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Middlebury’s Obscene Cowardice

Middlebury's poli sci department chair regrets (Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

From the political science department chair at Middlebury College:

Earlier this year I, as chair of the political science department, offered a symbolic departmental co-sponsorship to the Charles Murray event in the same way that I had done with other events in the past: on my own, without wider consultation. This was a mistake.

Last week, I apologized to my departmental colleagues for this closed decisionmaking process, and I apologize now to the broader Middlebury community. The short amount of time between when the event became public and when it occurred gave all of us scant opportunity to listen to and understand alternative points of view. Most importantly, and to my deep regret, it contributed to a feeling of voicelessness that many already experience on this campus, and it contributed to the very real pain that many people – particularly people of color – have felt as a result of this event.

As we debate what to do next, I look forward to hearing from the college-wide committee on invited speakers that is currently taking shape, as well as from my departmental colleagues and our department’s student advisory committee. I thank all of the members of the college community who have shared their views with me, with the department, and with the college administration over the past few months. I will continue to listen.

This capitulation to the ideological thugs who attacked Murray and others on Middlebury’s campus deserves wide denunciation. A professor from the man’s own department was physically assaulted by these goons, and sent to the hospital — and nobody has been held accountable for any of this by Middlebury. As a scholar and as an American, Bert Johnson, the poli sci department head, should be ashamed of himself. He has shown himself to be a lickspittle to the campus left, and will be treated exactly that way by the radicals he is helping to empower.

Yeah, I’m furious about this. Have you been following the racist disgrace on the Pomona and Claremont college campuses in California? A student mob shut down Heather Mac Donald as she tried to speak out in favor of police. In the aftermath, the president of the college spoke out in defense of free speech. A group of black radicals issued this manifesto condemning him, and free speech. From the document:

Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry. Thus, if “our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth,” how does free speech uphold that value? The notion of discourse, when it comes to discussions about experiences and identities, deters the ‘Columbusing’ of established realities and truths (coded as ‘intellectual inquiry’) that the institution promotes. Pomona cannot have its cake and eat it, too. Either you support students of marginalized identities, particularly Black students, or leave us to protect and organize for our communities without the impositions of your patronization, without your binary respectability politics, and without your monolithic perceptions of protest and organizing. In addition, non-Black individuals do not have the right to prescribe how Black people respond to anti-Blackness.

Your statement contains unnuanced views surrounding the academy and a belief in searching for some venerated truth. Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples. We, Black students, exist with a myriad of different identities. We are queer, trans, differently-abled, poor/low-income, undocumented, Muslim, first-generation and/or immigrant, and positioned in different spaces across Africa and the African diaspora. The idea that we must subject ourselves routinely to the hate speech of fascists who want for us not to exist plays on the same Eurocentric constructs that believed Black people to be impervious to pain and apathetic to the brutal and violent conditions of white supremacy.

The idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining Heather Mac Donald’s hate speech is illogical. If engaged, Heather Mac Donald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black people to exist. Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live. Why are you, and other persons in positions of power at these institutions, protecting a fascist and her hate speech and not students that are directly affected by her presence?

These signatories do not belong in college. They do not understand what liberal education is, and have no respect for the rights of others within that educational community. They are manifestly opposed to the function of a university. If they continue to try to shut down free speech and open inquiry, they should be expelled without hesitation or apology.
Heather Mac Donald responds:

Moreover, “We, few of the Black students” only pretend to be postmodern relativists. They are fully confident that they possess the truth about me and about their oppressed plight at the Claremont schools. An alternative construction of their reality—one, say, that pointed out that as members of fantastically rich, tolerant, and welcoming American colleges, they are among the most privileged human beings in history—would be immediately rejected as contrary to the truth and not worth debating. “We, few” would also reject the alternative truth that far from devaluing Black students, the administrations of the Claremont colleges have undoubtedly admitted many with levels of academic preparation far below that of their white and Asian peers, simply to fulfill the administrators’ own self-righteous desire for “diversity.”

Typical of all such censors and petty tyrants, “We, few of the Black students” now want to crush dissent. They ask the Claremont University Consortium to take action, both disciplinary and legal, against the editors of the conservative student paper, the Claremont Independent, for the open-ended sins of “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” These are the demands not of relativists but of absolutists determined to solidify their power.

