The Madness At Middlebury
In the days before Charles Murray appeared at Middlebury College to deliver an address, a senior named Nic Valenti took to the op-ed page of the campus newspaper to inform the community why he refuses to engage with Murray. Excerpts:
Indeed, when I first arrived at Middlebury I was clueless to the systems of power constructed around race, gender, sexuality, class or ability, and found that when I talked about these issues as I understood them — or rather, as I didn’t — I was met with blank stares and stigma rather than substantial debate. As a young bigot, I can recall thinking: “I thought at Middlebury I would get to have intellectual discussions, but instead it feels as though my views are being censored.” However, as a first-year I had failed to consider a simple, yet powerful component of debate: not all opinions are valid opinions. I had fallen into the trap of false equivalence.
False equivalence is simple: just because two sides are opposed does not mean they are equally logically valid.
The Hon. Valenti goes on to use profanity to express his wokeness, and to identify Murray as “dangerous.”
So. Murray comes to the Vermont college to speak about the themes in his book “Coming Apart,” which details the social, economic, and moral collapse of the white working class. He’s going to talk about the lessons from the Trump victory. Then all hell breaks loose. Reports PBS News Hour:
Prior to the point when Murray was introduced, several Middlebury officials reminded students that they were allowed to protest but not to disrupt the talk. The students ignored those reminders and faced no visible consequences for doing so.
As soon as Murray took the stage, students stood up, turned their backs to him and started various chants that were loud enough and in unison such that he could not talk over them. Chants included:
- “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away.”
- “Your message is hatred. We cannot tolerate it.”
- “Charles Murray, go away. Middlebury says no way.”
- “Who is the enemy? White supremacy.”
- “Hey hey, ho ho. Charles Murray has got to go.”
The scene was recorded and posted to YouTube. Murray appears around minute 19.
After the students chanted for about 20 minutes, college officials announced that the lecture would not take place but that Murray would go to another location, which the college didn’t name, and have a discussion with a Middlebury faculty member — livestreamed back to the original lecture site.
According to Middlebury officials, after Murray and the professor who interviewed him for the livestream attempted to leave the location in a car, some protesters surrounded the car, jumped on it, pounded on it and tried to prevent the car from leaving campus.
Here’s the YouTube clip. Watch from the moment Murray appears (minute 19). It is horrifying:
The Middlebury student mob physically attacked Prof. Allison Stanger as she was trying to protect Murray from violence. She had to go to the hospital for treatment. Here’s what she said later on Facebook:
I apologize for the impersonal and lengthy nature of this communication, but I wanted to provide a general response to the many people who wrote to me on Friday, and this was the most efficient way to do so. Your cards, gifts, and letters have meant so much to me. Please know that I will be responding to you individually in due time.
I agreed to participate in the event with Charles Murray, because several of my students asked me to do so. They are smart and good people, all of them, and this was their big event of the year. I actually welcomed the opportunity to be involved, because while my students may know I am a Democrat, all of my courses are nonpartisan, and this was a chance to demonstrate publicly my commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom. As the campus uproar about his visit built, I was genuinely surprised and troubled to learn that some of my faculty colleagues had rendered judgement on Dr. Murray’s work and character, while openly admitting that they had not read anything he had written. With the best of intentions, they offered their leadership to enraged students, and we all now know what the results were.
I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community. There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange, but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair-pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen, and they were stranded outside the doors. I saw some of my faculty colleagues who had publicly acknowledged that they had not read anything Dr. Murray had written join the effort to shut down the lecture. All of this was deeply unsettling to me. What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters.
Things deteriorated from there as we went to another location in an attempt to salvage the event via live-stream for those who were still interested in engaging. I want you to know how hard it was for us to continue with fire alarms going off and enraged students and outside agitators banging on the windows. I thought they were going to break through, and I then wondered what would happen next. It is hard to think and listen in such an environment. I am proud that we somehow continued the conversation. Listen to the video and judge for yourself whether this was an event that should take place on a college campus.
When the event ended, and it was time to leave the building, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had made it. I was ready for dinner and conversation with faculty and students in a tranquil setting. What transpired instead felt like a scene from Homeland rather than an evening at an institution of higher learning. We confronted an angry mob as we tried to exit the building. Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm both to shield him from attack and to make sure we stayed together so I could reach the car too, that’s when the hatred turned on me. One thug grabbed me by the hair and another shoved me in a different direction. I noticed signs with expletives and my name on them. There was also an angry human on crutches, and I remember thinking to myself, “What are you doing? That’s so dangerous!” For those of you who marched in Washington the day after the inauguration, imagine being in a crowd like that, only being surrounded by hatred rather than love. I feared for my life.
