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!


  1. J Dye – I suspect that not everyone agrees a “fair” vote was held and one side “lost” – I suspect that is in part where the two sides differ: just how “fair” the “vote” to bring Murray to campus was.

  2. Dan ’05, Jeff Smith, J. Dye, gentlemen: This has been a really enlightening discussion about how far down the rabbit hole we have come in this day and age. Couple that with all the other examples of the suppression of free speech by the self-righteous from the tyranny of the radical left that has exploded in the past few years, and I think we are going to have to defend free speech even more vigorously. By that I mean having the will to implement lawful consequences even more vigorously than in the recent past. Rioters need to be captured and jailed for enough time that it hurts their benighted lives. Assault needs to be punished heavily. If we lose law and order, we lose society. As one of my Jesuit professors said, “When the social contract breaks down, there are not enough police to save society.” We had better stop this breakdown in its tracks or we will be in deeper trouble than we are already.

    And I thought the post on the founding of the United States was a powerful statement on collective work to make change. There is a current model for this and it is called the Wisdom Council. It’s inventor is Jim Rough. That should allow you to find it on the web. It is a facilitated discussion by 12-20 randomly selected people on a specific issue that leads to a unanimous outcome (recommendation for action). It’s being used in Austria as we write. It might be useful to at least know about it. It is a huge leap from where we are currently in our deeply polarized state of mind in these United States.

    I am going to bid you all a fond farewell as even in retirement I am the exemplar of my father’s comment to me—“Son, I don’t know when I had time to work.” So, the rest of my life is calling more vigorously, I think this subject has been not quite, but close to, beaten to death. The horse is just kicking its legs. I leave you with the quote by Noam Chomsky that best exemplifies my position on this whole subject—and I thank all of you for this discussion.

    “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

    ― Noam Chomsky

    With blessing for your future lives,


  3. Thanks J. Paul Everett for your many thoughtful comments – you have given us much to think about. At some point soon I will try update everyone on the status of Middlebury’s response to the Murray incident, including the disciplinary procedures, via a new post. I hope you will find time to post some reaction to that as well, if you are so inclined.

    thanks again!

  4. Matthew—you have been an absolute saint throughout all of this sturm und drang. I’d have loved to have learned from you, were I a student, and have learned from your posts throughout this long discussion that calm response turns away wrath. You are an exemplar of sanity in an increasingly insane world. When you do post the outcomes, as you are able without breaking Middlebury’s rules, I will read and respond.


  5. Professor Dickinson,

    When ones definition of ‘fair’ is limited to ‘I get what I want and the Devil take the hindmost’, than no, for some people, the procedure was not ‘fair’.

    As an Academic, not only should you try to reach out to the uneducated, but you also have a responsibility to objective truth and historical example.

    By every reasonable standard, the mob was given their free speech rights even as they trampled on those of others.

    These things happen. The giddy rush of youthful idiocy and overexhuberance with large helpings of self righteousness and the uneven application of morality (I am on the side of Angels, so when I do evil to others, it is justified.)

    But historically, I see STRONG parallels between what happened in Middlebury et. al. and the ‘Counselship of Julius and Caesar’ where a Liberal seeking power used the mob to overturn the Rule of Law when he did not get HIS way.

    And as Sulla’s March on Rome taught us, traditions of respect and civility which PROTECT people, once violated,!never come back.

    Your little mobsters violated norms and are still PROUD of this fact. No walk back. No apologies. And the response of the faculty has not wowed me…yet, to be fair.

    You have an important moment here. Talking reasonable and giving sympathy not only has gotten you nothing, but is being taken advantage of. That is what self righteous activists DO.

    So how do you deal with the hardliners in your own ‘side’ who have started violating the law and fomenting anarchy? You don’t want to be here with the hard choices of being the ‘uncool parent’. But at this stage, do you have any choice?

  6. Time for me to check out too.

    Twice I asked if the actions of March 2nd were justified and twice this question was ignored. The inference is obvious…

    So what need further discussion. This is not my direct problem though it makes me thoughtful about gun ownership and definitely makes me far more political against ideologies who excuse rioting.

    It IS the problem of Jeff and Professor Dickinson. When you wonder at what might drive people to hold their noses and vote for Trump…you don’t need to look too far. Those reasons are ‘active’ in your classrooms.

  7. J. Dye,

    To begin, it’s worth remembering that the College is in the middle of taking disciplinary action against those who violated College handbook rules regarding protesting. Those penalties, it appears, will be more severe for the “hardliners” whose protests involved physical altercations with faculty and staff. Second, you should not assume that engaging in a dialogue with students is tantamount to giving them a pass on their actions. In fact, dialogue is precisely what you wanted them to engage in with Murray, rather than shut him down, correct? Similarly, I see this exchange as an opportunity to teach, and to learn, for those on both sides of the debate. I can tell you that many students – not all, but many – tell me that they have changed their views regarding how they should have handled the Murray protest. I have strong views on this topic, but ordering students to accept my views “or else” is not very conducive to teaching them the value of those views. So, my preference is to listen to what they have to say, and to engage with that. If my views are as well-grounded in principle and logic as a I think they are, I have no fear of letting those views be subject to debate. So, yes, those who broke rules are being disciplined. But they also need to understand why. I’m hoping, in some small way, that the exchange here contributes to that learning process.

  8. Well, you are finishing up your statement with blatant nonsense. It is no wonder the teachers at Middlebury failed so spectacularly at inoculating respect for the rule of law, civility and rights.

    MD: “One should respect the rule of law and the rights of other people to speak.”

    Student: “And what if I don’t want to? What if I want to be scary and intimidating and shut that other person up without debate?’

    MD: “Then you will get exactly what you want because we aren’t going to hold you to any standards whatsoever because WE are OPEN MINDED! But we will be disappointed.”

    Student (slowly): “But…I get what I want, right?”

    MD: “Oh yes. But you will have gotten it incorrectly.”

    Student (slipping on his ski mask and a book on Post Modernism): “I will somehow find a way to live with that.”

    You let unrepentant anarchists into the academy as teachers and speakers like Bill Ayers and you wonder where these students come from. Really? You wonder? The academy gives honorary doctorates to arguable cop killers like Mumia and you wonder where the kids got the ideas they do.

    But you ARE teaching them ‘or else’. Isn’t that what is happening to the malefactors you happened to catch? You are just doing it very much too late to have done them any good, like a parent that never corrects their child until they get hauled off to jail.

    Some people are reasonable. Some people will try to break the rules to catch an advantage. And if you do not put a high price on such rule breaking, you’ll get a LOT more of it.

    Middlebury is in this crisis because of a surfeit of tolerance, not a deficit of it.

    If Middlebury’s methods at inoculating civic responsibility and respect into your students worked so well, your school wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place, would it?

  9. Although I favor freedom of speech, and want to see colleges and universities strongly reaffirm their commitment to it, I disagree with J Dye’s angry maximalism. In my experience, it won’t take much pushback to rout these mini-insurgencies we’ve been seeing lately. There may be a hard core of committed activists, but they’ll be just a handful of students. Most will want to no part of anything that gets them in any trouble. The truth is, overwhelmingly, most elite college students, even those nominally on the left, are careerists. Their eyes are — or soon will be — on their graduate and professional school applications and their chances for internships at Goldman Sachs. Nothing dissolves left-activism as thoroughly as good ol’ American capitalism and the lure of six- and seven-figure incomes. Even Jerry Rubin ended up working on Wall Street.

