Tag Archives: Middlebury College

Middlebury Student Government Says No to Free Speech

Middlebury’s response to the disruption of Charles Murray’s invited campus address—followed by the protesters assaulting and injuring Professor Alison Stanger, moderator for the talk—offered little ground for optimism. A statement from the college implied that evidence (albeit ambiguous evidence) existed suggesting that some professors violated the Faculty Handbook in the pre-disruption period. The disruptors themselves received token punishments, as several sympathetic professors supported them in the disciplinary process. The chief of the Middlebury Police Department even denied that the disruptors assaulted Stanger. (“It was more of a scrum. There wasn’t any assault per se.”)

The Middlebury student government, moreover, has seemed intent on confirming the critics’ case about a campus out of control. After repeatedly expressing support, in words and deeds, for the disruptors, the student government concluded its term by rejecting an academic freedom/viewpoint diversity bill, which sponsors Rae Aaron and Jack Goldfield hoped would reaffirm the college’s stated commitment—clearly not upheld in the Murray case—that “officially recognized student organizations may invite to the campus and hear any person of their choosing,” and that “free intellectual inquiry, debate, and constructive dialogue are vital to Middlebury’s academic mission and must be protected even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial.”

In the body’s first meeting after the Murray disruption and the attack on Stanger, the student government’s co-chair issued an apology—for not convening an “emergency session” before the Murray event, with the goal of appeasing the would-be disruptors. The only resolution the student government passed on the issue was a thinly-veiled effort to urge that the disruptors avoid all punishment for their actions. The measure was approved on a 10-3 vote.

The academic freedom/viewpoint diversity resolution noted that pressure on campus free speech has come from both sides of the ideological spectrum. It urged the administration to champion diverse viewpoints on campus, expressed support for the right of peaceful protest, and looked to have the student government call “upon Middlebury College to allow outside speakers of all viewpoints—assuming they are invited by a student organization, conduct themselves in a lawful manner, and do not physically harass—to speak on campus without the threat of disruption, and to enforce the policies as set forth in the Student Handbook.”

This commonsense proposal generated furious opposition, and ultimately (in a somewhat weakened form) went down to defeat. If nothing else, opponents of free speech on the Middlebury campus are unusually candid in their distaste for the concept. While some critics offered the unusual canard—that a distinction exists between “hate speech” and free speech, and the college needs to crack down on the former—they also presented some intriguing claims.

One student senator, for instance, incredibly asserted that the college had both a statutory (hostile work environment for student employees) and a constitutional (“due process”) requirement to censor. Other student senators claimed that passing an academic freedom resolution would “prioritize” some voices, while ignoring “voices that can’t be heard because of societal pressures”—even though Middlebury has myriad student identity politics groups (and, of course, academic programs as well), while the only students whose voices were suppressed in this affair were those whose group had invited Murray to speak. Several senators justified their vote on grounds that defending free speech could be interpreted as criticism of the student disruptors, who at the time still had not received their (token) discipline.

In perhaps the strangest section of the debate, a co-sponsor of the resolution pointed (appropriately) to the suffrage movement as an organization that used peaceful protest, and the power of ideas, to win support. (She could also have referenced Jon Rauch’s arguments on the importance of free speech to the gay rights movement.) The critics’ response? Using “the women’s right to vote movement is not applicable,” because it was “only white women” who benefited from suffrage.

The minutes also featured a lengthy statement from one of the student disruptors. After speaking of his desire for a “middle path” on the issue of free speech—“I’m not saying Charles Murray has to be arrested if he comes onto our campus (that would be repression/censorship)”—the disruptor affirmed that if “we as a community are going to commit to ending discrimination, we will also have to commit to denouncing speech that constitutes discrimination (either by further normalizing white-supremacy or engendering violent/discriminatory action).” His conclusion? “We must name white supremacy and deprive it of power. Robbing Charles Murray of one platform for his racist pseudoscience is a small but important part of that resistance.”

In an interview with The New York Times, a Middlebury political science professor worried how events of the year showed a failure of teaching, in that many of the college’s students “don’t understand the value of free speech at a college and what free speech really means.” Based on the outcome of the free speech resolution debate, it would be difficult to argue with that assessment.

The Middlebury Punishment Is Finally Here

Those of you waiting to see the decisive smackdown of the Middlebury demonstrators who thought it was a good idea to shut down the Charles Murray talk, well, here it is: a letter will be placed in the files of some 30 students, and it won’t be removed until the end of the school year.

If any student commits another offense before then, the letter will be left in his or her file. (NO, NO, NOT THAT.) Not to worry, though. It’s not a real punishment and it won’t be seen by anyone unless it falls out of the folder and a janitor spots it.

It isn’t as if the students pursued Murray out of the building, stomped his car and put a professor briefly in the hospital, and in the opinion of some, came close to putting Murray’s life in danger. No wait, that’s exactly what the students did. No wonder Middlebury gave it to them with both barrels: a temporary letter that nobody will ever read, just what every campus delinquent fears most.

