical standard.
    It comes down to the essence of this conversation. By doing so sounds to me that your administration has made a decision already to let this matter die. Sir, I will promise you, it may die where you are but it will not die where I am at. The standards of what educators are held to today is disgusting and I will not let children of this country be brain washed by people who are expected to hold moral and Constitutional values in their profession. Get back to education, hold every one accountable, and for the sake of the country, hell the world. Respect, love and abide by the Constitution. It is the only thing that separates us from the Kim Jung Uns of the world. Speaking of ol Kim, what do you think the people of North Korea would say if the knew there was such a thing as the Bill of Rights or a Constitution? There are people in that country that do not even know other civilizations exist, much less that there are billions of people on the planet. Imagine living in a world like that.
    The students who shouted Dr. Murray off the stage (all of them) should be suspended, any faculty, administration member or employee of Middlebury College should be fired, any and all persons that were part of the assault on the professor should be prosecuted, and if a student they should be expelled. If a educator employed by your college participated in the assault those person or persons should be stripped of any and all credentials that would allow them to even work at a day care much less teach. Anything less is butt wiping using basic American freedoms as toilet paper.
    I have had a very large number of loved ones and very close dear friends be killed for these rights. While I am alive their sacrifice will not be for nothing. Step up, do the right thing, and for God sake defend the rights of all Americans.
    I bet with in half a day with video in hand I could identify every person in it and every person who ended up on stage having never been to your school. There are no excuses.

  15. Here is a relevant new column by Thomas Sowell of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and since there is a picture on the page presumably no one will accuse him of being racist:

    https://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2017/03/13/the-real-lessons-of-middlebury-college-n2298198
    “The Real Lessons of Middlebury College…
    So long as academia talks demographic “diversity” and practices groupthink when it comes to ideas, we have little reason to expect better of student mobs that riot with impunity.”

    I’d suggest that since some progressive seems obsessed with the concept of “checking privilege”, although I think its usually a questionable attempt to try to dismiss ideas without needing to rationally dispute them, that they might consider checking their “liberal privilege” and considering the plight of those who dare to hold differing views.

    Unfortunately even those liberals who are standing up for freedom of speech still sometimes are coming from a perspective of those who aren’t at risk of being victims of intolerance. I see most from Middlebury who have written in favor of free speech, including the administration, making sure to note their disagreements with Murray. They can also too easily give in to the idea of not inviting Murray back because they don’t personally care much about hearing his ideas. They should make an effort to put themselves in the place of non-liberals and consider some progressive speaker they consider very important, call them X. What would happen if X had been the speaker this happened to? Would you seriously say “X shouldn’t be invited back, it is too dangerous”, or would you consider it important to the university to be sure it is safe for such a speaker?

    One reason it is important to be sure it is safe for such speakers is because students&faculties who share their ideas may also be subject to harassment and threats, even if they aren’t as high profile as such a speaker. How such speakers are treated by the campus gives people a clue about how students attending their might be treated. Are they welcome on campus if their views differ, or should they get lost since the campus doesn’t wish to hear differing voices since they have a religious level of certainty that their ideas are true and can’t possibly be disagreed with? Except of course those truly certain about ideas for rational reasons don’t resort to violence and intolerance and instead rely on reasoned discourse.

    A conservative blog has a post referring to a student newspaper article from another college:

    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2017/03/liberalbullyingoncampusacasestudy.php
    “LIBERAL BULLYING ON CAMPUS: A CASE STUDY
    The college newspaper has a commendably balanced story on the intolerance that prevails there:

    Of the 12 students interviewed by the Manitou Messenger, several have been violently threatened because of their political beliefs, and almost all of them feel as though they can’t speak up about politics on campus – in class, online or with their friends.

    Unfortunately the author of the blog entry on this page has suggested that Murray shouldn’t be invited back because of the potential for violence. Obviously its understandable to fear and plan for such problems, but he is essentially saying the heckler’s veto won, that controversial ideas shouldn’t be allowed on campus. That is likely to lead students&faculty who hold politically incorrect ideas to be silent about them. Unfortunately the success of this heckler’s veto seems likely to suggest to the hecklers that they might up their game and threaten students&faculty already on campus if they aren’t silent. Even if no actual violence is used, they can still create a culture of fear where people are silent because even a very tiny risk of violent backlash (or harassment) isn’t worth speaking out since they see little if any benefit to speaking their mind in such a closed minded intolerant setting.

    It only takes a minority to create such a culture of fear. The McCarthy era communist witch hunts were driven by a minority of people, while the majority didn’t feel it worth the risk of speaking up.

    I don’t see why anyone should take Middlebury seriously as having a commitment to freedom of speech and diversity of ideas if they don’t invite Murray back or allow a similarly controversial speaker to come, and take whatever steps are needed to allow them to have a civilized discussion. Hire extra security, screen for student IDs at the entrance, have cameras in place and a stated mandatory suspension/expulsion policy, or whatever it takes.

    Unless it is demonstrated that those with differing views are safe, the school has essentially declared it is essentially the equivalent of a school holding particular religiously dogmatic
    views that can’t be questioned, and that can’t be taught (even for those rational enough to wish to “know their enemy” even if they don’t think they’d ever be persuaded by those ideas). Unless the campus is made safe for differing views to be discussed, no student who values actually learning about the current state of our society, including ideas they may disagree with but are held by either prominent people or by large segments of the populace, should ever consider applying to Middlebury, and those there should consider transferring.