    It’s also occurred to me that part of what’s causing these problems in the first place is the American confined-campus model of higher ed. At various times I’ve taught at European universities, most of which are quite different — no “campus,” just disconnected units spread all over a city, and therefore not a single community that thinks of itself as such. That has some disadvantages, especially for undergrads, but one of the advantages is that it’s less conducive to “campus fads” like the one I believe we’re seeing now. People in any one unit scarcely even know what’s going on in others, and it would not occur to anyone to think that a guest speaker somewhere was invading some kind of defined “space” (let alone “safe space”) over which students have some sort of proprietary claim. Weirdly, this means that at present, with a few exceptions here and there, European universities are probably freer environments than are American, despite the lack of First Amendments in other countries.

  10. Jeff,

    Even I have been rethinking things. Some girl who was dragged to the protest because she had nothing better to do but no strong feelings: “Warning letter in your file, do you realize what you did wrong, here is a confession, we shred this when you graduate, stop being so bloody stupid, protest outside and have a nice day.” She is teachable.

    Her current best friend who forced her to come, who refuses to recant, who doesn’t see how what she did in any way was questionable or ill advised. Well, what do we do with someone who is recalcitrant?

    If Bill Ayers, who set off BOMBS, is any historical precedent on what the Academy does to such unteachable people, she will be lionized, given an honorary PhD in education so she can continue to spread this kind of self serving swill and get tenure and never pay for dinner again in certain academic circles.

    Which is what brought us HERE. Professor Dickinson fights to admit it, but on the ‘teaching civic virtue’ front, the Academy has been more of a problem than what their role SHOULD be.

    I also agree on the careerist thing. The people who are probably the most…passionate on this are probably also the least employable. I doubt there were a lot of future MBAs at the protest, but lots of ‘gender studies’ and ‘sociology’ majors, who, as a matter of career advancement COURT outrage, hypersensitivity and radical pronouncements and action. If that is what is rewarded by the discipline, you will get more of it.

    As far as Europe, let me add this little chestnut. I think your point on ‘geography’ is absolutely germane. Most of my experience is with the German system. And the majority of students there are strictly government funded. Which means that if the students undertook this bit of madness over there, the government, who directly pays the bills, could very directly bypass all the Deans Liberal Arts who are arguing strenuously on their behalf to ‘go easy on them’. The government can and will just cut the funds of the malefactors and force the students to try to prove otherwise.

    This probably changes the attitudes of the students in significant ways.


    Professor Dickinson,

    You said: “I can tell you that many students – not all, but many – tell me that they have changed their views regarding how they should have handled the Murray protest. I have strong views on this topic, but ordering students to accept my views “or else” is not very conducive to teaching them the value of those views. ”

    I am sure you have A role in the teaching of this moment. Might I suggest that causation and correlation are two different things.

    -These students have been the subject of relentless national recrimination, excoriation and mockery for more than a month by academics, comedians, politicians (even ones they respect), and the public at large.

    -They have been subjected to lots of pointed calls from their parents and scholarship boards, asking questions which were probably a lot less friendly than your little coffee klatches during study sessions.

    – They are desperately worried that they will be branded as ‘hypersensitive intolerant rioting crybabies’ which, to go back to Jeff’s point on careers, is not exactly a resume builder. So there is a lot of @ss covering and ‘not me’ism going around even if they are trying desperately to scrub the paint chips out of their knuckles.

    -and last but certainly not least, there are SEVENTY (70) pasty faced, twitching, and mostly sleepless examples lined up outside the President’s office who are potentially facing losing EVERYTHING if anything like this happens again. The nation may not know them, because the college is desperate to preserve the identities of rioters, but the student body certainly knows if it wants to.

    So I am sure that before March 2nd, you made the same arguments, used the same soothing tones, the same logic and reason…and you got March 2nd.

    Now, AFTER March 2nd, ‘suddenly’ there are epiphanies all over the place! Amazing! Did you change your teaching technique?

    Or…maybe ‘or else’ has a certain impact of instruction that all the soothing tones and reasoned debate lacks.

    Unlike Current Midd, I am not interested in re-educating anyone who is unteachable. Anyone can believe what they’d like.

    But they aren’t owed an education.

    And they need to know and SEE the consequences of compliance. I don’t care if anyone likes Charles Murray. I don’t want more riots.

    Compliance is sufficient and not to be disparaged.

  11. Hi J. Dye,

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I’m sorry I don’t always respond in timely fashion – senior theses are coming in now along with the usual end-of-the-semester grading binge, and so my day job is intruding on our exchange even more than usual. In any event, you ask, “Did you change your teaching technique” since March 2? I did. I became a lot more aware that my students really didn’t understand the reason why, at a liberal arts institution, that it is so crucial to allow dissenting opinions to be heard, no matter how much they disliked what was being said. So rather than simply expecting them to understand this, I began more thoroughly explaining the logic underlying the principle. As part of that teaching process, however, I also made a greater effort to listen to their perspective, and to understand why some of them thought shouting down speech with which they disagreed was the appropriate response. By understanding their motivations, it was easier for me to make the case that the solution to dealing with speech that they find objectionable is not shouting it down – it is learning to use speech against it. So – more speech, not less.

    I’m under no illusion that my coffee klatches have purged all of academia of its more intolerant tendencies. Nor do I think its salutary impact (if any) has occurred in a vaccuum – as you note, students have received lots of incentives, both positive and negative, suggesting why the initial response to Murray was probably not ideal. I have heard, however, that students wish that there were more of these coffee klatches held on campus.

    And so I will carry on. We meet again next Tuesday at 12:30. Alas, there won’t be coffee. But I’ll bring bagels!

  12. A few thoughts before I also must depart;

    The reason I’ve felt conflicted enough about this to engage with people who not only disagree with me but clearly have strong feelings against me and most of the people I dearly care about at Middlebury is BECAUSE I believe–or have hope–that people’s ideas can change and people can be moved to care. That’s what I believe as an activist, also… but it’s not the *only* I organize, and for the week that we knew Murray was coming, it did not seem like an effective tactic for making our voices heard. As others have acknowledged, that short time period was a big part of the problem and polarization on campus–had there been more time to organize, perhaps those who invited Murray would consider changing the invitation–either the format to a debate or discussion between equal scholars (I’m sorry, Prof. Stanger’s scholarship is not in conversation with Murray’s pseudoscience, nor does she seem to realize why his ideas are so harmful–I know of other scholars on campus who would’ve been much better for the role) or to a different speaker (who, again, hadn’t already been to campus and insulted students here, who doesn’t make racist or eugenicist arguments). Is it my “right” to get my way on this? No, but there was what felt like a flaunting of a lack of respect and discussion beforehand that very few have focused on.

    As an aspiring educator (who, while disagreeing with Bill Ayre’s anti-war tactics, think he’s an important educational theorist, so you’re right about that one), I’ve felt conflicted often about how educators should handle harmful/oppressive views in their classes; Murray is influential in the discipline area that I’m interested in (and yes, you probably think my major is bunk which is why I haven’t revealed it) and so he’s necessary to discuss… but when does that discussion focus too much on investigating and changing the understandings of those who agree with Murray at the cost to people whose intelligence, family structure, or other elements of background, are being debated or discussed. To what extent is that discussion exclusionary? That’s a tension professors and educators have to navigate, and something I think a lot about for my own potential future classroom. Navigating pluralism to educate is not simple or easy, and requires that we understand that discussion does not happen in a vacuum but requires more labor, more unwarranted trust, and sometimes more harm, to some than to others. Moving towards equity first requires acknowledging this… for some, ideas cannot just be seen as ideas, but as have material impacts that make this campus a place where they are constantly asked to question their presence, or feel unwelcome and unheard). Reading Murray is not the same experience for every student, and we need to acknowledge that. I’ve tried not to use language of emotion or interiority because I think it can get coopted and used to invalidate my arguments, but students feelings about this campus must matter to the school (maybe less than what the board of trustees thinks, but it’s still important if the school wants to remain “elite”, with a student body that isn’t exclusively white, wealthy, straight…). I would also agree that the residential college contributes to the symbolism of Murray’s visit–this is our “home”, we can’t leave, and students actually feel very little control over this space… what does that mean to bring someone here whose legacy of scholarship has actively questioned whether many students should be here? There are a lot of double standards in discussion of “safe spaces”, but I ask that those who talk about it give serious thought to the question, safe for whom? Who are you trying to empathize with–and does that mean that you are actively not empathizing with others? What should ‘tolerant’ engagement with ideas/people that are intolerant look like? Again, asking people to be polite in the face of oppression is actively dehumanizing to some… that’s a double standard for politeness (polite in form but not in content is not polite or civil to me).