Wait. There’s more. An official bulletin on the matter from Middlebury, apparently published April 25, but taking some time to reach the real world, said that “some students expressed frustration with the process, saying that it seemed arbitrary and ill-defined. Others condemned the punishments altogether, citing them as an example of the college stifling students’ ability to express themselves.”

Here I think we can all agree. If your parents are paying $61,917 per year, there really should be no stifling while junior is roughing up two or more professors in the parking lot. It just isn’t right.

Their Violence Is Free Speech, but Our Speech Is Violence

A ludicrous inversion has taken place. The speech of Charles Murray, Heather Mac Donald, and other conservatives whose ideas cross the race taboos of the left are claimed to be violent. It is now one of the truisms of identity politics that words can hurt. As Toni Morrison said in her 1993 Nobel Prize speech, “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.”

So free speech by conservatives is violence. On the other hand, the left’s real violence is free speech, and when the police arrest protesters who intimidate attendees, block entrances, and shout down lecturers, they’re interfering with free speech rights. As a Middlebury professor and two alums said at Inside Higher Ed after the affair, “If free speech can justify a platform for Murray, it also justifies students talking back.” The ridiculous understatement of the words “talking back” shows how distorted the perspective of the angry campus left has become.

The solution is clear. The next time the protesters commandeer public grounds and threaten innocent citizens, they must be seized, immobilized, and carted away. Until that happens, the upheavals shall continue.

Excerpted from The American Spectator

Colleges Still Lack Integrity on Canceled Speeches

At Middlebury, where Charles Murray was prevented from speaking about the disintegrating white working class, college president Laurie Patton made some appropriate comments on the need for free speech. But her remarks seemed slightly out of focus, as if the crisis revolved around discord between two groups of students, not basic freedom of expression, and that the job of Middlebury was to help guide disputing factions into getting along.

In a March 4 statement to the campus, Patton wrote: “The protests and confrontations in response to Charles Murray’s appearance laid bare deep divisions in our community. The campus feels different than it did before. It will take time and much effort to come together, and what the future ultimately looks like may not be anyone’s ideal—at least not for a while. We have much to discuss—our differences on the question of free speech and on the role of protest being two of the most pressing examples.”

This is verbal dithering. Free speech is not a “question” for discussion. It’s an essential need of any college or university. Without free expression, a college or university becomes a seminary for the dominant campus faction. Or as liberal scholar Robert Reich, puts it, “colleges become playpens.” Patton calls for everyone to submit community-building ideas for consideration. Compare Patton’s meandering comments to this focused one from a column by John Daniel Davidson of the Federalist:

“Our college students have come to this impasse in large part because their parents, high school teachers, college professors, and school officials have all failed them. They have not only refused to instill in them a reverence for the First Amendment, they have taught them to despise the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the very things that protect their right to protest. In so doing, they have turned them into the thing they claim to despise most: fascists.”

Note that 65 of Middlebury’s professors signed a statement strongly backing free speech. Good. But that’s just one-fifth of the faculty; 240 didn’t sign. Nationally, faculties have not been a factor in supporting free speech. As in most issues of college decline, they have been quiet onlookers. Meanwhile, a few people on the left dream of a hate-speech exception to the First Amendment, or think the exception has already been made. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean tweeted on April 20, “Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.” He is quite wrong.

Another concern is the endless delay.  Patton warned that sorting out the facts of the March 2 shout-down of Murray would take time. Nine weeks later, with classes at Middlebury ending in mid-May, many are concerned about the administration running out the clock without suspending or expelling any of the perpetrators.

Since February 1, when violent and masked demonstrators, canceled Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, starting fires, tossing Molotov cocktails, beating people in the crowd and giving at least two people concussions, we count ten campus speeches or events disrupted or canceled on campuses. The responses by the colleges and universities has been meek with little taste for standing up to the visiting thugs.

When Yiannopoulos attempted to speak at Berkeley, police kept inside a building making no attempt to take control while the riot proceeded outside. Primary administrators (Patton at Middlebury, Chancellor Nicolas Dirks at Berkeley) have let us know at length what they think of Murray and Yiannopoulos. But nobody cares what their opinions are, just that they will act responsibly to keep the peace and let free expression proceed.

Meeting no resistance, violent agitators are likely to push further each time, though the end of the school year may postpone increasingly disastrous behavior. But college administrations will have to change and defend their campuses. That will mean a willingness to make arrests, to expel anyone showing up for a campus talk in a mask, to film the disruptions and to make decisions on penalties before months of delay have passed.

The disruptions and violence aren’t going to fade without some show of resistance. Keep in mind that the University of Missouri, after offering no resistance to Ferguson-related riots on campus, had to close four of its dormitories because many fewer students cared to attend a university that couldn’t keep the peace.

The University of California, Berkeley, after canceling Anne Coulter’s scheduled speech and hearing that she was determined to deliver it on April 27, announced that she would have to deliver it on May 2, a dead time on the academic calendar. This is gamesmanship, showing only the university’s disdain for the speaker. Having flubbed the Yiannopoulos speech, the university plays games with the Coulter talk. When will the colleges and universities act with basic integrity?

