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The death of liberty on campus? Some reflections on Middlebury

By now, you have likely read about last week’s debacle at Middlebury College, where violent protests shut down a speech by academic and author Charles Murray and resulted in physical injury to Allison Stanger, a Middlebury professor who was there to moderate the Q&A portion of the event. Both Murray and Stanger have since publicly shared their accounts of what happened. Stanger wrote that she “feared for her life,” and Murray talked about the moment that “protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood.”

In the days leading up to Murray’s speech, we saw hundreds of alumni, faculty, and students denounce the college for allowing him to speak. They called Murray’s work “personally and politically violent toward people of marginalized identities,” and said his invitation to campus was “a threat.”

So you would expect that the Middlebury community would be speaking out with equal, if not greater, concern about the actual violence that happened when Murray tried to speak on campus on Thursday, right?


As we noted last week, the Middlebury administration itself has responded admirably so far, although to avoid irreparable damage to free speech on campus, it will need to follow through with serious consequences for any students who participated in the disruption and violence (and not, of course, against anyone who was involved only in peaceful protest).

But with a few exceptions, it seems largely to be crickets from the Middlebury community.

In fact, following the events of Thursday evening, a member of Middlebury’s student government introduced a resolution — reportedly under consideration — that appears to be aimed at preventing speakers like Murray from being invited in the future. That resolution provides, in relevant part (and with my comments in brackets):

Whereas we the SGA, stand with all members of our community who feel ostracized and unsupported by the community they should feel comfortable in, [Does this include Prof. Stanger, who was ostracized all the way to the emergency room?]

Whereas the Middlebury Community does not exist in a bubble, and hate speech and false ideas have a lasting impact on every member of this community, [So do assault and battery.]

Therefore, be it resolved…

That the SGA recommends that Middlebury College should require all departments to respect the boundaries of the College’s community standards when inviting speakers, holding forums, hosting events, and adding discourse to the general Middlebury community. [Do these standards include not physically attacking people or repeatedly pulling a fire alarm when there is no fire?]

That the SGA recommends that student organizations should also be held to the same standards as the departments, in order to create a better learning environment for their appeals. [Reading between the lines, “better learning environment” = a place where you don’t have to hear things that may make you uncomfortable.]

That the SGA recommends that Middlebury College should create an appeals process through which students can voice their dissent and disapproval of speakers, forums, and public events that violate community standards, in order to create a system of checks and balances. [How is allowing the student body to decide what views may be heard on campus a “check” or “balance”? Just call it what it is: a “censorship committee.”]

So an angry mob attacks a speaker and a member of Middlebury’s faculty, and the concern is that people might feel “unsupported” by the fact that their college allows for the expression of controversial ideas on campus?

I can only hope this resolution will not pass. But the relative silence from the Middlebury community about the atrocious events of Thursday afternoon already speaks volumes.

Again, the administration seems to be doing the right thing, but I worry that it may be too late. In the words of Judge Learned Hand, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it….”

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