    Do I think the protest was justified? Yes, I do think it was justified. I personally think Midd has serious issues that “justify” strong demands and tactics. I understand why others think that this was the wrong tactic for making that demand, since it made it so a speaker could not speak as the group that invited him had planned.

    Could it have been done better, or possibly with a different tactic? …considering that the asks may have been unclear beforehand and afterward, and that there are clearly people on this campus who don’t understand why Murray’s ideas are oppressive pseudoscience… Possibly… I think one place where we could have improved would’ve been to make fewer demands of administrators that grow their power. I don’t trust the administration or trustees much, nor do most activists… so how could we reframe our asks?

    Finally, students may have a “right” to invite any speaker to speak, but that does not mean every speaker *should* be invited speak. Not every idea *should* be debated.

    As I said in an email to Professor Dickinson, my views have been nuanced by this discussion, and I’m grateful for people who’ve engaged and for Professor Dickinson for moderating. I hope some of what I’ve said has been interesting or has nuanced some of your thoughts. There are foundational disagreements here–beyond “free speech”… but I’ve certainly learned how much the first amendment protects me, as some of you would seriously consider my ideas and understandings dangerous and unnecessary to be spoken or presented about 😉

  13. I want to also apologize for not responding to comments as quickly as I’d like. While I enjoy my social obligations on the weekend, they regrettably leave less time to engage all of your thought provoking comments.

    I want to respond to a few comments made by people over the past few days.

    Dan ’05

    Your point (that Midd activists should relish the opportunity to engage with people with which they vehemently disagree given the “home court advantage” they have on the Midd campus) is fair. I agree with that point, and also with your point that having to constantly defend your ideas and worldview can be a very rewarding experience. That is, in essence, what I think the American liberal arts college is meant to be: a place where students from many different areas of the world can come together and discuss topics under the tutelage of the professors.

    J Dye

    You asked the following series of questions, which I will answer in kind.

    What would it take for you to allow Murray to speak on your campus?

    Nothing. As I have repeatedly stated, I disagree with the protesters shouting down Murray. I think the best medium to fight speech one finds offensive is more speech.

    What kind of protest and for how long would you require to feel that your voices were ‘heard’ What was lacking that made you feel ‘unheard’ besides, you know, capitulation on the part of the faculty?

    I combined those questions because they both address essentially the same point. J Dye, I want to take a moment to thank you for asking these questions. I have thought about them for the last few days, and I must admit that you have caused me to reevaluate my position. I still maintain that the protesters felt they were not heard, but I don’t know how much more the administration could have done to make the protesters feel heard. Granted, I don’t actually know how the administration interacted with the protesters. But given Murray’s explanation of the meetings with the protesters, I think the administration did a lot to make the protesters feel heard (beyond, as you stated, mere capitulation, which I cannot abide since it violates Middlebury’s commitment to free speech).

    The only act I can come up with that the administration did not do, to my knowledge, is the release of an official statement from the administration stating that the College in no way endorsed Murray’s views, and even stands against them as an institution, but was allowing him to speak because of the College’s commitment to free speech. I think that balances the two interests as well as possible.

    Now, J Dye, I have a question for you.

    It appears to me (please do correct me if I’m wrong) that you believe that the protesters should not have been allowed to shout down Murray. I’m also fairly certain that you are a staunch advocate of free speech. So, my question for you is, how do you reconcile those two positions?

    In my view, there is an inherent contradiction between those two views. The protesters that shouted Murray down were engaging in protected speech. Murray has no First Amendment right to give a speech at Middlebury. Just as the protesters have to deal with speech they may not agree with, Murray has to deal with the same.

    Now, obviously, we as a society want dialogue to be more civil. We want our citizens to actually engage with views with which they disagree, even offensive ones. But the fact of the matter is that most people are not willing to do so. And even when they don’t, that speech is protected.

    What are your thoughts?

    Current Midd

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. While I don’t agree with all of your views, I certainly am happy that you are engaging with people with which you disagree, and I hope you continue to do so.

  14. There is no contradiction. You are conflating two vastly different things.

    To ‘be heard’ they could have had their own protest. IMO, the group of them should have all rallied OUTSIDE the hall, had their signs, had their chants, made their Youtube videos and that’s it. That is ‘being heard.’ No one was stopping that. Heck, it was being encouraged.

    Frankly, as soon as the protestors were allowed into the hall, they were crossing lines of civility by being unwilling to ‘share’ the right to free speech and impinging on the audience to freely listen, not to mention taking up seats from people who DID want to listen. So they were also impinging on ‘freedom of association’. (Not sure what the administration was thinking, if at all. Perhaps they should have put the chemistry department in charge of this because they know about keeping two reactive elements separate)

    You said ‘shout down’ Charles Murray. That is ‘shutting someone up’. It is the functional equivalent of having two guys from the football team (okay, maybe four, this is Middlebury after all) leap onto stage, grab hold of him, shove a sock in his mouth and duct tape it into place, just in a passive aggressive and not criminally culpable way. The desired end result desired the same.

    Is that ‘speech’? No. It is not. It is the opposite of speech.

    Why is Murray’s speech not protected?

    Why is the protestor’s speech to shut someone else up protected?

    How do you reconcile that Murray’s speech isn’t protected considering RIGHT BEFORE THE EVENT, the college president and one of the faculty both CLEARLY SAID his speech was protected…as does the student handbook, as does the Constitution and as have pretty much every editorial in every newspaper in the nation which isn’t sporting a picture of “Che” on the masthead?

    The nation has had a ‘poll’ on the protest at Middlebury. Except for those who want to use the Junior Brownshirts as their political muscle or as news makers, and so will defend them, the rest of the nation has pretty much come down foursquare against the campus bullies legally, culturally and socially.

    So I am shocked that you are still defending ‘shouting down’ Murray.

  15. I wish I had a week – not just a quick sit down – to really unpack the dimensions of Murray, Middlebury College, and Media/community.
    Years of participation in a number of organizations leads me to think that such complex situations often exceed the capacities of minds and hearts – despite the passion and credentials involved.

    I took an hour to think about some key aspects of before, during and after Murray. I did not fuss with editing (sorry). Importantly, I found in this quick analysis requirement of great awareness, skills, knowledge, and essential values breadth for students to do well in such a situation.

    Including knowledge re:

    Always the 1st concern: injury, damage, loss.

    – bodies: In an impassioned crowd… could people get hurt, did people get hurt, how
    are responsibilities to hurt people?

    – property:
    -Is property damage important to making a statement?

    Cars are costly important private property- climbing on them is not a solution to concerns about Murray ideas – nor is it a right.
    Damage creates a cost and possibly a danger.

    Stop signs are important costly public property – taking them down is not a solution to concerns about Murray ideas – nor is it a right.
    It creates a danger when a sign is absent where needed
    Replacement creates a cost.