  16. J. Dye – you have made a simple, and compelling case for the civic virtues. Bravo!

    Prof. Dickinson, your comment that the students of Middlebury seek nothing more than a return to ‘normalcy’ is perhaps the strongest indictment of the school presented to date. If students truly fear to ‘draw the ire’ of those who hold different opinions, then Middlebury truly is the ‘farm’ that a previous poster referred to. The protest in the hall is not merely ‘100 radicalized students and a few faculty’ but is representative of an institution that has lost its sense of mission. Middlebury cannot be said to be a ‘safe space’ for the consideration of difficult intellectual concepts and a variety of perspectives – it has been hijacked by a small minority who have the majority cowering. The comment that ‘they have exams to take and papers to write’ left me frightened, in the sense that the fundamental precepts of the institution are challenged and assaulted, but the ‘careerists’ within hope to flee with their credentials before the walls cave in. Middlebury has failed a lot of students if it leaves them with the impression or belief that the scrap of parchment they hold is important. As you well know, what is important is the ability to reason, to discuss and debate with an understanding of the context of human history and learning, and to attain the emotional self control to participate in, and lead, the great social institutions that constitute our Country.

    I sincerely hope that the Administration, faculty and students learn from this event. The fact of the range of the discussion that has resulted is a hopeful indicator. It is comforting to me to hear the voices of reason, tolerance, and also the insistent defenders of civic virtues. I’m also glad to hear the statements and arguments from people I don’t normally hear – who are clearly influential in the academy. Your contribution with this blog is much appreciated. I wait eagerly to see what virtues and principles Middlebury chooses to endorse – whether by action or inaction – it will be consequential for many.

  17. only the rich can afford the luxury of indulging ignorance and sanctimonious self-righteousness…

    I don’t know who said this – must have been a ‘sans cullotes’

  18. Jeff,

    It’s a provocative thesis, although – as the authors acknowledge – there is the ecological fallacy issue. They don’t specifically show that it is the richest students at these schools who are more likely to try to shut down speech with which they disagree – only that these efforts are more likely to occur at wealthier schools.

  19. Very true. Perhaps the Middlebury administration, or someone in the social sciences there, would be interested in gathering more granular data on that.

  20. That’s actually a great idea. I’ll see if my research methods class is interested in putting an anonymous survey of Midd students in the field.

  21. Professor Jonathan Haidt appeared on the Charlie Rose show here:

    http://heterodoxacademy.org/2017/03/09/jon-haidt-with-frank-bruni-on-charlie-rose-middlebury-viewpoint-diversity-and-the-academy/
    “Jonathan Haidt appeared with author and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni on The Charlie Rose Show to discuss recent events surrounding Charles Murray’s speaking event at Middlebury College last week.
    In a far-reaching discussion moderated by Dan Senor filling in for Charlie Rose, Haidt and Bruni analyzed the many causes of the rising illiberalism on college campuses, which makes many students and professors reluctant to voice dissenting opinions.”

    They discussed in part the reality that many non-liberals find themselves attacked with emotional smears rather than rational disagreement. Even if they say nothing regarding race, activists smear them as being racists or with other descriptions they apparently assume will lead gullible people to dismiss them out of hand. They figure associating ideas they don’t like with topics considered “forbidden” like racist comments will lead those ideas to be silenced.

    re: ” I’ll see if my research methods class is interested in putting an anonymous survey of Midd students in the field.”

    But what if the results are ones that social justice warriors don’t like for some reason, and they threaten violent protests? (forget the fact that its unlikely they would object to this particular survey’s results, just consider the thought experiment where somehow the results were labeled “racist” since they didn’t like them). Would you recommend the results not be released, just as you recommend Charles Murray not be invited back due to the threat of violence? Or is it only when work you support is threatened that you will truly stand up for free speech? Its easy to pretend to be for free speech, while using the excuse its “too dangerous” to invite back Murray.

    As I already noted in a post above (which I see no reaction to), I’d bet the odds are extremely high that if somehow a progressive speaker had been protested by non-liberals that the administration would have shut down the protestors (rather than letting them yell for several minutes, and then giving into them to move to a different place). I bet the odds are they would ensure that speaker were invited back soon, with adequate precautions in place to ensure no one dare think the campus were inhospitable to progressive ideas. It is easy for liberals to think “but the risk of violence is too much to invite the guy back” and think that settles the issue. The question is whether you truly wouldn’t invite a liberal speaker if there were similar threats of violence.

    I suspect if a progressive speaker were being attacked with absurd nonsense like that they were a “white nationalist” when they obviously weren’t, that various opeds would be filled with people critiquing the faculty for not providing the students with critical thinking skills to bother questioning assumptions, or the awareness that its appropriate to do basic research before making public statements on topics that take up the time of large numbers of people to avoid wasting their time merely mindlessly repeating nonsense.

    I bet the odds are that if students started standing up and protesting in your classroom, that you wouldn’t merely shut up for several minutes and then move to another room to live stream back, while letting students set off fire alarms, etc.

    I think Charles Murray and others were being far too generous regarding how the administration there has handled things. I suspect the odds are that this has merely energized the protestors, that its likely they won’t see much if any consequence from their actions and they will feel free to harass anyone who dares to raise

    FYI, I use a pen name because I now live in a liberal hotbed where non-liberals can be harassed and socially ostracized, and work in an industry where non-liberals can have their funding cut.

  22. I just learned that a student at Middlebury has been trying since March 3 to have a article published in the school news paper, he has been denied for reasons that his article could cause tensions in the student body. WHAT A JOKE. I also read the letter by the faculty member who was assaulted in the New York Times where she blamed President Trump, instead of getting justice for person who actually did it. (Notice that does not say President Clinton)
    We stand on the cliff of destruction with young people at the controls of a bulldozer ready to push us over, all the while they are being encouraged by academia from across the country. It hurts me greatly that Middlebury is a private Institution and funding restrictions can not be applied, how ever appealing to the parents of current and future students who pay $62,000 a year to have their children brain washed and turned into puppets morality and common sense will bring the Constitution back to the forefront of American culture.
    To the Administration, Faculty and Student Body and parents of students of Middlebury College I say this. “It is very sad to me that these actions take place anywhere, but to have them take place on and be enthusiastically encouraged by members of the Middlebury Faculty without penalty I find Vile disgusting and destructive to the very core of our once proud Republic, you should be openly disgusted and up in arms on the doorstep of Middlebury demanding justice and defending the values of your state and our country instead of making excuses for insurrection.”