The Real Defense of Charles Murray: Truth Not Free Speech

The Middlebury College incident in which Charles Murray was forcefully prevented from speaking about Coming Apart has generated a mini-industry of brilliant responses on behalf of academic freedom. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, these high-sounding admonitions are misdirected and paradoxically give comfort to disruptors. Murray’s champions uniformly embrace the classic let- a-thousand-flowers-bloom, anti-censorship argument so vital to a democracy. Surely a noble sentiment but it is content-free and herein lies the problem.

Murray’s lecture should have been defended on substantive grounds: he is a highly qualified expert who has something important to say, and those who shouted him down represent the forces of darkness. The Middlebury fiasco was more than just a generic attack on free speech, though it was certainly that; it was the triumph of the barbarians—the town folk with torches marching up to Dr. Frankenstein’s castle– who substitute feelings for science as a method to discover truth. That this anti-science assault occurred at a college only compounds the harm.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the venerable argument that free speech, save some special exceptions, should be tolerated even if views expressed are noxious, factually incorrect, and hateful or makes people uncomfortable. This Hyde Park Speaker’ Corner crackpot defense would certainly apply to Middlebury if the college invited, say, somebody promoting astrology.

But, this all-encompassing defense hardly applies to Charles Murray. He is not a crank needing a safe space or extra legal protection; his books and articles are models of social science analysis making major scholarly contributions and as such his presence need not be justified by some catch-all free speech protection. Yes, not everybody accepts his methods and conclusion, but to intimate that he should be lumped together with soapbox orators preaching the likes of creationism is a grievous mistake and, to boot, a personal insult.

Unfortunately, this generic approach is the safe path taken by Murray’s academic supporters—we should permit him to speak just as we might allow a wacko creationist to present his evidence. It is, indeed, an alluring and 100% safe defense: embrace the First Amendment and escape any suspicion that one might actually agree with his “racist” views. All gain, no pain for these apostles of intellectual freedom.

Those going to bat for Murray should have directly confronted the accusation that Murray is an incompetent who traffics in pseudo-scientific racism, classism and all the rest. Don’t retreat to a web-based safe space and quote from J. S. Mill’s On Liberty yet one more time; one should have been there to expose the disruptors (especially Middlebury faculty joining the fray) for what they are—ill-informed enemies of science, albeit of the social science variety.

This science-based defense hardly entails embracing Murray’s contentious conclusion. Rather, it calls for Murray’s arguments to be tried in the court of science, not affirmed or rejected by whether somebody, somewhere is offended. Defenders should have confronted the shouters and asked for a show of hands on how many protestors members have actually read The Bell Curve or any science-based rejoinder?

Similarly, how many of these noisy social justice warriors can briefly summarize the core argument of Coming Apart? Here’s a trick question: what does Coming Apart say about African Americans? (Answer: nothing, it’s only about whites). I suspect that even a few simple questions would expose the protestor as anti-knowledge airheads.

Better yet, stand tall and let it be known that you are not intimidated by masked disruptors and their snowflake auxiliaries. Openly ask for reaction to The Bell Curve’s most controversial data (p. 279) that African Americans on average have IQ’s 15 points lower than whites.  This gap explains numerous educational and economic outcomes, including the failure of myriad government imposed, well-funded measures to close the academic gap between blacks and whites.  In other words, do not concede the science to those silencing Murray. The real cranks are the ones in the black masks and students with signs saying, “No Eugenics” (Murray has never advocated eugenics). Protestors, not Murray, need an unrestricted Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner soapbox to explain why IQ tests are meaningless, why there is no such thing as “intelligence” or why spending trillions more will surely cure poverty.

Going one step further, the post-incident reaction should skip the empty rhetoric about needing yet more free speech protection etc. etc. How about demanding that Middlebury require all liberal arts majors take one course in scientific methodology? In this “Science for Snowflakes,” students will learn that science moves forward via falsification and shouting “racist” is not falsification. This would certainly be an improvement over a compulsory course celebrating multiculturalism (and I can only imagine the give and take when those learning about scientific methods enroll in fantasy-filled PC courses).

Sad to say, a substantive defense of Murray—his so-called noxious, arguments rest on solid science and can only be rejected scientifically—is unlikely to be offered on today’s PC-dominated campuses, at least in public though, I suspect, some Middlebury faculty and even a few students will agree in private with the doors locked, the shades pulled and only among trusted colleagues. In fact, the very idea of an objective, scientifically verifiable truth regarding racial differences might be deemed “too controversial” to even discuss.

If this event proves anything, it demonstrates that the Left now dominates the campus, and speaking the truth on contemporary taboo topics is career-ending; offering up a day late, dollar short celebration of the marketplace of ideas is not about to upend this control.