    – funds:
    Cost was expended to bring Murray to campus. How is that thought about?


    – agreement making, inclusion in planning, address of concerns required better
    management & skills

    – opportunities for learning were missed via bringing and having Murray to speak

    – clear known rules were broken

    – disagreement was not respectfully managed

    – an invited human being was treated badly


    – situation lacked consideration of “emergency level” …i.e. clarity that at all cost (harm done, rules dismissed, treatment of speaker & audience, etc.) immediate prevention and protection were warranted.

    LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES might have included:

    – reasoning, marketing, and managing a campus event

    – Constitutional free speech vs. institutional agreements

    – real immediate danger response vs. express disapproval

    – impacts of choices

    – projection of consequences: to audience, community, speaker, college

    – engagement options

    – research: validity criteria, implications of it, interpretations of it,
    intended/potential applications of it, skillful evidenced rebuttal


    – was speaker ideas/ student response style unique or affected by the times,
    exposures, belief systems, fears?

    – what were students most afraid might result from Murray speaking – or from his
    being allowed to speak?


    _ what was the spin?

    – what was the effect of media on people and the institution involved?

    – a passionate protest is good story material…would the media have also noticed if Murray spoke without student response (i.e. worrisome complacence) or would the media notice if no controversial speaker ever came to the college (some more worrisome complacence)?

    GROWING UP (in the public eye):

    – students have not reached full maturity and may have limits to experience and exposure – especially in arena of civic engagement and defense of perceived threats to the “truths that Americans hold self-evident”.

    Being 18 or so is the age of finding out how you (can) control your destiny – – discovering what of yourself to foster and express, managing the bigger world of people types, finding self-worth on the plane most personally/ uniquely relevant.

    How that melds into events like Murray on campus & student choice is significant re: options, pressures, supports, review & choices going forward. Huge stuff.

    – administration has the difficult role of appeasing, educating, standing strong against a public that primarily under-considers child development, how learning occurs, and individuality plays out.

    – management of errors, deep reflection, corrections, amends – is a constant growth path for adults, institutions, communities, children. Address of mistakes should foster that growth.

    -media can be an appreciated examiner….reporter of growth & expanding awareness….an illuminator. Or it can fuel bad feelings, partisanship, aggression that detracts – and hamper optimal forward movement.


    -college belongs to a past – pride and accomplishments
    and to a future – keeping up with new information (esp. re: learning & human
    psychology), changing world dynamics, & evolution of values

    – students come to campus prepared by different skills and experiences for
    belonging. They come with different support needs and needs of evidence that
    they do belong…that they matter …that they are valued and able to contribute in
    ways that make them no less and allow no others to make themselves more
    This is a humdinger of an issue because
    1. It involves feelings re: sense of self
    2. Narcissists would rather not live equitably. Students are challenged to learn
    how to handle that.
    3. We are not sure who is/ can be responsible for driving success in “belonging”

    I bring this up due to having heard students concerns as such.

    – emotions must be tended in ways that protect from manipulation by peers,
    pundits, etc. Another huge skill to model and nurture on campus.

    – who “owns” the “ “dominant narrative” is worth examination


    – I hesitate to use the word because it can be misconstrued to be an insult to the integrity of students. It is not. But it is worth examining each one’s own passion for either the invitation or the protest of Murray. Some topics become “cool” or infectious.. There can be identity making in the engagement – but not commitment in one’s lifestyle. Regular examination of one’s public expression as match to how one lives that out requires evidencing reflection. Service to mollify an injustice, for example, is a truer definer of a person than “ espousing justice”. True address of an injustice or suffering is only really in each moment of actual relief from that sufferer’s pain. Less noise and more helping hand in-the-moment stoppage of a wrong is what’s effective.
    This, too, is a skill area to model and nurture on campus.


    – I recall reading “… poverty rendered the people unable to express themselves in a manner that the establishment would recognize…”

    Having experienced numerous oppressive scenarios where either:
    1. The highly educated/well endowed fought the establishment and won
    2. Minimally educated, limited exposure voices fell on ears unable to “hear outside the box”.

    Most people need guidance in mastering the skills of effective voice. Yelling in the street is a choice, but there are other more fine-tuned tactics, too. These are learned skills that take practice, critique, development.

    – Many situations are framed as adversarial. More elevated are skills for defining what is important, criteria for the body of required evidence, analysis of driving forces, care in language use, mitigation of harm, accountability expectations, rules for productive engagement.

    – It is hard enough trying to get one other person to reconsider their views – – passion for changing mass populations is another consideration altogether! I can hear President John Adams complaining about the abyss with few sweet spots that is public life. Are students trying to change a system or an individual? What forces are in play? Students deserve to understand what they are up against and the entrenchment through time of some significant core aspects of humanity. We still can’t all agree that science is …well…science! We can’t agree on what it means to be kind – -or why to bother. The who-is-top-dog battle has always been in the world in its many iterations
    -Making change can require earned trust, earned faith in sincerity & commitment, and willingness to live equitably among the voices. Models of good leadership and participation are priceless and worth seeking out. Patience and talent with culture gaps and skill differences are, too.

    It takes so much courage and open mindedness to be sure with the facts, right with one’s actions, adaptive toward success.

    Thess are hard times that require going back again and again to filter through the debris to find true and essential facts and strategies. Can bias be mitigated? Is perseverance valued? Has each person been wholly regarded and respected?

    I know 60 year olds still working to learn in these areas. Many got a late start because their education and upbringing did not include guidance for participating and making a difference. Establishing criteria and skills of critique were not a part of schooling.
    Some say that parents can’t be the best guides for their children because they grew up in different times. I think that the best guides for young people are those who understand: the many dimensions of being human; growing in lopsided ways; dealing with diverse outside influences; making evidenced value aligned resonant choices; and kindness. It’s not a job that can be done with closed incurious minds, anger, fear, singularity, aggression, or unclear priorities.

    Poet, Padraig O Tuama has said: I want to know…”How many times since we’ve met together in the last while have my words bruised you” In my estimation, this is a good reflection for all sides in this Murray situation.

    This is not the best packaging nor is it a complete unpacking – but I do think it expresses the complexity of responsibility had for and by the students – especially as the Murray visit is evaluated.

    Respectfully, LAW

  16. J Dye,

    I don’t think you can compare shouting someone down with physically preventing them from speaking – they are different for a variety of reasons – but I agree that the end result for both is the same: the person being shouted down, or restrained, not speaking.

    But I disagree with the statement that shouting someone down is not speech. It is speech. What else could it be? The protesters were shouting their words loudly to prevent Murray from speaking. Are you suggesting that the volume of someone’s words dictate whether the words are speech or not?

    Murray’s speech is protected. We’ve discussed this in previous comments, but the First Amendment only protects Murray’s speech from government limitations. There are no protections for his speech from private individuals.

    The protester’s speech is protected as well, even if they were using it to shout Murray down. You may not like that they were using their speech in the way that they did, but that is not a reason to censor it. Even the right to use insulting speech – racial slurs, insults, curse words, etc. – is protected by the First Amendment. Shouting is, and should be, the same.

    Think of it this way. What if Murray had used the microphone to shout the protesters down? Should that speech be protected? It absolutely should. So too should the protesters’ right to do the same to Murray.

    Addressing your second to last paragraph, Murray’s speech is protected. It just isn’t protected from other’s speech. Moreover, I think your points touch on the difference between the various levels of speech protection that exist in society. The First Amendment protects the speech of citizens from limitation from the government.