  23. CommonSense, don’t you think you’re being a little unfair to Professor Dickinson? You’re suggesting that he’s acting in bad faith. The evidence of this blog is quite the opposite.

    My assumption about any colleague would be that he takes his discipline and its responsibilities as seriously as I take mine, and if he organizes a research project he would intend to use the results to advance our shared knowledge. Hence he would not cover them up.

    As to what should happen next at Middlebury, I’m with you in thinking there should be a fairly forceful reaction from the administration, something that very clearly puts Middlebury on the side of the free exchange of ideas and against no-platforming. But let’s see what they actually do before deciding they’ve failed at this.

  24. Denman – any link or other further info on the student getting negged by the Campus?

    Jeff,

    While I agree that the slightly ad-hominem tone from Boulder is gratuitous, I share a lot of Boulder’s concerns.

    “What happened at Middlebury” is now shorthand for, “Crybully social justice warriors intimidating the rest of campus into submission to their Mancusian intersectional-victimhood worldview through fascist intimidation tactics”. I sincerely hope that that, one year from now, “what happened at Middlebury” will mean something altogether different. Something like, “a college that realized it had a problem with a shame-based P.C. monoculture decided that it had to take decisive action to ensure that it remained a bastion of free thought and enquiry, and a place where people of all political stripes were welcome”.

    I’m not holding my hopes up. Running the odds in my mind, I think the likely outcome here is that *maybe* one or two students get suspended, a few faculty members get a letter of censure, and most of the post-incident effort on behalf of Old Chapel centers around the creation of new policy and public discussion of the same. Importantly, the disincentives to action are much more immediate than the disincentives to non-action. By “action” I mean meaningfully removing guilty parties from Middlebury’s campus either temporarily or permanently.

    Disincentives to action:
    – Loyalty to faculty / fear of other faculty leaving if tenured faculty are terminated for helping plan the shouting-down
    – Fear of having to deal with angry parents who are furious at their very special children being held accountable for their actions (i.e., treated like adults)
    – Fear of being branded as racist in on-campus discourse (both “Middlebury is a racist place” and “President Patton is racist”
    – Perhaps most importantly, fear of the announcement of consequences reopening the “wound” of Murray’s visit. After all, having him on campus in the first place was an “act of violence” that the self-appointed censors were “resisting”

    Disincentives to non-action:
    – Alumni donations plummet, materially affecting the College’s endowment and its ability to provide tuition support
    – Self-selection of future applicant pool makes intellectual diversity an even steeper uphill battle from an admissions perspective
    – Unpunished parties emboldened to continue to use bully tactics as a tool to spread agenda

    I think that in the long run, the disincentives to non-action are way worse for the College than the disincentives to action. But it is human nature to overindex on short-term consequences, and my guess is that is what President Patton will do. The one ray of hope here, in my mind, is the trustees. While the plural of “anecdote” is “anecdotes”, not “data”, my anecdotal observation of alumni reaction to this incident ranges from annoyed to seething — and if the trustees’ (most of whom are alumni) view of this incident is congruent to that of the alumni I know, then there’s a chance that they force through changes that the administration would otherwise be unwilling to implement, specifically with regard to permanent consequences for certain involved faculty members.

  25. Dan, I’m something of a hopeless optimist, so I could be wrong about this. Also I don’t know Middlebury from experience, only by reputation, although I myself attended a private undergraduate college of about the same size (albeit in a different era), so I think I understand something of the community dynamics. But I have been thinking that the administration’s response would be more forceful than you’re suggesting, even if not the maximalist, take-no-prisoners approach that some in this forum have demanded (which I’m doubtful would be the most effective thing anyway). I was thinking, I suppose, we might see something like: letters of censure to involved faculty, which would in effect be warnings of tenure being revoked for a second offense; community service or some such non-suspension but material price imposed on the students most clearly involved; and a clear statement going forward, something like the University of Chicago’s recently revised letters of acceptance, informing students (and new faculty hires?) that Middlebury, absolutely, is a “safe space” only for the free exchange of ideas and those interested in it, not in the sense given that phrase by the SJWs and sandbox Leninists.

    My own idea of a creative penalty, incidentally, is that parties guilty of disrupting a campus event have to pay into an indemnity fund that is then distributed to the event’s organizers, guest(s) and other affected parties (like Prof. Stanger). This would be a positive gesture to re-balance the scales, and plus, that the thought that shouting the guy down is just putting money in his pocket would seem to me like a fine little deterrent.

    That said, your account of how administrators generally think and respond to problems is exactly right. But even within that framework, it seemed to me that the incentives here push a bit harder in the direction of a forceful response than you’re allowing. You mention the effect on tenured faculty. Middlebury’s reputation, like any college’s or university’s, essentially IS its faculty’s. To maintain that reputation it must attract the faculty with the highest reputations in their fields it can get. (As I said in an earlier message, there’s a distorting factor today in that this can sometimes be taken to mean the most left-trendy faculty, but let’s assume that this still isn’t true in a lot of fields, like the sciences, is only sometimes true in the social sciences, and isn’t always true even in the benighted humanities). There’s a huge oversupply of everyday workaday faculty like myself, but the “stars,” the possible hires that put a department and college on the map, are in great demand; it’s hard not just to get them, but to retain them afterwards against the continual efforts of other schools to “poach” them away with better offers.