The power to silence those who believe in science has been metastasizing for decades. Those seeking a professorial career, at least in the humanities and social sciences, have long been socialized to accept that saying anything “disrespectful” about certain minorities and women is professional suicide no matter how strong the evidence and endless qualifications. And, with so many safe research topics available, it makes perfect sense to drink the Kool-Aid and insist that 2+2=5.

In the final analysis, Murray’s “talk” given electronically from a secure location was highly educational to those contemplating intellectual honesty, though not in the way Murray intended. The real bad news is not the silencing of Murray (he will convey his ideas elsewhere); it is the example given to younger academics.

They will see that if they should, even accidentally, stray over the academy’s invisible fence, dozens of fellow professors will write brilliant defenses of intellectual freedom on their behalf on countless websites. To recall a saying when growing up in NYC during the early 50’s: that and ten cents will get you a ride on the subway (today it would be $2.75).

Crime But No Punishment at Middlebury?

Two weeks have passed since a student mob shouted down visiting lecturer Charles Murray at Middlebury College, injured a professor, and jumped up and down on Murray’s car. But college President Laurie Patton still hasn’t acted to deal with any of the perpetrators. The action necessary was laid out clearly and forcefully by Rod Dreher in the American Conservative: “Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. “

The normal and disappointing college procedure in cases like this is to wait several weeks, issue a vague statement on free speech and a mild and nonspecific penalty that lets the issue slide. The announcement is customarily issued quietly around 5 p.m. Friday of a long holiday weekend. We note that Good Friday and Easter are coming up.

Possible Criminal Charges

In fact, before Murray rose and tried to speak, Bob Burger, a college VP and head of PR for Middlebury, did announce penalties—including suspension–for shouting down a speaker, but video shows he did so in an amused way, as noted by Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, writing in the Federalist. Burger omitted one point from Middlebury’s rules that would soon seem applicable: “Disruption may also result in arrest and criminal charges such as disorderly conduct or trespass.”

Related: Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

By the time Murray arrived on campus, Middlebury was in an explosive state. Disdain rose to hatred. Much of that atmosphere was the work of 450 Middlebury alumni who asked that the speaker be disallowed, and some 70 professors who protested the lecture and called Murray a “discredited ideologue paid by the American Enterprise Institute to promote public policies targeting people of color, women and the poor.”

This was an unusually tawdry account of Murray’s long career, including his 2012 book on the collapse of much white American culture, Coming Apart, which might have explained the rise of Donald Trump to Middlebury students had they read some of the book or listened to Murray’s speech instead of shutting it down.

“Both groups cued the anger of undergrads, few of whom had read Murray or even heard of The Bell Curve. Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury, under pressure to endorse free speech while identifying with the crowd’s anti-Murray emotions, accomplished both goals in much the same way that Lee Bollinger did when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007. Bollinger introduced the leader and excoriated him for “exhibit[ing] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”

Patton said of Murray in her introduction:” I would regret it terribly if my presence here today, which is an expression of support I give to all students who are genuinely seeking to engage in a very tough public sphere, is read to be something which it is not: an endorsement of Mr. Murray’s research and writings. I will state here that I profoundly disagree with many of Mr. Murray’s views.” Though Patton had put out an advance statement on free expression, Peter Wood pointed out that her 6-minute introduction of Murray contained no clear mention of the need for free speech.

Related: Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

As Wood observed, Patton positioned herself almost identically to how Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at UC Berkeley had positioned himself before the Milo Yiannopoulos event and riot, emphasizing his extreme dislike of the speaker’s views and his temperate allegiance to free speech.

The anger and hatred by alumni and some faculty may have affected students who apparently knew little or nothing about Murray, beyond the awareness that liberals in good standing are expected to detest him. Many of the protesters dismissed the speaker as “anti-gay,” perhaps because it fit the rhyme scheme of a popular left-wing chant, though Murray has not written anything anti-gay and has come out for same-sex marriage.

What ‘The Bell Curve’ Said

Peter Wood offered this brief account of the argument in “The Bell Curve”:

*The book has very little to say about race. But it argues that a considerable portion of intelligence—40 to 80 percent—is heritable; and it also argues that intelligence tests are generally reliable. Those ideas irritate people who have a deep investment in three beliefs: extreme human plasticity; the social origins of inequality; and the possibility of engineering our institutions to create complete social justice.

*Murray’s 1994 argument that intelligence is mostly fixed at birth runs afoul of the hope or the belief that children who have significant intellectual deficits can overcome them with the right kinds of teaching.

*Murray’s argument can be interpreted to mean that social and economic inequality are rooted mostly in biological inheritance—though Murray never says this, and to the contrary has often argued for social changes that have nothing to do with biological inheritance.

*Murray is broadly on the side of pragmatic steps to ameliorate social ills and is skeptical of utopian proposals.