    On the Middlebury campus, my guess is that the student handbook lists even more limitations on the type of speech allowed on campus. This is common for most private colleges and universities. While this may seem like a “right,” it is only enforceable on the students as a contractual obligation. The students agree to abide by the rules of the College, and if they violate them, the College may mete out discipline. That discipline can only occur in the context of the College itself, however. In other words, the worst punishment a student can receive for violating the student handbook is expulsion.

    Statements by President Patton, professors, and authors of newspapers around the country are all getting at the desire for civility and tolerance in debates at colleges around the country and at Middlebury. President Patton made a point to attend Murray’s talk because it was important for her to emphasize that even views that others may find offensive are important to listen to and engage. I agree strongly with this sentiment, and I believe that many people at Middlebury agree with it as well. There is, however, no right to enjoy that level of civility and tolerance. More importantly, there shouldn’t be a right to it. As we discussed at length above, any limitation on speech will eventually be twisted to silence people who should not be silenced. That is where people like Matt, those who care deeply about this issue and are willing to put in the time and effort to engage with everyone on the topic, come in. Through conversation and debate, hopefully they can eventually convince others that all speech, no matter how offensive or obscene, should be listened to calmly, digested, and dissected with more rational, thoughtful speech pointing out the flaws in the offensive speech.

    Finally, I agree with your belief that most of the country disagrees with the protesters shouting down Murray. Just because most of the country disagrees with the shouting, however, doesn’t mean that they were violating Murray’s free speech rights. Most people disagree with racist speech, but that speech is still protected under the First Amendment.

    I certainly don’t mean to shock you. Again, I agree with you that the protesters should not have done what they did. But the ability of the protesters, Murray, and everyone else to speak freely, even in an offensive manner and if I don’t agree with it, is more important than my opinion.

  17. “But I disagree with the statement that shouting someone down is not speech. It is speech. What else could it be?”

    Disorderly conduct. Also, it’s at least in spirit a “hecklers’ veto.”

    Some speech acts are conduct. That’s the basis for the various recognized free-speech exceptions: extortion, conspiracy, incitement, espionage, libel, “fighting words,” trafficking in child pornography, and maybe a couple of others I’m forgetting. In my view, as I’ve said, all these exceptions need to be as few and as narrowly drawn as possible; the default assumption should be the freedom to speak (or write). But in the general “public square,” shouting down a speaker would be creating a disturbance and would not be protected by the First Amendment, which allows for “time, place and manner” restrictions on protests in service of other legitimate interests, like maintaining the public peace. So a college that was attempting to maintain conditions resembling those of the public square within its precincts — including freedom of speech — would rightly disallow it.

  18. Midd ’11

    You can make a legal argument about this (though I think, as Jeff has pointed out, that you would be hard pressed to win that case). But any case CAN be argued.

    From a social and political standpoint, what am I and the body politic supposed to take from what you just said?

    You are saying that the ‘right to free speech’ is now entirely predicated on how big of a mob you can get to allow your speech to be heard or not heard. Quality of ideas? Relevance? Brilliance? Eloquence? All rubbish.

    The only ones who can be heard are those who can raise enough of a ‘non governmental’ mob. Maybe they should wear outfits which show their solidarity to a specific idea. But they need to be cheap. No one buys brown shirts a lot these days, so I bet they could be found at very good prices…

    And do you think that the middle class or the very wealthy have the time or bodies to attend to all free speech activities to ‘make their voices heard’? Why no. It is the layabouts (which includes college students) who are accessible for such screeds AS HAS HISTORICALLY BEEN THE CASE.

    One can see EXACTLY these kinds of tactics being used by Caesar to get around having policy debates when he had his mobs shout down and drag off Bibulus and Cato when he wasn’t getting his way.

    Rome lost its Republic because of people defending such tactics.

    Another historical example? The Parisian Mobs during the Revolution. You like that the mobs are shouting down your enemies, but just like in the Parisian situation, ‘Saturn ate his own children’ and the intellectuals who were at the forefront…soon found themselves killed by the mob that once lauded them.

    The Pigs on Animal Farm didn’t need good arguments as long as they had enough barking dogs to silence and scare all other voices.

    So your defense makes anyone intelligent strongly mistrust you and institutions which defend such a hecklers veto. It is a selfish and ultimately civically destructive tactic. None of the governments which inflicted with it lasted long…and here you are defending it.

    And with you setting up this standard, now the OTHER SIDE will start to mobilize their adherents. Because THEY will want their free speech…to stop your hecklers or to shout down your advocates.

    Two mobs meeting with wildly different ideologies meeting in a passionate and loud dispute. What could POSSIBLY go wrong in this scenario? (roll eyes)

    Did you really think this through at all? Really?

  19. J Dye,

    I think what you don’t like is collective organizing. I would make the argument that collective organizing is VITAL to the body politic, to sustaining a democracy, to making positive social change. You’re not alone – I’ve been seeing this all over the place – people want “discussion” not “action” (see controversy over new NYTimes op-ed writer and people canceling subscriptions). And effective organizing requires tension, disruption, breaking social roles…

    “Civil debate” or discussion is important (sometimes, to some extent, not always) – very few I know would argue to the contrary. But so is activism, so is organizing. And debate-or any speech-is meant to inform and incite action at some point. What action is best, is a valid and important question, but ‘debate’ is a means, not an end.

  20. Translated as: “I want an excuse for ‘action’ where ‘action’ means I get to violate norms and laws to get my way.”

    If you cannot, with civic debate, change the minds of your fellow citizens, this does not give you carte blanche or any moral authority to try to impose your will through ‘action’. This is very undemocratic, not to mention arrogant.

    To be blunt: who died and made you God that you are allowed to violate laws and norms with impunity?

    When is insurrection or civil disobedience ‘justified’? It is justified with objectively horrifying laws and bald discrimination.

    This in no way describes America today. There is no ‘separate but equal’. There are no lynchings. There is no final solution.

    The best you can offer is ‘feelz’.

    But okay. I might be wrong. MY opinion, singularly, should not be the determining factor in analyzing your ‘action’.

    So…how much support have you gotten from the population IN GENERAL from you actions, and not just some well wishers in your quad?

    Has there been a rush of endorsement by the press who are already pretty liberal? No. Your college is a cautionary tale at best and a joke at worst. Editorial boards across the country, who are pretty racially friendly, have excoriated you for this.

    Has there been a rush of endorsement from scholars, lawyers and fellow academics? Not really. Again, when you can only get half the humanity professors to uncomfortably and haltingly defend your actions…you are on some pretty shaky ground since they are more liberal than newspaper editors.

    How about from the political party who most closely mirrors your ideology? Nope. And when you don’t have Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren on your side and who think you are behaving childishly…who IS on your side?

    You have almost no support outside of slices of liberal arts academia and the more extreme elements in the minority community, who are also not exactly unbiased folks themselves. Even people who are ideologically very sympathetic to your desired ends thinks you are woefully wrong in your means. Criminally culpable in many cases.

    That is the biggest difference between your actions and the Civil Rights Movements of the 60s you seek to emulate. Even normal people supported them. Not everyone but a good number.

    They don’t support the Middlebury Mob.

    This would make a reflective or thoughtful person reconsider their position or the correctness of their stance.

  21. Current Midd,

    I think you’ve misunderstood what it means to orient a protest toward “action.” Of course that should be the goal, not just pointless talk. But “action” doesn’t mean a different or louder or more disruptive protest. It refers to the GOAL of the protest: actual changes in laws or policies in ways that will achieve your aims, e.g. making life better for these “marginalized” people the protesters say they’re defending.