    In such a market, a small college like Middlebury would be in great peril if it gained a reputation as the Oral Roberts University of the left. As I may have said earlier, I think it is in much more peril in this regard than a Berkeley, a Yale or even a University of Missouri, since those institutions are much larger and have their reputations staked in many more fields and through many sub-institutions (hospitals, major laboratories, big-name presses, etc.). They can absorb the occasional uproar and keep forging ahead; heck, at Berkeley this kind of thing even has a long tradition. A Middlebury has a lot less margin for error.

    So the danger is a kind of death spiral, where it just becomes harder to draw the faculty you need — and perhaps, as you say, alumni donations, and the students you most want — and this all becomes self-reinforcing, with people no longer willing to pay up for the benefits of Middlebury’s ever-lower profile in the academic world. Eventually this probably stabilizes, so Middlebury doesn’t go out of business, but at some lower level of prestige and ability to be taken seriously. It would be much harder to put Berkeley or Yale into such a doom loop.

    Now, maybe the Middlebury administration doesn’t fully appreciate this. If so, you are right that it’s the job of the trustees to point it out. They’re supposed to be able to think strategically, independently of the song-and-dance that the president, I’m sure, regularly and very capably performs for them. But maybe you’ve got a board more like Enron’s, and an administration that is mainly afraid of immediate blowback. If so, that’s unfortunate. But, as you also say, we’re seeing right here that lots of alumni (assuming most participants in this discussion are alumni) are hopping mad, so the counterpressures may be there to get even typically risk-averse academic bureaucrats to step up. As I say, I’m an optimist. But either way, I’m wishing the best for the college and am extremely interested in seeing what happens next.

  26. Jeff, thanks for the response. Agree with many of your points, but one nit to pick:

    “parties guilty of disrupting a campus event have to pay into an indemnity fund that is then distributed to the event’s organizers, guest(s) and other affected parties (like Prof. Stanger)”

    Dead on arrival. Students on financial aid to whom this applies would scream bloody murder and the administration would be accused (rightly) of applying a punishment that hurts the non-wealthy much more than the wealthy.

  27. By the way, the more I chew it over in my mind, the higher likelihood I assign to a scenario in which the administration and the trustees reach a bargain: administration decides the consequences for students, trustees decide for faculty. Also would give Old Chapel plausible deniability when non-fired SJW faculty lose their collective s*** — “sorry, not our call”.

  28. Dan, perhaps the penalty could be an indemnity OR some kind of community service. If it’s part of the package going forward, then people have fair warning in future when they’re deciding whether and how loudly to protest.

    Anyway, it’s just one idea. If even that seems like too much for this administration, though, then I would think that mass suspensions and the like are certainly off the table.

    Another reason I should mention that I’m optimistic is that this incident didn’t come out of nowhere, but is the latest in a series of similar events at various campuses. Seems like that should provide the administration with models and ideas and some sense of what can and can’t be done. Also, it’s hard for me to believe that any administration would want to seem so feckless as to be forced to admit that it saw disruptions like this at other campuses, knew it was possible here (and even set up a work-around), then had it happen, and STILL is not prepared with a meaningful response. I would think that there’s a certain feeling of “we’re getting fed up with this nonsense” that kicks in after it’s been happening for a while.

    But if not, then the college is in trouble. I suppose it could just try to avoid public controversy for a few years in hopes that the no-platforming fad will run its course. That obviously wouldn’t be good either, though, since it would probably require vetoing certain proposed campus speakers. It would be much better to make clear that controversial speech will be permitted and even encouraged. But I guess we’ll see if they have it in them.

  29. Dan ’05
    I saw it on Fox News Tucker Carlson and The first 100 days with Martha Mcallum Tuesday 3/14/17. I searched and could not come up with a replay of last nights episodes.

  30. I see a tweet by the author of this page: “Great job by Midd’s Phil Hoxie on @RiskRewardFBN. Resisted host’s effort to conflate free speech w/ punishment of protestors. @Middlebury”

    I don’t see a video on FNB of this (unless its included in a video with a different title), to try to be sure what he is referring to. Our society deters bad behavior in part through threat of punishment, which is ignored if no one ever sees that threat materialize. Claims to value freedom of speech ring hollow if free speech isn’t actually possible despite lip service being paid to it. Its not possible if those who prevent it aren’t punished since they will then feel free to engage in that tactic again, or to engage in similar tactics like harassment of non-liberal students&faculty on campus.

    Claims to value freedom of speech ring hollow when they make excuses that its too dangerous to bring Murray back due to the risk of violence, when it seems extremely doubtful they would ever avoid having a liberal speaker there due to risk of violence. It seems extremely likely they would finally draw a line in the sand and say that expression of those liberal ideas is valued enough to do whatever it takes to ensure a civilized speech is able to take place and the speaker not silenced.

  31. Do the students who were part of the “demonstration” know of the commentary going on here, if so do why are there no opinions from their side. My feeling is two fold, they are scared of the admission and second they have no defensible retort.
    I would also like to commend everyone who is taking part in this discussion for not mentioning the one thing that is always the first thing I hear when having this discussion with others from around the country where this similar action took place. That is “that I am a racist” (partial point of my long winded biography in a earlier post) I pondered hard about even mentioning that word because I was afraid it might change the course of the conversation. I hope it does not. I am just relaying the opinions of others from across the country who try to defend their actions. I also believe that if anyone who was part of the Middlebury action were here it would be brought up and be part of this discussion. It does not belong in this discussion, how ever one does effect the other. (could not grasp correct usage this morning effect or affect?)

