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Middlebury Is No Longer A College

Administration that could not protect Charles Murray from woke student mob cancels Ryszard Legutko talk

It’s a daycare center for fragile superannuated children of privilege. Here’s the latest:

A little more than two years ago, Middlebury College students shouted down Charles Murray, the controversial writer whom many accuse of espousing racist ideas, preventing him from giving a public lecture at the college. While Murray was not the first speaker blocked from speaking on a campus, his case captured national attention. Although Middlebury later punished many of those found to have prevented him from speaking (videotape captured the incident), many accused the college of failing to protect free expression.

On Wednesday, another controversial figure was slated to give a talk at Middlebury. Again, protests were planned against the speaker, although it is unclear if those protests would have disrupted the speech — a violation of Middlebury rules and the norms of campus discourse. This time Middlebury called off the event, citing safety concerns.

An email that went out to the campus hours before the scheduled appearance by Ryszard Legutko said, “In the interest of ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff and community members, the lecture by Ryszard Legutko scheduled for later today will not take place. The decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.”

The email was signed by Jeff Cason, the provost, and Baishakhi Taylor, dean of students.

Legutko is a professor of philosophy and a Polish diplomat. He is also a Catholic. More from the Inside Higher Ed article:

An open letter circulating on campus questions sponsoring “a speaker who blatantly and proudly expounds homophobic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic discourse.” Bringing such a speaker to campus amounts to “shutting out large swaths of the Middlebury community, all of whom are engaged, critical and rigorous thinkers whose energies would be better spent not combating degrading and dehumanizing rhetoric.”

Read it all. 

Here’s a report from the Middlebury campus newspaper. Legutko spoke to a poli sci class, and took some questions. Excerpt:

Dickinson asked Legutko if reinterpretations of marriage over time to include same-sex marriage are a social intrusion. Many of the concerns student activists initially voiced about Legutko’s visit centered around controversial statements he made regarding same-sex marriage and gay rights.

“I am very reluctant to tamper with the meaning of words,” Legutko responded. “Once you change the meaning, you are in for trouble. Marriage as we understood was between a man and a woman. What has happened recently is a radical change. I don’t think that we should be allowed to go as far as changing one of the most fundamental institutions of the world.”

Legutko took more questions about liberal democracy and his views on tradition. One student asked how Legutko felt about the controversy surrounding his visit, and invoked the Charles Murray incident.

“Charles Murray was the first thing on my mind when I was invited … It was unpleasant information, but it proves what I wrote in my book … How can these things happen?” Legutko responded. “Why is there this spirit of ideological crusade?”

Indeed. What happened to Legutko goes a long way towards illustrating his thesis in his great book The Demon In Democracy, in which the professor cites ways that liberal democracy is coming to be a form of soft totalitarianism comparable to what the peoples of Eastern Europe endured under Soviet occupation. Legutko was a Solidarity trade union activist in those days. Legutko’s book is a big inspiration for my next book, which is going to be about the emergence of soft totalitarianism, and practical lessons on how to resist it.

There is some reporting out of Middlebury that student protesters were not planning to be violent, and that the college administration cancelled the Legutko talk out of mere fear of violence. I have been told also that the administration treated Legutko with extreme discourtesy, beyond the abrupt cancellation of his speech.

This is a correct take:


Yesterday in Austin, I was sitting at a table with some smart young people, and the Legutko issue came up. Someone asked about Princeton professor Robbie George’s tweet earlier this week, in which George objected to an upcoming Villanova lecture by a left-wing faculty member and antifa sympathizer who plans to speak on why mob violence can be a justified response to right-wing speech. George said:


At the Austin discussion, one of the people present asked, in all sincerity, “Are these people our friends?” Meaning people on the left. I’m guessing he was talking about leftists within academia. In response, I conceded, with despondency, that no, they probably aren’t, not anymore. Where are the old-fashioned liberals standing up to this kind of cowardice on campus? What kind of friends allow this kind of thing to happen while remaining silent and passive?

It costs around $74,000 per year to attend Middlebury. For what? Why would anyone pay for their kid to study at a college that allows left-wing mobs a veto over whether or not scholars can speak on campus? Why would any student go into debt to pay for that kind of pseudo-education? The mob literally drove Charles Murray off Middlebury’s campus a couple of years ago, and physically injured Allison Stanger, a political science professor (and a liberal who is very much a friend of free speech) who accompanied him.

Last year, the Middlebury campus newspaper reported that Stanger’s outspoken criticism of the college and its atmosphere in the aftermath of the mob attack has revealed divisions among Middlebury faculty. Excerpt:

“From my perspective as a professor of political science, if we can’t have someone like Charles Murray on campus, who’s an influential voice in the Republican Party, well we can’t be a department of political science, we become a department of indoctrination if we can only allow Democrats to speak on campus,” Stanger said. “So for me on principle it’s extremely important that he be allowed to speak and I be allowed to engage him, along with my students.”