    So you as a group need to formulate what those changes are, aim for something achievable and not too vague (like “the total abolition of white supremacy”), and then organize protests that can lead toward those goals. The classic handbook on this is Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals,” which campus protesters back in your grandpa’s day practically had memorized. You might have a look at it, or recommend it to your local activist leaders there.

  22. Thank you for the recommendation… I’ve read Alinsky and learned a lot. I’d recommend Frances Fox Piven to you.

    I’ve also never said the protest was perfect, and think it could’ve been improved upon–clear asks for the future could’ve been part of that earlier.

    It was too tempting to engage but bowing out again now.

  23. To all college students everywhere

    “Of course speech can do harm. If it can’t do harm, how can it do good? And if it can’t do good, why should we protect it?” That’s a quote is from Angus Johnston, so what he is saying is the only thing that should be protected is what he or individuals deem “good”. That’s the very definition of Fascism! Example, if the Grand Wizard of the KKK is giving a speech who would be there to listen, the people who believe his message is good.
    Bottom line there should never be any one person, group, organization etc. who determines what is correct speech. Freedom of anything is not governed, regulated or controlled by no one. Your beliefs, Ideology or feelings mean nothing to this basic right!
    The word “freedom” has one meaning and can not be misconstrued or bent to anyone’s beliefs! We the people does not stand for We the college student, or we the liberal mass’. We are a Republic, the strongest Republic and most free nation in the world because of these few words, try changing there meaning in any way will lead us down a path of true destruction.

  24. Last commenter, I don’t think you read/understand Angus Johnston’s full thread… he’s a civil libertarian.

  25. CMS

    I do not care what political affiliation Mr. Johnston has, his thread promotes regulation of speech. The protections of the Constitution is binding to ALL. with no deviation.

    Now to change the subject back a step or two. I would like to address some comments posted over the last few days concerning the correct way to protest free speech, THERE IS NONE.

    Now I am going to speculate, which I have to because the President of your school thinks its in the best interest of the students not to make public the punishment imposed on the students who caused and took place in this disgraceful and disgusting incident. I would be willing to bet not one student was expelled or suspended. I have also checked as of right now I can not find one record of any criminal case against anyone for this “riot.” Congratulations you are now a proud member of a very elite group, 1 of only 2 schools to legalize Anarchy!
    Another thing that people who wish to suppress free speech have no care for is the “Rule of Law.”
    I also have noticed that the one of the biggest comebacks against those of us who stand for and believe in the Constitution and rule of law is to be called racist. Yet check out this irony they do so in calling us, me in particularly a “white supremacist.” Yet civil liberties for all is what I want!

  26. The Right has discovered Alinsky too.

    Colleges will now be HELD to the standards they avow, but no longer uphold. Students will no longer be able to assert they are the ‘good guys’ without proof.

    And ‘good’ people do not riot under so little provocation.

  27. The internet widens the pool of knowledge in ways that not everyone will welcome. In the past, the media would tirelessly look up the worst statements by their political enemies. Now, everyone can do so, and Liberal ideologues et. al. have less maneuvering room when they drop incendiary and volatile statements.

    So too with markets and Middlebury. If this were the 70’s, maybe the Middlebury paper and the Boston Globe would put this down as an item of interest, with maybe a slanted NYT three sentence article.

    But there is a much wider scope on this now and on markets in general. The forty percent of the population disparaged and insulted by academia are taking their own steps to seek ‘friendlier’ or even just ‘not as insulting’ pastures for education.

    Middlebury does not rank particularly highly. Unsurprisingly.

    How much ‘traction’ will such websites garner? I have no idea. However, I think there will be a direct correlation between that and how ‘active’ your campus ideologues turn out to be.

    I would be interested in exactly how student applications drop off at Cal Berkeley next year. They always have a waiting list, so it is unlikely that any classrooms will go empty. But the number of applications would perhaps tell a significant tale.

    Middlebury was kind of lucky that this happened in March instead of December, at least for the current year.

  28. From their website:

    “The dangers of orthodoxy to the academy are many:

    1.We do our colleagues and students a disservice by not challenging their cherished beliefs. We fail as colleagues and as scholars when we allow unjustified dogmas or simply insufficiently justified claims to go unchallenged.

    2.We fail as teachers to teach students the most important skill — how to think. When we shield them from strong counter-arguments on the issues they care most about, we set them up for confusion and anger when they later encounter people who think differently.

    3.By failing to contest inadequately justified dogmas, we risk advancing solutions that have no effect. For example, if a particular inequality does not result primarily from prejudice, and we engage in prejudice reduction efforts, we will fail to reduce that inequality.

    4.Promoters of orthodoxies often create an environment of intolerance for diversity of ideas and dissent in the very institution in which free exchange of ideas is its raison d’etre. Free speech and the exploration of unsettling ideas is threatened on many campuses If you think that goes too far, look at this post regarding the extent to which people have been intimidated by campus protests, and this post about Jon Haidt’s experience at a high school. Addendum in March 2017: Look at recent violent protests at UC Berkeley, and at Middlebury college.”


    “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

  29. From Middlebury Website.

    Update on Disciplinary Measures

    May 5, 2017

    Middlebury College has completed disciplinary proceedings for 19 additional students for actions taken on March 2 relating to the disruption of the scheduled talk by political scientist Charles Murray on the Middlebury campus. In April, 41 students received sanctions for participating in the early stage of the disruptive protest.

    This week’s cases were heard in a group hearing Thursday night before the Community Judicial Board (CJB) of Middlebury College. The CJB is empaneled from a pool of trained community members and, when hearing a case, consists of four students, two faculty members, and two members of the staff. The CJB concluded that the second stage of the protest behaviors merited stronger sanctions. These decisions bring to 60 the number of students who have received College discipline since the disruption of Murray’s talk.

    Several more students are expected to receive individual hearings in the coming week. The College also anticipates that it will issue additional discipline charges in the next week relating to the event.

  30. Prof. Dickinson

    Where are the criminal charges?!?

    We’ve seen students arrested on campus before and it wasn’t for assaulting tenured female professors.

    Alumni Weekend can’t come soon enough

  31. Remember, the criminal investigation is being handled by local law enforcement – not the College. You’ll have to direct your inquiry to them!

  32. > In a separate news release Tuesday, the Middlebury Police Department said it would not bring charges in connection with the protest.

    > The department’s chief, Thomas Hanley, said in an interview that it was impossible to identify the protesters who hurt Ms. Stanger or damaged the car.

    > “This was a number of individuals in the dark, wearing masks and black clothing, along with a bunch of college students,” he said. “It was more of a scrum. There wasn’t any assault per se.”

    A few observations here:

    1) Evidently yanking someone’s hair violently enough to give them a neck injury and concussion is not an “assault per se”.

    2) We all knew, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, that the people who assaulted Professor Stanger weren’t Middlebury students because they were anarchists from Burlington — everyone knew that! However, we can’t apprehend these individuals, because they were wearing masks at the time of the assault. One can only hope that one day law enforcement technology advances to the point of being able to identify perpetrators of felonies despite their wearing of masks.

    3) The College’s / Middlebury PD’s failure to figure out exactly which individuals came down from Burlington to start a riot is really a shame. If only the Middlebury faculty included a distinguished scholar of anarchist movements, radical activism, and the use of masks in political protest, perhaps that expertise could have been put to use to find the perpetrators.

  33. Dan ’05: You wrote: “One can only hope that one day law enforcement technology advances to the point of being able to identify perpetrators of felonies despite their wearing of masks.”

    I would suggest that we have a law, based on context, that anyone wearing a mask to hide identity be immediately arrested and held for questioning. By basing it on context, we don’t run afoul of parties, Mardi Gras, private events, etc. Sure would like to see something sensible like that.