Related: The Bubble at Middlebury

*Murray has written many books since “The Bell Curve,” but for many on the left, it is still 1994, and they still have not read the original book, let alone Murray’s more recent work, including his 2012 best-seller “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Any familiarity with that book—a sustained lament for “The Selective Collapse of American Community,” as he titles one chapter—would render it impossible to sustain the cartoon image of Murray as a racist bigot who wants to keep in place the inequities of American life. Murray has ably answered these kinds of attacks before, not that any of his opponents truly care about the accuracy of their accusations.

*It testifies to the shallowness of elite liberal arts education today—and not just Middlebury—that significant numbers of students and faculty members can repeat the old slurs against Murray. And not just repeat them, but intoxicate themselves with hatred towards a man whose ideas they know only third- or fourth-hand through individuals who have a strong ideological motive to distort them.

The welcome-and-disparage maneuver is not enough, President Patton. Uphold standards and deal with the perps.

The Bubble at Middlebury

Photo: The Rutland Herald

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more outrage about the somewhat violent silencing of Charles Murray at Middlebury.

I feel more than a little threatened by the fact that a political scientist was actually injured in the line of duty. I thought I had prudently chosen a profession where that just couldn’t happen. As C. C. Pecknold points out, these demonstrations are a kind of ritualized playacting of the privileged, those who think they are somehow reenacting the idealism of the Sixties. The script today is that the threat to our country is now anti-gay white nationalism, and Murray’s work has to be made to fit that script.

But Murray, of course, is a libertarian who refused to support the nationalist Trump. And he’s all about letting people live as they please so long as they productively take responsibility for themselves and their own. Murray often distinguishes, following Hayek, being libertarian and being conservative.

Consider that Murray came to Middlebury to talk about his book Coming Apart as one way of understanding the outcome of our recent election. Well, let me be courageous enough to say I’ve deployed parts of that book in my classes for that very purpose. It contains a lot of outstanding sociology, most of which is both pathbreaking and not really very controversial.

Murray’s least controversial observation, in my view, is that sophisticated and highly productive Americans now inhabit an increasingly impervious bubble. They live in their own zip codes, have their own schools, have developed their own set of values, have seceded from the various civic experiences (such as military service and socioeconomically diverse public schools) that used to bring diverse Americans together, and relate to those not of their kind in a distant, condescending, and manipulative manner.  Our elite colleges — despite their official commitment to diversity — are pretty much all part of the bubble.

Related: Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

And Middlebury students and faculty could have benefited from Murray’s incisive yet lighthearted description of all their bubble’s distinctive prejudices. They could have gotten more than a bit ironic about themselves. There’s little in Murray’s description of the complacency of the privileged few that wouldn’t benefit Sanders voters as much as or more than it would Trump enthusiasts. It might help Clinton supporters even more in seeing why ordinary Americans, including “skilled labor,” thought of their candidate as lacking in real virtue and indifferent to their struggles.

Who can deny that the basic experiences of ordinary life for Trump voters and Clinton voters are now so different that it makes sense to talk of two alternative realities or bubbles? And that each bubble can be incisively criticized from the perspective of the other. And that each bubble is so protective that Americans are in some way less ironic than ever about their class-based limitations. It’s hard to admit that ours is not so much a middle-class country any longer.

Murray observes that our meritocracy based on productivity typically talks Sixties liberationism and social justice and might even join in demonstrations and other forms of activism in college. But its members’ actual ways of living after college are pretty bourgeois. They develop the habits of highly effective people, including child-centered marriage and assiduous health-and-safety regimens.

There really is a lot to admire in the way they live, even if they’re weak in connecting their privileges to civic responsibilities and living in the whole truth about who each of us is. Their education serves them well on one front, but not on others. Murray also notices that the habits of worthwhile work and healthy living are disappearing from the bottom 50 percent of Americans. He’s right on that. He’s wrong, I think, that they can be restored to middle-class responsibility through the removal of welfare dependency.

The problem is much more complicated than that. It has to do, in part, with the real disappearance of jobs that provide the secure wherewithal to live with dignified relational responsibility and that provide the satisfaction that comes with worthwhile work well done. There might have been a great debate at Middlebury between Bernie supporters and libertarians over that issue, an issue over which reasonable people can disagree. And that debate might have allowed the bubble men and women at Middlebury really to think as citizens about what’s best for all Americans.

Related: Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

All in all, Middlebury seems unreasonably resistant to the kind of liberal education that comes with questioning one’s own cherished opinions and forms of pride or self-esteem. That comes with curbing anger through really reading with an open mind the serious and well-intentioned books of those not of their kind. Let me add: I don’t deny that the students’ idealism is a real, if misguided, attempt to find meaning on campus in the only way that seems available. It’s just that they’re ending up reinforcing rather than disrupting or even popping their bubble.

As William Deresiewicz wrote in The American Scholar: “Unlike the campus protesters of the 1960s, today’s student activists are not expressing countercultural views. They are expressing the exact views of the culture in which they find themselves (a reason that administrators prove so ready to accede to their demands). If you want to find the counterculture on today’s elite college campuses, you need to look for the conservative students.”