Once we got into the car, the intimidation escalated. That story has already been told well. What I want you to know is how it felt to land safely at Kirk Alumni Center after taking a decoy route. I was so happy to see my students there to greet me. I took off my coat and realized I was hungry. I told a colleague in my department that I felt proud of myself for not having slugged someone. Then Bill Burger charged back into the room (he is my hero) and told Dr. Murray and I to get our coats and leave—NOW. The protestors knew where the dinner was. We raced back to the car, driving over the curb and sidewalk to escape quickly. It was then we decided that it was probably best to leave town.
After the adrenaline and a martini (full disclosure; you would have needed a martini too) wore off, I realized that there was something wrong with my neck. My husband took me to the ER, and President Patton, God bless her, showed up there, despite my insistence that it was unnecessary. I have a soft brace that allowed me, after cancelling my Friday class, resting up all day, and taking painkillers, to attend our son’s district jazz festival. He’s a high school senior who plays tenor sax, and I cried when I realized that these events had not prevented me from hearing him play his last district concert.
To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken. Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree. This was the saddest day of my life. We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed. We must all realize the precious inheritance we have as fellow Americans and defend the Constitution against all its enemies, both foreign and domestic. That is why I do not regret my involvement in the event with Dr. Murray. But as we find a way to move forward, we should also hold fast to the wisdom of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“I feared for my life.” This is an American university professor — a liberal! — under assault by a left-wing mob.
We finished around 6:45 and prepared to leave the building to attend a campus dinner with a dozen students and some faculty members. Allison, Bill, and I (by this point I saw both of them as dear friends and still do) were accompanied by two large and capable security guards. (As I write, I still don’t have their names. My gratitude to them is profound.) We walked out the door and into the middle of a mob. I have read that they numbered about twenty. It seemed like a lot more than that to me, maybe fifty or so, but I was not in a position to get a good count. I registered that several of them were wearing ski masks. That was disquieting.
What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.
I had expected that they would shout expletives at us but no more. So I was nonplussed when I realized that a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass. I instinctively thought, we’ll go around him. But that wasn’t possible. We’d just get blocked by the others who were joining him. So we walked straight into him, one of our security guys pushed him aside, and that’s the way it went from then on: Allison and Bill each holding one of my elbows, the three of us plowing ahead, the security guys clearing our way, and lots of pushing and shoving from all sides.
I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.
The three of us got to the car, with the security guards keeping protesters away while we closed and locked the doors. Then we found that the evening wasn’t over. So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that Bill had to inch forward lest he run over them. At the time, I wouldn’t have objected. Bill must have a longer time horizon than I do.
Extricating ourselves took a few blocks and several minutes. When we had done so and were finally satisfied that no cars were tailing us, we drove to the dinner venue. Allison and I went in and started chatting with the gathered students and faculty members. Suddenly Bill reappeared and said abruptly, “We’re leaving. Now.” The protesters had discovered where the dinner was being held and were on their way. So it was the three of us in the car again.
Murray praises the Middlebury administration for standing by his invitation to speak on campus, and for preparing a Plan B to protect his right to speak in case of disruptive student protest. He now says that the “meaning” of the debacle depends on what Middlebury’s administration does now. If it does not take a hard line in punishing those who shut down the talk — including expulsion for those who were part of the mob that chased him and the others, and criminal charges against those who injured Prof. Stanger — then the Middlebury Mob Moment will become a turning point in American academic life. Here’s Murray:
Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses. In the mid-1990s, I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, “Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.” That kind of pushback had an effect. It reminded the protesters that they were a minority. I am assured by people at Middlebury that their protesters are a minority as well. But they are a minority that has intimidated the majority. The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand. A campus where a majority of students are fearful to speak openly because they know a minority will jump on them is no longer an intellectually free campus in any meaningful sense.
A college’s faculty is the obvious resource for keeping the bubble translucent and the intellectual thugs from taking over. A faculty that is overwhelmingly on the side of free intellectual exchange, stipulating only that it be conducted with logic, evidence, and civility, can easily lead each new freshman class to understand that’s how academia operates. If faculty members routinely condemn intellectual thuggery, the majority of students who also oppose it will feel entitled to say “sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say” when protesters try to shut down intellectual exchange.
That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly? I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.
The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand.
I’m sure the pattern differs by geography and type of institution. But my impression is that the problem at elite colleges and universities is extremely widespread. In such colleges, events such as the Middlebury episode will further empower the minorities and make the majorities still more timorous.
Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. And by the way, the way Nic Valenti was brainwashed at Middlebury hardly recommends it as a place to send one’s children to study.
It’s a cliche to say, “This is why Trump won.” But you know, it kind of is. These little Maoists studying at elite colleges and universities like Middlebury are on the fast track to move into the American ruling class. You see what they will do to dissenters. They must be resisted, and resisted strongly. If Middlebury and institutions like it do not believe in their mission enough to defend it against barbarians like that student mob — and defend it enough to expel the worst of them, without apology or appeal — then it deserves contempt and shunning by all people — left, right, and center — who believe in education, who believe in the free exchange of ideas on campus, and indeed, who believe in civilization.