    In the WTO riots in Seattle, many masked anarchists came up from Eugene, Oregon. They created a riot, millions in damage and caused Boeing to move its HQ to Chicago. The context was such that they should have been immediately arrested and held.

    Boeing didn’t admit that, cloaking it in high-sounding reasons that were all eyewash. Boeing is continuing to slowly exit Washington, a relatively strong union state, and move to Right to Work states, instead. But not before they extracted NINE BILLION in tax forgiveness to build the 737Max in Renton, WA.

    Our May Day riots in Seattle have been calmed down considerably by expert policing. We had very little damage this year. Police on bicycles are very effective in immediate intervention and apprehension when things threaten to erupt. The anarchists lost, big.

  34. The last few comments are definitely off the student role in the “free speech” part of the Murray debacle, which has tentatively seemed like the focus of this exchange… And I don’t intend to really engage on these points, because my impression is that our politics are so different on them that it would not be constructive to … but I don’t want the above comments to go without any dissent.

    I want to point out (again), that there seem to be some double standards for academic freedom going on. If there were scholars of radical political movements at Middlebury, they should not be interrogated about this event. That’s an assault on academic freedom (as tightening faculty protest rights would be also). It seems like YOU want to define the edges of what’s acceptable scholarship, which I certainly think you can argue for (stigmatizing certain speech through speech is a-ok with me, as long as it doesn’t have government power of repression behind it), but I hope you’re realizing you’re doing it, and I would argue against it.

    I feel like some of you don’t fully understand the context – which has been true throughout this exchange, and obviously is partly because you don’t live on campus right now, a very particular experience. But tighter policing of campus does not make it safer – I would actually say that there is broad agreement throughout the student body on this one, although particularly among students of color, and visibly queer or gender non-binary students. The securitization of the event/use of outside security forces arguably lead to what happened. I state this point here because outside advocates do impact campus policy, and one event – and the image of a victim – can have extremely significant policy consequences for increasing the harshness of punishments and the criminalization of a larger swath of ‘deviant’ behavior. (This is true in the “outside world”, and not just at Middlebury.)

    Happy end of the school year to those at Midd!

  35. It would be remiss of me not to give a shout out to all our students, particularly our seniors who are graduating on Sunday. And I want to give a special thanks to the students who engaged in the now lengthy debate re: free speech at this blog site and in my weekly luncheons, and did so in a way that reaffirms why so many of us are committed to teaching its importance. You did not always agree, but you listened, which is an undervalued aspect of free speech – to be effective, it requires active listeners as well.

    Finally, in honor of commencement, might I suggest reading this?:

  36. Mr. Dickinson,

    You started this blog. At this point, the dust has all settled, the investigation is over, the school session is done and, it seems the vast majority of students who were ‘censured’ on campus are now having all those black marks just put in their records a week or so ago are now having them all erased at the end of the semester. The erasing is eased by the fact that the ink never actually had a chance to dry.

    I am sure it was a very traumatic week for them. Educational even.

    What is your feelings on the appropriateness of the response?

  37. I always enjoy Current Mid’s comments. She is very upfront in what she says, thinking that what she says is beyond reproach or debate.

    She is for censoring some speech and enquiry (not hers, of course)

    The pencil marks put into the student records are too draconian.

    And any attempt by the College to ensure the safety of the staff, visitors or students AFTER they violated the Campus Code of Conduct violently is a ridiculous overreach of power.

    Well, Mr. Dickinson. Good luck to you in teaching those ethics.

    As I stated before: You can’t control what people think and believe, but you CAN insist on them controlling their actions. But to do so requires a bit more than, once again, nothing at all being done by the administration.

  38. J Dye;

    I don’t think my ideas are all unassailable (although I do think some, like human dignity and equality, are close, and to those who question that, I ask: why???). When critiquing my comments, please be specific and engage with what I’ve said.

    Not sure what you are criticizing, but my comments on campus policing are primarily based on work done by Middlebury students about policing on campus (see campus archives of theses if you want to learn more); incidents throughout my time at Middlebury, including considerable racial profiling after the CM protests; Governing through Crime (by Jonathan Simon); and moral panic theory (Stanley Cohen).

    Professor Dickinson;

    Thank you again for moderating discussion – many professors have done so much uncompensated labor around this debacle, and similarly, even if I disagree with much of what you’ve said, I think that should be acknowledged. I am grateful for your moderating so many discussions. And I’ve learned from them!

    A return to earlier questions posed about how Middlebury can be more equitable…

    My first reaction to this question is – I would ask to center the voices of those these changes would be meant to serve… how do the most marginalized on campus feel it could be improved?

    So, that said, I wouldn’t say my ideas are in any way definitive or representative. They are just seeds of ideas. I think the guiding question for me on this is; How can we work towards a campus where defending all students’ humanity does not fall on the most marginalized students? How do we work towards educating for liberation, empowering students to work for constructive change?

    Some ideas…

    – Anti-oppression pedagogy trainings for professors. Some might bristle at this as chafing with academic freedom… I think it is compatible with academic freedom, and with making classrooms more ‘open’. Do I think there should be surveillance, follow-up, and “re-trainings” for professors who don’t comply ‘perfectly’? No. I truly believe in professors having power and determination over their classes. But professors should be given tools to help better support students and to deal issues of power in the classroom.

    – Students should have JusTalks every year (again, in hopes of giving students the tools to approach conversation and action surrounding oppressive power). This could also take the form of an academic requirement.

    – I think that we should have more student power in democratic decision making (i.e. trustees have less power, students, faculty and staff have more).

    – I think students currently with the least institutional power should receive the most support and be given the most influence (again, don’t know exactly what this looks like, it’s more of a principle).

    – I think students who do countless hours of labor to hold Middlebury accountable and make Middlebury more inclusive should get financially compensated for some of that labor (obviously there are some tensions here, and when I first heard of paying student activists I scoffed, but I think there is some interesting and generative possibilities/discussions there, even if it’s tricky to parse or enact ‘perfectly’).

    – I think we should not have a punitive system of punishment (in which the ‘deviant’ individual is outcast or reformed), but one based on principles of transformative justice which centers outcomes on community address of harm and systemic change. (This is reliant upon more democratic decision-making processes.) (There’s a lot you can read about these ideas online – see: Critical Resistance, Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective.)

    – I am really interested in hearing your thoughts on randomized (?) admission. I also think that the recruiting should be examined (Midd recruits more in wealthier areas so that it can remain ‘need blind’).

    …And yet, I see the most significant limits around envisioning and enacting change in the ways that Middlebury stabilizes around money. It is most explicitly accountable to money (sometimes in the form of its reputation)… and that makes it difficult to shift power or accountability, at least without appealing to the commodification of higher education, in which students are clients and should be ‘served’ because of the money that they spend; and the psychologization of politics and grievances of personal harm (and threats of litigation stemming from there).

    I think Middlebury can do better than it does currently, but of course it functions within larger systems/structures of power; capitalism, white supremacy, cis/hetero-patriarchy, etc, etc… I’m not imagining we could be a utopic campus free of these systems of power, and I understand that the tensions that surround grappling with them don’t necessarily engender clear-cut answers, but necessitate dialogical decision-making, humility – especially on the part of the most powerful, and constant questioning, interrogation, and revision. And I think we could attempt that.

    Have a wonderful summer, everybody!

  39. Current Mid,

    I am sure you believe that you stand for equality and human dignity.

    But as this latest kerfuffle has clearly shown, this is demonstrably not true.

    You are not for equality. If you were, the AEI would be equally able to invite their speakers. The students who wanted to hear Murray would have been able to hear him.