Reprinted with permission from National Review’s Online blog, The Corner

Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

Below is an excerpt from an article by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative on Middlebury students shouting down and harassing visiting speaker Charles Murray:

Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. … 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.”

Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

A few months ago, AEI’s student group at Middlebury College invited me to speak on the themes of Coming Apart and how they relate to the recent presidential election. Professor Allison Stanger of the Political Science Department agreed to serve as moderator of the Q&A and to ask the first three questions herself.

About a week before the event, plans for protests began to emerge, encouraged by several faculty members. Their logic was that since I am a racist, a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a pseudoscientist whose work has been discredited, a sexist, a eugenicist, and (this is a new one) anti-gay, I did not deserve a platform for my hate speech, and hence it was appropriate to keep me from speaking.

Middlebury College.

Last Wednesday, the day before the lecture was to occur, I got an email from Bill Burger, Vice President for Communications at Middlebury. The size and potential ferocity of the planned protests had escalated. We agreed to meet at the Middlebury Inn an hour before the lecture so that we could go over a contingency plan: In the event that the protesters in the lecture hall did not cease and desist after a reasonable period, Professor Stanger and I would repair to a room near the lecture hall where a video studio had been set up that would enable us to live-stream the lecture and take questions via Twitter.

Here’s how it played out.

The lecture hall was at capacity, somewhere around 400. There were lots of signs with lots of slogans (see the list of allegations above), liberally sprinkled with the f-word. A brave member of the AEI student group, Ivan Valladares, gave an eloquent description of what the group was about. Middlebury’s president, Laurie Patton, gave a statement about the importance of free speech even though she disagrees with much of my work. A second brave member of the AEI club, Alexander Khan, introduced me. All this was accompanied by occasional catcalls and outbursts, but not enough to keep the speakers from getting through their material. Then I went onstage, got halfway through my first sentence, and the uproar began.

First came a shouted recitation in unison of what I am told is a piece by James Baldwin. I couldn’t follow the words. That took a few minutes. Then came the chanting. The protesters had prepared several couplets that they chanted in rotations—“hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy has to go,” and the like.

It was very loud and stayed loud. It’s hard for me to estimate, but perhaps half the audience were protesters and half had come to hear the lecture.
I stood at the podium. I didn’t make any attempt to speak—no point in it—but I did make eye contact with students. I remember one in particular, from whom I couldn’t look away for a long time. She reminded me of my daughter Anna (Middlebury ’07) — partly physically, but also in her sweet earnestness. She looked at me reproachfully and a little defiantly, her mouth moving in whatever the current chant was. I’m probably projecting, but I imagined her to be a student who wasn’t particularly political but had learned that this guy Murray was truly evil. So she found herself in the unfamiliar position of activist, not really enjoying it, but doing her civic duty.

The others…. Wow. Some were just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants. But many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like.

This went on for about twenty minutes. My mindset at that point was to wait them out if it took until midnight (which, I was later to realize, probably wouldn’t have been long enough). But finally, Bill Burger came on stage and decided, correctly, that the people who had come to hear the lecture deserved a chance to do so. Professor Stanger and I were led out of the hall to the improvised studio.

I started to give an abbreviated version of my standard Coming Apart lecture, speaking into the camera. Then there was the sound of shouting outside, followed by loud banging on the wall of the building. Professor Stanger and I were equipped with lavalier microphones, which are highly directional. The cameraman-cum-sound-technician indicated that we could continue to speak and the noise from outside would not drown us out. Then a fire alarm went off, which was harder to compete with. And so it went through the lecture and during my back and forth conversation with Professor Stanger—a conversation so interesting that minutes sometimes went by while I debated some point with her and completely forgot about the din. But the din never stopped.

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.
Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next.

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.

Long story short, we ended up at a lovely restaurant several miles out of Middlebury, where our dinner companions eventually rejoined us. I had many interesting conversations with students and faculty over the course of the pleasant evening that followed. In the silver-lining category, the original venue was on campus and would have provided us with all the iced tea we could drink. The lovely restaurant had a full bar.

* * *

Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next. So far, Middlebury’s stance has been exemplary. The administration agreed to host the event. President Patton did not cancel it even after a major protest became inevitable. She appeared at the event, further signaling Middlebury’s commitment to academic freedom. The administration arranged an ingenious Plan B that enabled me to present my ideas and discuss them with Professor Stanger even though the crowd had prevented me from speaking in the lecture hall. I wish that every college in the country had the backbone and determination that Middlebury exhibited.

Both Bill Burger, who made the initial remarks in the lecture hall, and President Patton spelled out Middlebury’s code of conduct and warned that violations could have consequences up to and including expulsion. Those warnings were ignored wholesale. Now what?

I sympathize with the difficulty of President Patton’s task. We’re talking about violations that involve a few hundred students, ranging from ones that call for a serious tutelary response (e.g., for the sweetly earnest young woman) to ones calling for permanent expulsion (for the students who participated in the mob as we exited), to criminal prosecution (at the very least, for those who injured Professor Stanger). The evidence will range from excellent to ambiguous to none. I will urge only that the inability to appropriately punish all of the guilty must not prevent appropriate punishment in cases where the evidence is clear.