  32. Hmm. The first response by Matt and Jeff seem to be to start a research project, instead of holding the administration’s feet to the fire, as if the important thing is not one of administrative control, but one of ‘figuring out what the protestors want’.

    It is very simple what the protestors want. THEY want CONTROL…and they were handed it by the administration. And from what Matthew is saying, they will continue to have it since the administration does not see fit to challenge their control by anything as ‘controversial’ as inviting this person back. They won and now they know how to make the administration cave yet again. So see how this continues UNTIL the administration makes some hard choices. Because so far, in the national news, the actions of Middlebury is zero, bupkis, and nothing. If the administration responds, it also needs to make it’s response known on a NATIONAL level.

    My son goes to OSU, a large campus. They had a set of neo-Marxist professional grievance types do a ‘sit in’ outside the President’s very door in the administration building.

    THIS administration responded very decisively. No food was allowed to be brought into the building, letting the snowflakes have to go without food for an evening (this was called ‘starving them out’) That they protestors DID have a chance to speak to the administration but that the protestors didn’t like the answers (i.e. they were denied control…because they are STUDENTS) They were told that they had until 5 a.m. to get out or else.

    “Or else what?” is the natural question. “Or else the police will come, drag you out into a paddy wagon and you will face expulsion”.

    They were gone by 12:30.

    There is a lesson here but I am not sure it is one that Middlebury is willing to learn. Not when they are afraid of lawsuits, being labelled a ‘meanie’ campus and they worry about ‘top flight’ faculty who want the privilege of being able to CONTROL what they do without providing socially responsible supervision.

    I have to say, as a parent, I feel MUCH more comfortable about having my children go to OSU than to Middlebury, Chicago, Mizzo, or Berkley.

    At least they have adults in charge there who are aware of their responsibilities.

  33. J. Dye – Two quick points. I think Jeff would agree that speaking in defense of free speech and doing some good analysis on where students stand on the issue are not mutually exclusive tasks. Second, I am getting reports that witnesses to the incidents are being interviewed, so the investigation is underway.

  34. Yes, thank you Matthew, I do agree. I did not suggest that administrative action over the Murray protest should wait on the kind of research we were talking about. That would be a separate effort aimed at helping throw light on what’s going on in protests like these in general. Illuminating problems in the world with facts, research, evidence, reason and free inquiry are kind of the point of academia, right? So if the concern here is to defend academic values, it seems like there should be no objection to this.

    But good research and the the effort to digest its results take way more time than should elapse before an administration responds to a disruption like this recent one. My own feeling would be that Middlebury’s administrators are right to consider their response carefully, but also need to be moving with all deliberate speed. I rarely speak up for college administrators, but their delay to this point seems to me defensible. If it goes on much longer it wouldn’t be.

    Also, J Dye, this idea of gathering data was hardly our “first response.” Read the thread — it was several days into the conversation before that particular light bulb went on.

  35. Hi Denman,

    Yes, students are quite aware of this conversation – how many, I can’t say, but periodically students will come up to me and mention they have read it. And yes, many are scared to participate in this discussion online – and not just on this particular blog site, but among their friends on campus and on social media more generally. Many are afraid of inciting the ire of those who have strongly-held opinions on both sides of the debate, and they don’t see the upside of striking up a conversation that will likely lead to acrimony and hurt feelings. Moreover, although I take great pride in hosting a non-partisan political site, and have worked assiduously to cultivate a reputation for fair and even-handed discussion, and to encourage participation from all sides, the fact that I have come out so squarely on the side of free speech is not going to encourage students to come out publicly against their professor. It is even more difficult to do so, I would think, when the bulk of the comments to this now very very very long thread are increasingly dominated by those whose primary concern – rightly or not – seems to be seeing punishment meted out to the protestors as swiftly as possible, and who seem willing to judge the entire Middlebury community on the basis of the actions of those protestors. While I think most students understand that because I allow comments to be posted it does not mean I agree with them, it is nonetheless natural for some students to wonder why I allow them to be posted if I disagree. That’s why I think it’s so important to make them understand that free speech means allowing speech with which one might disagree.

    But you should not take their reticence to participate in this discussion to mean they believe they have no defensible retort, and I think issues of race would be at the center of – or at least an important part – of their response, at least for some students. This does not mean they believe that those who argue against shutting down Murray’s speech in the name of tolerance and free speech are racists (although some may think that as well.) But they would argue that we are blind to the racial implications of inviting Murray to campus – for many students, particular those of color, it was a sign of disrespect to them as individuals, even if the sponsors of the talk do not see it that way. For many who defended the invitation to have Murray come speak, race is not a relevant factor – the issue is the free exchange of ideas on a college campus, particularly ideas with which we disagree. But for many of the protestors, that exchange of ideas should not extend to allow views that they view as racist to be expressed in a forum sponsored by a college department and in which the speaker was preceded on stage by the College president. The fact is that many students of color do not feel fully included in the Middlebury community, and the invitation to Murray was simply confirmation that their views are not respected. Ironically, this sense of not belonging at Middlebury extends to many low-income students as well – including white students – who were precisely the group Murray came to campus to talk about. Conservatives are also a distinct minority at Middlebury, and they feel particularly vulnerable right now. As a result, what I have seen is two groups talking past each other – free-speech advocates demonizing “liberal fascists” and protestors arguing that those whose sponsored the talk were legitimizing racist views.

    The difficulty the Middlebury community faces is how to teach students that the very essence of free speech means extending protection to those ideas they may find intolerable. Had they understood this, and had they listened to Murray, rather than only to his critics, they might also have realized that Murray’s research is not as easily caricatured as his critics would have one believe. Many students truly do not understand that perspective, and to simply condemn them for their lack of understanding is not going to go very far in persuading them to listen to arguments in support of free speech.