As for “We, few’s” gross misreading of my work, it shows that reading skills are in as short supply at the Claremont colleges as writing skills. My entire argument about the necessity of lawful, proactive policing is based on the value of black lives. I have decried the loss of black life to drive-by shootings and other forms of street violence. I have argued that the fact that blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined is a civil rights abomination. And I have tried to give voice to the thousands of law-abiding residents of high-crime areas who are desperate for more police protection so that they can enjoy the same freedom from fear that people in more wealthy areas take for granted.

Read her entire response. Elite American universities are at a crossroads. Either they stand up to racists like these students, and their fellow-traveling Jacobins, or they surrender their integrity, their conscience, and their essence. There is no middle ground. As the pseudonymous author Alex Southwell writes, identity politics have made some colleges much worse intellectually and professionally, and that’s a problem. But to have them turn into places where intellection itself is despised, unless it serves radical left-wing ideology — this ought to be utterly intolerable.

Princeton’s Robbie George reminds us:

Now it appears there will be no justice, because academic freedom is something that the head of the political science department is too ridden with white guilt to defend — even when the violent attack on it lands one of his own professors in the hospital.

It’s appalling. It’s beyond appalling. If I were a professor at Middlebury, I would look for the exits. This is not an institution that will defend itself or its own professors when the mob comes for them. And believe me, it will.

William Chace points out that what happened at Middlebury is not remotely typical of American college campuses.  Charles Murray went on to speak without incident at a number of other, more mainstream college campuses, he says. This is true, and it’s important not to think that what happens at Middlebury, or at Pomona and the Claremont Colleges, is representative of all higher education. But places like those colleges punch well above their weight, because they attract elite students. Consider Wellesley College, the alma mater of Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Its student newspaper just published an editorial attacking free speech and expression on campus. Excerpt:

This being said, if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted. If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions. It is important to note that our preference for education over beration regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn. Rather, we are not referring to those who have already had the incentive to learn and should have taken the opportunities to do so. Paid professional lecturers and politicians are among those who should know better.

We at The Wellesley News, are not interested in any type of tone policing. The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights.

The Boston Globe gives the context for this extraordinary editorial:

Debate about free speech at Wellesley has intensified since last month, when Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, spoke on campus during “Censorship Awareness Week.”

Kipnis has stirred controversy for arguing that attempts by colleges to combat sexual assault have contributed to “sexual paranoia” and a skyrocketing sense of vulnerability among female students.

At Wellesley, Kipnis was denounced by a student group called Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone, which released a video blasting her views and arguing that “white feminism is not feminism.”

A week before the speech, student protesters at Middlebury College shut down a talk by conservative social scientist Charles Murray and injured a Middlebury professor who was with him.

About a week after Kipnis spoke, a group of Wellesley professors who are part of the college’s Commission on Race, Ethnicity, and Equity argued that Wellesley should think more carefully before inviting speakers like Kipnis. The professors argued that speakers who are brought to campus to encourage debate can instead “stifle productive debate by enabling the bullying of disempowered groups.”

“There is no doubt that the speakers in question impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty,” the professors wrote in an e-mail to the campus community that was obtained by FIRE, a group that seeks to promote free speech on college campuses.

Seeking to ease tensions, Wellesley’s president, Paula A. Johnson, wrote a letter to the campus community April 4 in defense of free expression.

Good on the college president for taking a stand. But will she defend it when it comes under challenge? I hope so. I don’t think we will see an end to this kind of ideological bullying on campus until and unless universities start expelling those who engage in it. If a university will not defend itself, its mission, and the right of its students to get an education, then it deserves to fail.

UPDATE: A reader writes:



And the tenured leader of this nonsense:

UPDATE.2: Reader Jack B. Nimble writes:

Once again, Mr. Dreher wrongly implies that no Middlebury students are being punished or investigated for the events of March 2, 2017. A useful corrective are the links provided here:


Note in particular this excerpt:

‘Statement on Disciplinary Measures

The College’s investigation has identified more than 70 individuals it believes may be subject to disciplinary procedures under student handbook policies.

As of April 17, more than 30 students have accepted disciplinary sanctions for their actions on March 2. We are almost halfway through with the investigation and disciplinary process and we hope to bring it to a close by the end of the academic year in mid-May.

We will not comment on the nature or range of the sanctions until the process is complete.’

I am glad to hear it. I will not comment on the nature or range of the sanctions until they are made public.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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