She also called upon administrators to stand up for the university’s core mission, which she deemed the “pursuit of truth.”

Stanger additionally spoke of her frustration that there is a sentiment emerging at Middlebury that freedom of speech and inclusivity are mutually exclusive ideas.

“I myself would like to do away with the terms ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’ and instead talk about pluralism, and that freedom of speech is actually a means to greater inclusivity, greater diversity, and if we respect pluralism, the idea that there can be a multiplicity of views, and it’s interesting to contend with them,” she said, adding that this practice of pluralism is conducive to civil discourse both within and outside of academic institutions.

More Stanger:

“What disturbed me about what happened at Middlebury was that I think students were actively encouraged by some members of the faculty to do things that were not in their interest. And that upsets me,” she said when Lamb asked why she did not want to see student protesters punished. “So 18- to 21-year-olds are still developing and need to be advised in the right ways. But I think I’ll just — I’ll just leave it at that to say that I would fault some faculty more than the students for what happened [at] Middlebury.”

Look at this mealy-mouthed equivocation from the head of the political science department at Middlebury, writing in the campus paper. Excerpts:

For the vast majority, the biggest challenge is to figure out how to handle the inevitable tensions in moments of acute incompatibility between our values, such as when invitations are issued to speakers whose writings have been inimical to the well-being of marginalized groups. There is no avoiding this confrontation between wanting to protect academic freedom, freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech, versus wanting to make sure that our institutional structures do not perpetuate the harms inherent in providing a platform to people associated with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of bigotry.

In these circumstances, it seems to me that we have two choices. We can either identify our personal cardinal value and press for it to win the day. When push comes to shove, you may decide that it is worth standing up for freedom of speech even if marginalized communities tell you to your face that it harms them. Or you may stick up for the vulnerable, even if involves undermining a critical principle of freedom in a way that risks being used against minority communities in the future. This is largely what we experienced during the Charles Murray and Ryzsard Legutko visits, at least among those willing to speak publicly.

Yet, there is another option, and I think a far better one. As individuals, or, ideally, as a community, we can reaffirm our strong attachment to both values. We have to uphold the freedom of our faculty colleagues to invite or co-sponsor speakers they feel will contribute to important intellectual discussions. Without that academic freedom, we cannot function as an institution of higher learning. We must also acknowledge that some speakers inflict pain on members of marginalized communities through the symbolic power of the platform that we provide them. We need to develop better strategies and policies for this reality, recognizing that the solutions for this challenge are nowhere near as straightforward as simply letting the speaker speak.

This week, in my role as chair of the political science department, I defended the right of my colleague to invite speakers he deems valuable to our intellectual life. That is a key component of academic freedom at any institution of higher education. I also organized—with the help of colleagues and staff, and in response to activism by students representing marginalized groups—a panel discussion designed to identify some of the weaknesses of the argumentation and the problematic nature of our visitor’s statements and party affiliation. I have connected with students and listened to their concerns. And I am thinking hard about what other steps we can take as a department to promote the value of inclusivity that is so critical to our department and to our college community.

It is breathtaking that a college professor is “thinking hard” — or thinking at all — about how to capitulate to the psychopathic fragility of these grievance hysterics. If they cannot hear a point of view contrary to their own, they do not belong in college. The professor here ought to be ashamed of himself. In any respectable liberal arts college, there would not be two equal sides on this question. This is a case of privileged activists exercising power against free speech and inquiry — and of faculty and administration who ought to know better than to knuckle under to this threat to the institution’s integrity abjectly surrendering.

Middlebury must be stigmatized and punished. I can’t imagine that right-of-center speakers refusing to go speak at the college would have much effect, but actual liberals declining to do so, and saying publicly that they will not have anything to do with a college that does not respect free speech and inquiry.

If you can believe it, Concordia University in Canada has disinvited one of the most distinguished scholars in North America, Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield, because he is unwoke. Robby Soave of Reason writes about the appalling act:

I researched the motivations of anti-speech campus actors for my forthcoming book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump (pre-order here), and generally found that their desire to shutdown conservative speakers mostly stemmed from the notion that offensive speech had the power to cause tangible emotional harm to vulnerable populations with which far-left activists sympathize. Their view would probably be that Mansfield’s opinions are mentally taxing for female, queer, and transgender students—and that harming the students in this way is akin to physically harming them. Preventing Mansfield from speaking, then, is a matter of self-defense—a response to a threat of violence.

Obviously, this approach to speech is incredibly flawed, and would make it impossible to have all sorts of interesting conversations on campuses. Again, Mansfield is an incredibly intelligent and respectable scholar whose views are well within the mainstream. If Concordia’s students are too timid to hear what he has to say, it’s hard to imagine they are prepared to face the outside world.

Indeed. But there will no doubt be jobs waiting for them as colleges, universities, and corporations expand their Diversity & Inclusion™ bureaucracies. Bet on it.





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