  36. Matthew

    These young people have no idea what true racism is, this country has came such a long way from real bigotry, prejudice and racism. I would love to hear anyone’s opinion on why they believe it is right to stop someone from speaking on any subject. I will walk through any campus in this country (and have done so including UC Berkley and U. of Washington) explaining my stance on this matter. With out fear of retribution of any kind, because I believe in what I am saying. Those who are afraid are cowards and do not truly believe in what they say. They just use it as a excuse. I would like to ask you to invite students who believes he or she has a right to violate a person’s 1st amendment rights to explain themselves in this thread. They can do it anonymously of course. I would be very interested in their reply.

  37. “While I think most students understand that because I allow comments to be posted it does not mean I agree with them, it is nonetheless natural for some students to wonder why I allow them to be posted if I disagree.”

    Do today’s Middkids seriously think this way, Matt? I guess that would make some sense within the context of what happened two weeks ago…

    One point on the topic of punishment – you mentioned that, “the bulk of the comments to this now very very very long thread are increasingly dominated by those whose primary concern – rightly or not – seems to be seeing punishment meted out to the protestors as swiftly as possible, and who seem willing to judge the entire Middlebury community on the basis of the actions of those protestors.”

    This is an accurate description of the tone of most of the comments here. By the same token, I think there may be a misunderstanding at play here.

    Middlebury students are going to be punished for what happened at the Murray talk. The question is whom is going to be punished, and how.

    A failure to impose specific consequences on specific individuals for their violent act of unilateral censorship will tell the world that “what happened at Middlebury” is considered appropriate within Middlebury’s culture. If this happens, it will result in broad reputational collective punishment for current members of the Middlebury community that will be hard to quantify but very, very real nonetheless.

    To be clear — I’m 35 years old and have been out in “the so-called ‘real world'” for a dozen years. I have a career, and a network, and a professional track record. Nobody cares where I went to college at this point. The Murray incident and its aftermath will almost certainly not materially affect my future opportunity set.

    This is not the case for current Middkids. Even if specific individuals face harsh consequences, this is going to be a cloud hanging over your heads for some time. And it is going to be even worse if the actions of the administration in response to the Murray incident underscore the point that it was not considered that big of a deal.

    If I were a current Midd student, even one who doesn’t normally go in for fierce political debate, I’d be putting my name on an open letter or a blog post or something of that nature that demonstrates how I feel about what happened during Murray’s visit. Especially if you supported the shouting-down, actually.

  38. Denman – You have extended the invitation! Let’s see if anyone takes you up on it.

  39. Dan,

    Actually, I have had faculty come to me and suggest that because I have allowed some comments to be posted to this blog, I am implicitly condoning the sentiments of those comments just by posting them. A similar logic drove some of the protestors’ actions – if someone in the administration appeared on stage with Murray, they are implicitly signaling their support for Murray’s research. I don’t think these sentiments are widespread on campus, but I am sure some faculty and students adopt this perspective.

    Regarding the “broad reputational collective punishment” – my sense is that some Middlebury students are feeling that now. More than one has expressed frustration to me that in the realm of public opinion, they are now being held culpable for the actions of the protestors, even if they do not agree with those actions. But this is all the more reason to give the administration time to get this right by, as you suggest, imposing “specific consequences on specific individuals.”

  40. Matthew and Jeff,

    What timeline do you see as being ‘with all deliberate speed’ and when is the timeline ‘too late to do any good’?

    What do you say to people who don’t see this as careful and deliberate examination’ and instead see it as ‘running out the clock to let people forget’?

    Because you do not just need to satisfy your own opinions on this matter: you have to answer to public opinion, quite fairly because this is a national disgrace.

    You said that these ‘radicals’ are defining your college. Well, yes AND the administration will define who you are by THEIR actions…which seems slow and squeamish action thus far.

    You have cameras and pictures. This isn’t difficult except as a matter of moral courage.

    Does ‘racism’ or ‘seen as insulting’ excuse riot and assault? Well, I guess it seems to for BLM and their defenders But not by the majority of the country. And that is one reason why the academy isn’t trusted. They excuse riots ‘for the right reasons’. And there is more of a whiff of that here.

    You don’t like that this is a part of the narrative. That doesn’t mean that many don’t see it that way. ‘Racism’ is a shameful excuse for violence.

  41. J Dye – while you and I appear to strongly agree on the need for the College to take a stand here, I’d respectfully note that this isn’t a conversation about everything you personally hate about the Left. It’s about what the College should do in response to an incident in which a visiting speaker was shouted down and harassed, and one of the best professors on campus was assaulted to the point of hospitalization.

    Anti-BLM jeremiads don’t add value to this discussion.

