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SURRENDER: Middlebury College Cowers To Heckler’s Veto In New Speaker Policy

On Friday, Middlebury College Provost Susan Baldridge sent an announcement to the community outlining new interim policies regarding future speaking events at the Vermont-based liberal arts institution. Written as a response to Charlottesville, Baldridge stated that it was imperative to create policies to properly plan events that could be construed as inviting potential violence. The policy is written as follows:

Until it is replaced or superseded, the following procedures will be in effect for all of Middlebury’s locations.

1) Those scheduling events (e.g., speakers, symposia, colloquia, performances, etc.) will be required to submit an event reservation request at least three weeks prior to the event date.

2) Students, faculty, and staff seeking to make room reservations for events will, beginning in September, be asked on the submission form whether the proposed event presents any special considerations or security concerns. Student groups scheduling events will be required to confirm that they have consulted with their group’s faculty or staff advisor.

3) Requests to schedule an event will be reviewed weekly by staff from Student Activities, Event Management, and Communications to identify any events that are a likely target of disruption, threats, violence, or other acts of intimidation, or are likely to draw unusually large crowds.

4) In the event of a credible likelihood, based on prior incidents or current evidence, that an event is likely to be the target of threats or violence, the Threat Assessment and Management Team will conduct a risk assessment of the event, consulting with local law enforcement as needed, in order to advise the administration.

5) Representatives from Public Safety/Campus Security and Risk Management will review the risk assessment and determine resources or measures that might be necessary to ensure that the event can proceed without undue risk to the speaker and/or members of the community. This review will include a consideration of Middlebury Emergency Preparedness Plan and Emergency Operations protocols.

6) In those exceptional cases where this review indicates significant risk to the community, the president and senior administration will work with event sponsors to determine measures to maximize safety and mitigate risk. Only in cases of imminent and credible threat to the community that cannot be mitigated by revisions to the event plan would the president and senior administration consider canceling the event.

Part I requires students and faculty to submit an event reservation three weeks prior to the date. This is not an unusual policy, since universities need to ensure that spaces are available to host events. Part II requires a submission on whether the event requires security or additional consideration. This, again, is also common since universities have a propensity to invite high-profile speakers, including members of past and current governments, who often require security.

Part III requires staff from various administrative departments to determine whether an event would be a “target of disruption, threats, violence, and other acts of intimidation, or are likely to draw unusually large crowds.” While this could be subjected to loose interpretation by a normally left-leaning administration, this is a reasonable policy insofar as it forces administrators to utilize additional resources protecting free speech for a speaker while planning to counter potentially violent or disruptive actors.

Parts IV requires a risk management team to assess potential risk and coordinate with law enforcement to determine whether the event could be held safely with the presence of police forces. As was evidenced during Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro’s event at UC Berkeley last Thursday, police presence ensures that Antifa thugs and assorted leftist mobs cannot disrupt events and violate the First Amendment. Thus, Middlebury’s commitment to coordinating proper protection for potentially controversial speakers is welcome since its colossal failure to protect a professor and countless others during a March 3 event with Dr. Charles Murray. The challenge, however, is how effectively this “Threat Assessment an Management Team” will be in determining potential safety issues through an objective lens.

Parts V and VI, however, are nothing short of a capitulation to the violent mob. They open the door to subjective interpretations as to whether events could present an “undue risk,” even in the potential presence of law enforcement. Part VI is even more egregious toward those “exceptional cases” where the college president and the administration will “work with event sponsors to determine measures to maximize safety and mitigate risk.” In other words, if the thread of the mob seems too great, then the university has the discretion to reward them by calling upon event coordinators to cancel the event.

This is a common example of surrendering to the Heckler’s Veto, where one’s right to free speech is curtailed in order to prevent the overt obnoxiousness and potentially violent behavior of the mob. Middlebury apologizes for such behavior in its attempt to allow the presence of a violent mob to potentially curb the free speech of an individual whom the administration could deem problematic to the institution. Giving the president and senior administrators’ immense discretion in those “exceptional cases” could result in the violation of the free exchange of ideas that Provost Baldridge ironically supported in her letter announcing these new guidelines.

However, the procedures are only an interim policy and it will remain to be seen whether Middlebury College will allow the Heckler’s Veto an opportunity to curb the freedom of speech for individuals whom they do not like.

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