Yesterday evening, in the wake of last week’s attack on invited speaker Charles Murray and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger, the talk’s moderator, a group of Middlebury College faculty shared an open letter setting forth a set of “core principles that seem to us unassailable in the context of higher education within a free society.” As of this afternoon, 50 members of Middlebury’s faculty had signed on to the principles.
The principles affirm students’ right to peacefully protest speakers with whom they disagree, but roundly reject both the use of a heckler’s veto and many of the common arguments made in favor of censorship.
For example, as I noted yesterday, a group of more than 640 Middlebury students signed an open letter calling Charles Murray’s work “personally and politically violent toward people of marginalized identities.” The faculty principles directly address this frequently-made argument, stating: “Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.”
Similarly, proponents of censorship often argue that allowing for unfettered free speech unfairly elevates some voices over others, given the relative privilege (or lack thereof) enjoyed by various groups within American society. The faculty take this argument on squarely as well, stating: “The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.”
It is heartening to see a sizeable group of faculty members speak out forcefully in favor of free speech and open debate on Middlebury’s campus. We hope that many more members of the faculty will sign on to these principles in the days to come.