  42. Matthew

    In your reply to Dan you said “This is not the case for current Middkids. Even if specific individuals face harsh consequences, this is going to be a cloud hanging over your heads for some time. And it is going to be even worse if the actions of the administration in response to the Murray incident underscore the point that it was not considered that big of a deal. ” Regrettably I have to disagree with that statement. There are Companies and Corporations that have the mind set that these actions are required and are willing to reward employees and hire persons just for their radical left beliefs. Look at the firing of the Campus Police dispatcher at the University of Wisconsin who was just fired for defending President Trumps immigration ban. That was off the clock and off campus. The person who told administration was promoted. I have also talked to several people in California and New York based employees working for Fortune 500 companies who have allowed on the clock over time to attend anti-Trump march’s and protest’s.
    The education of basic American core values begins at home, but through a young persons life, education is a vital platform for instilling these values. I believe you when you say the rightful people will be punished in a appropriate manner, and I am glad of that. With that part of the story behind me I would like to approach my second point of concern that comes from all of this and I hinted at above. That is that educators and all of academia are responsible for the curriculum in the classroom. I do not believe there should be for example a class Radical Liberalism effects on conservative policy. Thats a one sided approach. I do have documented and verifiable accounts of literally thousands of teachers from elementary to tenured Professors installing personal beliefs into their curriculum with no repercussions from anyone.
    I have one more crazy story on this point, I had a acquaintance 20-25 years ago who was a friend of a girl friends cousin or something along those lines who was writing a paper for something, she was a Psychologist. Dont know the basis of the paper but she summed it up for me. There was a school system in Idaho and all they taught was Darwinism, no Big-Bang or Genesis theories. She tracked the students of a particular years graduation class for 20 years, if I remember correctly it was around 35 students. Not one were religious every one of them were atheist’s. There was more I just dont remember it all, I remember this because I am a religious man and it struck me as awful. With that being said it is hard for the public to discern correctness in academia, we as parents rely on the members of it to police them selves and see that the values and subjects that should be taught are, and in a appropriate manner. Instilling ones personal beliefs and ideals into anyone is the exact opposite of teaching. I am seeing this as a norm and going unchecked lately.

    Anxiously hoping for a students reply.

  43. Perhaps not. However, Jeff decided that people of color being ‘offended’ by the existence of people whom they do not like has some exculpatory bearing on a criminal matter and the reaction of the administration to what happened there.

    It does not. Not here. Not anywhere.

    So do Conservatives have a right to riot when Ti-Nehisi Coates shows up on campus or someone even more radical? Why do I feel that Jeff would be far less quick to use that excuse for bad actions?

    Matthew brought this whole issue up over the principle of free speech and equity. So ‘equity’ remains whether the riot is against a darling of the Academy, or someone who is…less beloved by them.

    Otherwise one is picking favorites.

  44. J Dye, I’ll let Jeff speak for himself but my reading of his comments suggests that you’re misunderstanding him.

    I don’t think he’s saying that Middlebury should not punish certain individuals because of their status as a member of a historically marginalized group, period. I think what he’s saying is that the College should take into account that, albeit potentially because of an unhealthy culture of competitive victimhood on campus, certain individuals took the College’s official sponsorship of Murray’s visit as a direct insult, and that the hurt this caused prompted them to act in ways they would not have otherwise.

    I’m not sure I would fully agree with this thesis to the extent that others on this thread might, but at the end of the day, I think it’s important to be try to be compassionate to the people with whom you disagree. I had a preppy, wealthy, leave it to Beaver childhood. I was not the first person in my nuclear family to attend Middlebury. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black Middkid on financial aid (note that photos of the protest suggest that students of color were a minority of the vocal protestors). Putting myself in the shoes of someone who deals with a whole host of stressors that I never had to deal with, I can imagine how I’d be pissed off about Murray’s visit.

    Do I think that students of color who shouted down Murray should be subjected to different consequences than white students? No, I don’t — but if a student of color wants to defend their actions based on a logic of self-defense, we owe it to them to at least listen to that logic and evaluate it ourselves. And I think that the administration should similarly be thoughtful in how it communicates whatever consequences do arise. In situations like this, you have to deal with the College you have, not the College you want, pace Rumsfeld.

    Anyway, one of the reasons why I’ve asked such pointed questions about potential consequences for faculty is that I think the blame for the militant Marxist-Mancusian dialectic being so dominant in certain parts of the campus scene lies directly at the feet of certain individuals. I hope that the Murray incident serves as an opportunity for the administration to reflect on the extent to which students should be indoctrinated in “cross-cultural examples of how language, discourse, and representation relate to inequality, power, and resistance” and “theoretical engagement with the intersectional entanglements of power” and “how multiple identities intersect and the implications of these intersections on individual identities”. Those snippets are all from course descriptions at Midd. I’ll let the reader guess the departments.

  45. I was unaware that Charles Murray was threatening anyone with physical harm. From what little I recall from my law classes, that is a necessary requirement for any claim of ‘self defense’ to have any validity in any legal defense.

    That one is angry or has hurt feelings generally is NOT a defense at striking someone. Particularly if one inflicts the stressor on oneself by attending an event that you know will upset you.

    That is called ‘looking for trouble’ and that is the opposite of exculpatory.

  46. J Dye and Dan ’05,

    I don’t believe I’ve said one word here to the effect that penalties for forcibly disrupting a campus event should depend either on a person’s ethnicity, or on how insulted her or she may have felt about Murray’s visit. Perhaps my comments are being misremembered or confused with someone else’s. If anyone wants me to answer for a particular position I’ve actually taken, I’ll be happy to if it’s quoted back to me directly. The entire discussion is available here, and we all know how to cut and paste quotes.

    My position is that whatever a college administration does in a case like this should be aimed at vindicating and further protecting the values of free speech and freedom of inquiry. Racial injury and grievance, or people’s feelings thereof, might be worth addressing through some other means, but not in the context of campus judicial proceedings over misconduct like we’re talking about here. I believe — and bear in mind that I’m not a Middlebury alum, just an interested observer with an old friend teaching there and a high regard for the college — that the administration should neutrally apply its rules against public disorder (and of course, against violence) to all parties concerned. If needed, going forward, it should strengthen those rules.

    Like many others here, I too am frustrated with the Social Justice Warrior-ism we’ve seen spreading abroad in American academe in recent years. I don’t support it, and I am nowhere close to believing that it justifies shutting down an invited speaker. I differ with the maximalists we’ve been hearing from here ONLY on the relatively minor point that I think it’s permissible for an administration to take a little time to consider its best and most effective response. I would say two weeks or so is probably OK, but a month is too long — they should at least announce a process or something sooner than that. Which means: real darn soon. If they don’t, I would agree they’re not responding appropriately in this case.