    You did not treat the Conservative students, the faculty and most particularly Dr. Murray and Stanger with ANY kind of human dignity.

    Some pigs are more equal than other, it seems.

    If you believed in this principle instead of using it like a stalking horse to be aggrieved and to seize power, your reaction to his speech would have been MUCH different. It would have allowed HIM some dignity.

    You forget yourself. You are a STUDENT sent to LEARN. You are singularly Unqualified to lead anyone, except for having a bad attitude and a pocket full of grievance.

    No one at Middlebury invited you in to take over the campus and show them all what they are doing wrong. No one in the job market is going to care what you believe or allow you to take over their businesses. If you want to change Middlebury, put in a job application.

    So far, you are violent ideologue. And historically, they are the worst kind.

  40. My feelings: a complete, politically correct whitewash. Very sad. But, in today’s illiberal environment where some are more equal that others as far as free speech is concerned, it is to be expected.

    I hope the woman professor who was injured has made a full recovery. Haven’t heard about her. The students should be deeply ashamed but are not.

    I got caught up a bit so have been following this for a week or so.

  41. Current Midd, your proposals contradict themselves. You oppose “a punitive system of punishment (in which the ‘deviant’ individual is outcast or reformed),” but you also want “anti-oppression pedagogy trainings for professors,” i.e. a program in which professors who deviate from the approved “anti-oppression” doctrine of the moment are — at least —
    reformed, and perhaps cast out if they don’t cooperate. The premise of any “training” is that there are trainers who know more than the trainees and are therefore able to show them how the job should be done. The whole idea, then, seems to be to deny that professors have expertise of their own on how higher education in general, and their own subjects in particular, are best delivered.

    This is arrogant. Hence, it also contradicts your own call for “humility.” Humility should begin with the recognition that the people who are currently claiming to know all about oppression, power, white privilege, white supremacy, “mansplaining,” etc. — people like the authors of the various articles and web sources you cite — **might be wrong.** Or, at least, their view might be a highly partial one that doesn’t take accounts of all the interests actually in play. Perhaps they themselves would benefit from some further training. Did that ever occur to you?

  42. J Dye;

    – I should have been more specific – I believe in equity more than equality in education. I went to tropes to try to clarify what I was saying which was, WHY do some argue that we “need” to argue that some people are inherently inferior/superior. If you want to have a discussion/argument, you should be able to justify WHY (and you should do background research on what it might mean to be offering that discussion/bringing that person) – and I think that’s not a policy but a principle that students/faculty members could do well to adopt when thinking about bringing controversial speakers to campus.

    – I would not say shouting at someone is denying human dignity (although I do think that a fruitful discussion about what does would be helpful, and perhaps underlies some of the disagreement at least at Middlebury).

    – Actually, Middlebury generally wants our labor to make it a more inclusive place. And generally Middlebury benefits from ‘activist’ work on campus (which generally doesn’t threaten the administration’s power). Many people’s letters of probation told them that they hoped that students “continue your work to make Middlebury better in constructive ways”. They keep stressing that they don’t want us to stop doing the “constructive work” that we do on campus, that they aren’t anti-protest or anti-activist, etc. I think that the ways that many students were treated throughout this process (and I could give specific examples, but let’s just say there was little regard for some students well-being and for fundamental fairness in a few cases of racial profiling) will come back to bite the administration, as there will be fewer students willing to take on the work of making the institution more equitable. We’ll see.

    – I also don’t believe in “banking” education, in which the student is seen as a passive receptacle for receiving knowledge. And I believe that a discursive, dialogical (see Friere, again!) education is intended to shape action. Discussion is a means, not an end. I’m not saying I have nothing to learn – I have much to learn – but I think we’re operating off of different understandings of “education”.

    Jeff Smith;

    – I would never claim that I – or any – “knows all” – about oppression, power, etc. I believe in dialogical education (see Friere)! Which means that it wouldn’t be a “trainer” working to “reform” “deviants”, but someone providing discussion of ‘evidence’ (which could take many forms) in which there is the intention of greater understanding by all (but not necessarily a particular understanding – I’m not saying everyone needs to understand the world like me!)

    – Many professors would like such trainings for themselves. Even if it were optional, it could be incredibly helpful.

    – Understanding anti-oppression pedagogy/cultural competency is required by many schools of ed for elementary/secondary. While I respect that professors often know a lot about higher education, they do not have to get any sort of teaching license and generally get little formal pedagogical training (miraculously, many still become great teachers). As someone getting my teaching license, I think that some what I learn could be helpful for professors trying to grapple with questions that are coming up on campus.

    For all; When does conviction become self-righteous? There is a tension in some of the comments here that asks protesters to relinquish their beliefs (not just actions, also beliefs) and imply that we are ignorant and unformed, but Murray (or whatever “other side”) isn’t asked to do the same. If beliefs are meant to shape actions, which actions (and you can say no-platforming, but I feel like some of the criticisms go beyond that) are arrogant, and which are acting in accordance with ones convictions?

  43. Current Mid,

    I could waste a lot of time doing a point by point refutation of what you wrote, but it actually, boils down simply:

    -I want power

    -I do not believe in equality because I clearly laid out that the most disadvantaged…or should I say most aggrieved should have ‘extra special voting privileges’. And of course, their advocates (ME) should also be given more power. In fact, you should pay me to ‘educate’ the rest of you troglodytes, since this is a lot of work.

    -I want to set up mandatory propaganda meetings for the professors and the students so we can identify ‘wrong thinking’ professors by STUDENTS and correct them and to identify wrong thinking students (i.e. those who disagree with me) to intimidate and excoriate them for cis, capitalistic, patriarchal attitudes. You know…like Mao did with his Red Guard.

    – I want to use shaming tactics against the power brokers so I can accumulate more power without any sense of reflection or humility on my part.

    – I want to entirely eschew any accountability for my actions on campus and resent any controls on my actions. Essentially I want license to do what we did to Charles Murray again without being questioned or taken to task at violating civility, the rule of law, and human dignity.


    So why would anyone white, anyone who wants a comfortable life, anyone who is male ever support your endeavors? All you are offering them is shame, re-education and property seizure.

    On a related note, if it were not for the monied classes who are so prevalent on your small campus, if it wasn’t for the social weight of that cis-white patriarchal society, i.e. if it wasn’t for Daddy Warbucks bailing out ‘Radical Annie’ or if you were in a State school, 67 (or much more) of your protesting group would have found themselves with much more than sore wrists.

    But Mummie and Daddy used their influence to guard you from your nonsense, which is a shame.

  44. Hi all,

    I’ve been traveling a bit and out of email range, so slow to post your comments – my apologies!

  45. Hi J. Dye,

    I talked to a New York Times reporter about this and made the point that rather than simply punishing students, we should be looking in the mirror a bit more as an institution to see whether we have taught students what we mean by “free speech” and why we believe it is so crucial to learning at a liberal arts institution. See: Obviously she couldn’t print all my remarks. But my point to her is I think we forget that many students come to campus and genuinely can’t fathom why the institution would allow speakers to come and talk about issues that some portion of the community find hurtful. I’m not trying to absolve the students here – particularly those who committed violence – but I would feel better if we combined the punishments with a campus-wide class on the definition and necessity of free speech on a college campus. I also wonder if we are allowing students to go through 4 years here without ever getting out of their comfort zone by being challenged on some of their beliefs. If they spend four years only hearing one side of the free speech debate, how can we expect them to understand why shouting Murray down was precisely the wrong way to make their point?

  46. Thanks Current Midd – and rest assured I am learning from your comments as well, as I hope (and believe) our other readers are. Thanks for engaging….

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