The war on free speech being waged by Social Justice Warriors on college campuses across the country has been largely met with cowardice by faculty and administrators, who seem to believe the best way to handle fascistic, violence-prone bullies is coddling and retreat. So it’s heartening to see those who actually have a spine in higher education take a stand against the mob that is rapidly turning universities into the least free-thinking places in the country.
Six alumni of Middlebury College, who are also college faculty and administrators at other institutions, penned an open letter to their alma mater shaming it for failing to adequately defend free speech and outlining steps it can take to set a much-needed example for other colleges around the U.S.
Middlebury was the scene of one of the more reprehensible literal assaults on free speech in recent months: the leftist mob’s shutdown of a discussion featuring widely respected scholar Charles Murray, which devolved into violence and left Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger with a concussion (Stanger, by the way, went on to blame Donald Trump for the students’ violence).
The Middlebury alumni say enough is enough. Here’s how the letter begins:
As university professors and administrators, we are deeply concerned with escalating attacks on free speech and inquiry all across American higher education – and we believe that lessons of national import can be learned from the situation at our alma mater in Vermont. Middlebury College recently completed its public response to the physical intimidation and assault visited upon Charles Murray and Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger on March 2. Last week it issued a press release stating that 67 students had received sanctions “ranging from probation to official College discipline.” Middlebury also has appointed a special committee to “explore and discuss issues relating to” the incident.
This past semester featured episodes across the country of university and college students using physical intimidation to preempt or harass speakers; using similar tactics against professors who did not share their views on censoring speech; demanding control of faculty hiring to meet their demands for diversity; and demanding that regular disciplinary procedures to address all such extraordinary actions be suspended. The most recent incidents occurred at UCLA and ClaremontMcKenna College, Indiana University, Pomona College, and Evergreen State College. Because this educational crisis has spread to so many American campuses, we think Middlebury’s leaders have a responsibility to do more.
Noting that they are “grateful alumni” of Middlebury and “hold diverse political views and teach at varied institutions,” the professors underscore that “robust debate and diverse inquiry are essential to the search for truth.” But, sadly, they write, the college has “failed to seize an opportunity to firmly defend these foundational principles,” which is more important than ever “because students nationwide are rejecting freedom of expression and embracing a new version of the heckler’s veto.”
Middlebury’s response thus far is simply insufficient to address the current threats to higher education, free expression, and reasoned discourse. When The Wall Street Journal published a statement – signed by over 100 faculty members at Middlebury – defending these core principles, 151 Middlebury students issued a point-by-point response. Their response demonstrates that they, like many students nationwide, equate Murray’s speech with violence, and think a belligerent response was justified. Murray had no right to speak, they contend, because “[o]ppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” And the students’ own actions preventing Murray from speaking, they said, actually “defend[ed] the integrity of reasoned and civil discourse.”
This view is self-evidently wrong. Shouting down a speaker – to say nothing of setting off fire alarms or committing assault – is not “defending” reasoned discourse. The appropriate response to Murray’s lecture event, which by design featured his commitment to take questions and hear objections, would be an argument in kind. A special place for such important exchanges of views used to be known as a college or university.
This view is self-evidently wrong. Shouting down a speaker – to say nothing of setting off fire alarms or committing assault – is not “defending” reasoned discourse.
The professors go on to list four steps Middlebury should take to demonstrate that it “fully embraces free intellectual inquiry and the welcoming of diverse views on the campus”: 1) provide the public “a more informative summary of the judicial decisions and actions it has taken”; 2) provide a more “balanced representation” in its committee addressing free speech issues; 3) “organize a speaker series in 2017-18 on freedom of speech and intellectual diversity” that actually allows for diversity of thought; and 4) finally “endorse the Report of the Committee on Free Expression issued by the University of Chicago in 2015, as many other educational institutions have done.”
Below are the six Middlebury alumni who wrote the ardent defense of free speech, for which, particularly in today’s campus climate, they deserve praise:
Christopher F. D’Elia ‘68
Professor and Dean, College of the Coast and Environment
Louisiana State University
Richard Eldridge ‘75
Charles and Harriett Cox McDowell Professor of Philosophy
Peter Minowitz ‘76
Professor of Political Science
Santa Clara University
Suzanna Sherry ’76
Herman O. Loewenstein Professor of Law
James R. Stoner Jr. ‘77
Hermann Moyse Jr. Professor & Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute
Department of Political Science
Louisiana State University
Paul O. Carrese ‘89
Director and Professor, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership
Arizona State University