    I think the problem in this discussion is that after a brief appearance early on by a couple of defenders of the protests (whom I criticized), there’s no one actually defending them. I can see why that would make a J Dye go looking for someone to pick a fight with among those present. I am not that person, though.

  47. Hi all,

    After almost 18,000 page views and close to 250 comments, I think it’s time to close this comment thread. As Jeff notes, there’s not a lot of people on this site defending the protestors, and I think those who are still commenting here have made it clear where they stand on the issue. At this point we are mainly disagreeing over relatively minor points. With everyone having made their main points, I worry that the conversation is going become redundant or drift to other issues that are only tangentially related to issues of free speech and the Murray event. I thank all of you for what has been a lively, thoughtful and I hope illuminating exchange. When there are further developments, I will likely post again, and at that time I hope you feel free to join in the conversation once more. I should add that if you are new to this blog site, it will become immediately obvious to you if you look at my other posts that the normal topic of discussion is American politics – not free speech! Since the Murray protest took place at my college, however, and since I think issues of speech and tolerance cut to the heart of Middlebury’s mission, I felt obligated to take a stand on the matter. I had no idea my post would generate so much discussion here and at other sites, but I am glad it did and, again, I thank all of you for your thoughtful comments. I hope you become regular readers of, and contributors to, the Presidential Power blog site. Until the next post….

  48. I started to type this before I saw comments were closed, but I’ll submit what I’d typed and stop now without editing further to avoid wasting time since it might not be posted:

    re: “But they would argue that we are blind to the racial implications of inviting Murray to campus – for many students, particular those of color, it was a sign of disrespect to them as individuals, even if the sponsors of the talk do not see it that way. ”

    They don’t see it that way because it wasn’t that way. The faculty can and should be faulted for not explaining that well enough, even to this date. Even many who defend freedom of speech have repeated misguided caricatures of Murray.

    It should have been explained that even if his views had been racist, but were held by some prominent people or a large enough segment of the populace to make them important, that it would still be useful to hear them. Rational people grasp the importance of the idea of “know your enemy” in order to figure out how to combat those ideas, and that many people only receive a caricature of ideas from opposing source and that the best sources to hear them from is those who believe them. I think (not positive) that Professor Jonathan Haidt is the one who has done some studies indicating that liberals tend to be unable to actually explain the views of non-liberals as well as non-liberals can explain the views of liberals.

    I’d suggest that it isn’t a coincidence that I’d seen studies of the faculty objecting to having Murray speak that indicate that it wasn’t coming from areas like math&science. I’d suggest that a liberal arts school should be sure to impart some basic lessons from the sciences regarding the need to consider competing theories and to be skeptical enough of your own views to consider the possibility you might be wrong.

    re: “Had they understood this, and had they listened to Murray, rather than only to his critics, they might also have realized that Murray’s research is not as easily caricatured as his critics would have one believe. Many students truly do not understand that perspective, and to simply condemn them for their lack of understanding is not going to go very far in persuading them to listen to arguments in support of free speech.”

    It would seem part of the job of a college to impart basic critical thinking skills and a basic level of humility to grasp that there is the possibility they don’t know everything and that what they do think they know might potentially be wrong. I’d suggest the lesson of this incident isn’t merely the lack of respect for freedom of speech, but the related issue of lack of basic critical thinking skills and willingness to be question emotionally appealing sources and examine other views.

    I think the reaction of many was to the spectacle of people not only protesting a speaker they seemed to know little about, but viewing their comments as being worthy of being published in a student newspaper as if they were well considered and researched views (not merely the sort of informal comments they might make in a forum like this). If someone is going to take up the time of a large audience of a newspaper you would hope they would be taught that it is appropriate to only do so based on a well informed opinion rather than merely a poorly informed rant.

    Many of us are frankly astonished at what is supposed to be a good college having a student newspaper full of such poorly informed poorly reasoned diatribes, and seeing many faculty members engaging in such poor reasoning as well.

    re: “Actually, I have had faculty come to me and suggest that because I have allowed some comments to be posted to this blog, I am implicitly condoning the sentiments of those comments just by posting them. A similar logic drove some of the protestors’ actions”

    I am truly astonished that people with that little understanding of the concept of providing a framework for discussion of ideas were ever hired as faculty at any remotely decent school.

    I think many of us from science and engineering backgrounds where there is often less emotional attachment to the ideas being discussed take for granted the utility of seeing disparate points of views since most have the humility to grasp that we may be wrong. Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman noted in a famous lecture on cargo cult science that scientists need to be acutely aware that they need to be careful not to fool themselves, because the easiest person to fool is yourself.

    Perhaps that sort of humility is more ingrained in a field like math or science where results can be tested against reality to see that we are mistaken. Those who have ever written complicated computer programs are confronted with bugs in things they thought would work. In contrast many areas of the humanities don’t have “right” answers and the lack of being confronted with a hard “you are wrong” perhaps leads to less humility and an easier ability to silence others due to religious-like certainty they are right and the other person is wrong.. even if you don’t know what the other person has to say.

    Science is a self correcting field that goes down dead end paths, and through critique winds up eventually getting back on track. I would have thought however that people who dislike math&science would at least be aware of the history of political debate in this country, where ideas now taken for granted (such as equality and disparagement of repugnant ideas such as slavery) had to evolve through open debate.

    It isn’t clear if those so certain of their views that they wish to silence competing viewpoints come across as in reality projecting insecurity and that if they fear open debate, that suggests a decent chance their ideas aren’t defensible. They come across like little children sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling to avoid hearing an adult telling them something they don’t wish to hear, like that Santa Claus isn’t real. Obviously even those who do happen to be right can be closed minded and engage in such practices, but it isn’t a tactic likely to lead people to take them seriously.

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