Absent an adequate disciplinary response, I fear that the Middlebury episode could become an inflection point. In the twenty-three years since The Bell Curve was published, I have had considerable experience with campus protests. Until last Thursday, all of the ones involving me have been as carefully scripted as kabuki: The college administration meets with the organizers of the protest and ground rules are agreed upon. The protesters have so many minutes to do such and such. It is agreed that after the allotted time, they will leave or desist. These negotiated agreements have always worked. At least a couple of dozen times, I have been able to give my lecture to an attentive (or at least quiet) audience despite an organized protest.

If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

Middlebury tried to negotiate such an agreement with the protesters, but, for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

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 is 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.

That’s why the penalties imposed on the protesters need to be many and severe if last Thursday is not to become an inflection point. But let’s be realistic: The pressure to refrain from suspending and expelling large numbers of students will be intense. Parents will bombard the administration with explanations of why their little darlings are special people whose hearts were in the right place. Faculty and media on the left will urge that no one inside the lecture hall is penalized because shouting down awful people like me is morally appropriate. The administration has to recognize that severe sanctions will make the college less attractive to many prospective applicants.

My best guess is that Middlebury’s response will fall short of what I think is needed: A forceful statement to students that breaking the code of conduct is too costly to repeat. But even the response I prefer won’t generalize. A tough response will be met with widespread criticism. Students in other colleges will have no good reason to think their administration will follow Middlebury’s example.

And so I’m pessimistic. I say that realizing that I am probably the most unqualified person to analyze the larger meanings of last week’s events at Middlebury. It will take some time for me to be dispassionate. If you promise to bear that in mind, I will say what I’m thinking and rely on you to discount it appropriately: What happened last Thursday has the potential to be a disaster for American liberal education.

Printed with permission from the American Enterprise Institute where this essay was originally published.

Weaponizing Title IX at Middlebury

Last week came two more court decisions involving due process and campus sexual assault. The first, which involved a student at Case Western Reserve University, had Judge Christopher Boyko (a George W. Bush appointee) ruling that it was plausible the accused student was innocent and the CWRU had manufactured inculpatory evidence—but there was nothing he could do to remedy the problem. The second, which involved a student at Middlebury College, had Judge J. Garvan Murtha (a Clinton appointee) issuing a preliminary injunction preventing Middlebury from expelling the student. You can read Judge Murtha’s decision here.

The Middlebury case was factually and procedurally complicated. But it offers three issues of importance:

(1) Title IX can be weaponized, with the accuser using the threat of a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to effectively force a college to do her bidding.

(2) In what seems like a first, a college assumed jurisdiction over a sexual assault case that involved an allegation filed by a student from another school.

(3) The case provides a rare behind-the-scenes view of the extraordinarily one-sided training that “impartial” campus adjudicators receive.

The Incident

In fall 2014, a male junior applied to study abroad for the semester; Middlebury’s study abroad program is run not by the college but by an institution called School for International Training (SIT), which is based in Brattleboro, around two hours from the Middlebury campus. SIT is a U.S. university, subject to Title IX, and Middlebury’s guidelines make clear that students in the program will be subject to SIT rulings for honors code violations while they’re abroad. The guidelines are silent about student conduct issues.

The background to the allegation was rather tawdry. On November 7, 2014, after what appears to have been a night of considerable drinking, the male student came back to his room with two female students in the study abroad program, at least one of whom wasn’t from Middlebury. His roommate was away, and so the three of them decided to sleep together in his room, pushing the two beds together, with the male student sleeping between the female students. At some point in the evening, the male student became sexually active with one of the female students (who initiated this contact remains in dispute). The other student (a friend of the female student, and a former romantic partner of the male student) eventually saw what was going on—and got up, retiring to her own room.

The incident was, at the least, embarrassing; it threatened the social equilibrium between the female student and her friend. But the female student soon claimed that the intercourse was nonconsensual; she filed a sexual assault claim through SIT. (There’s no indication she went to the police.) SIT, in turn, informed Middlebury that it planned to investigate the allegations; it then would conduct a hearing according to its own policies (which conform to OCR guidelines). Middlebury made no attempt to assert jurisdiction over the case. SIT convened a hearing at which both parties, and the other student who was in the bed, testified. The hearing also considered contemporaneous text messages between the three. Both the transcript of that hearing, and the text messages, were not included in the public documents filed in the case, so it’s impossible to comment confidently about the merits of the allegation. But the SIT hearing found the male student not culpable for sexual assault. The accuser elected not to exercise her OCR-right to appeal the finding at SIT.

That decision, it would seem, should have ended things. An accused student had been charged. A hearing had been held, at which he was acquitted. The accuser did not appeal.

Middlebury Intervenes

But the accuser elected to pursue another path. She still didn’t go to the police. Instead, working through the Title IX coordinator at her own institution, she wrote to an administrator at Middlebury, with an ill-concealed threat: “I am pursuing,” said she, “a complaint with the office of [sic] civil rights.” And suddenly Middlebury, which heretofore had unquestioningly accepted SIT’s coordination of the case, decided that it would conduct a second investigation—even though the accuser wasn’t a Middlebury student. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only publicized case since issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 in which an institution has asserted jurisdiction over a claim that didn’t involve two students from the college. If established as a precedent, the expansion of the parallel justice system championed by the Obama administration would be dangerous, and massive.

In addition to her threat about filing a complaint with OCR, the accuser passed along information about the case that she said corroborated her view of events. She also claimed that SIT’s investigation had violated Title IX because SIT’s investigator hadn’t spoken to her academic advisor (why that would be relevant the accuser didn’t say) and hadn’t spoken to unspecified witnesses (what these witnesses might or might not have said the accuser didn’t tell Middlebury). Though OCR, not Middlebury College, has authority to decide whether SIT’s actions conformed to Title IX, Middlebury Dean Karen Guttentag had heard enough. The college would effectively set aside SIT’s finding, the dean later testified, based on the accuser’s “perceptions of SIT’s investigation and hearing process.” You can read the dean’s affidavit here.

This rationale was nothing short of extraordinary. The files contain no indication that Guttentag had asked anyone at SIT whether the accuser’s “perceptions” of SIT procedures were based in reality. But with a clear threat that if Middlebury didn’t go along, the accuser would add the college to her already-filed claim against SIT, the college leapt into action, more than two months after the allegations and well after SIT had already acquitted the student.

Guilt and Middlebury

Middlebury’s decision meant that the accused student would be subjected not only to a double-jeopardy scenario, but a very different procedure. Unlike SIT, Middlebury has adopted the Obama administration’s preferred approach of bypassing a hearing (lest it re-traumatize an accuser who, at that stage of the process, the college doesn’t know is telling the truth) and turning things over to a single investigator. The investigator submits a report to a college administrator, who then interviews the accused student, but in every case since 2012 in which the investigator had branded the accused student a rapist, the college has accepted the finding. Middlebury referred this case to an investigator named Nell Coogan, whose website indicates no background in criminal investigation or law enforcement.

Middlebury has clear ideas on how sexual assault investigations should be conducted; the firm Margolis Healy trains college officials on the matter. The firm’s guidelines, as based on a 2012 training session, seem designed to ensure that the college gives every conceivable benefit of the doubt to the accuser. You can see the guidelines here; note how heavily Margolis Healy relies on the now-discredited researcher David Lisak, who is mentioned eight times, to explain how colleges should respond to sexual assault allegations.

Investigators, Margolis Healy instructed Middlebury officials, must not approach the case with “skepticism.” Indeed, they must “start by believing” the accuser. The discussion with the accuser must not involve the investigator interrogating her; “This is not the time for ‘just the facts.’” (If not then, when?) The investigator must avoid “victim blaming” questions, such as asking the accuser why she did something. “Use what we know” about campus sexual assault—that the “non-stranger sexual offender” says to himself, “I am going to have sex tonight. If it is consensual, fine. But, I am going to have sex tonight.” While the investigator must “start by believing” the accuser, the Middlebury official must begin by wondering if the accused is “who he said he is.” Margolis Healy counseled Middlebury investigators against using the term “accuser” (“victim” or “survivor” is preferred).

The report prepared by the investigator “should not include . . . consensual language” or anything indicating “mutual participation.” But what if the intercourse was consensual, or involved mutual participation? Nor should the investigator’s report include the following language: The “victim has inconsistencies with her story.” But what if she does? Nor should the report conclude that “the victim’s account of the incident is not believable or credible to officers given her actions during and after the encounter with the suspect.” But what if the accuser isn’t credible? According to Middlebury’s training, that outcome seems impossible.

With this background, and given the looming threat of a Title IX complaint if Middlebury didn’t do what the accuser wanted, the college returned a guilty finding, and recommended expulsion days before the accused student was to begin his final year at Middlebury. The accused student sued, noting that the college’s decision not only would end his Middlebury career, but also would rob him of a job offer that he had already lined up after graduation.

The Court Case

In filings before Judge Murtha, the two sides partially re-litigated the case. The accused student contended that SIT’s finding was correct, and that the accuser had substantially enhanced her allegations over the course of the inquiry. Middlebury countered that the accused had changed his story, and denied that kicking the accuser out of school and costing him his job would constitute irreparable harm for him. Middlebury administrators and its investigator also produced unintentionally comical affidavits claiming that the guilt-presuming training that Middlebury arranged for them to receive had no impact on how they investigated sexual assault allegations.

Judge Murtha understandably was skeptical about college officials’ newfound commitment to objectivity. His ruling was a preliminary one, but he noted that “Middlebury’s policies did not authorize a second investigation and de novo evaluation of the allegation of sexual assault after it had been decided in Plaintiff’s favor by SIT, the sponsor of the study abroad program during which the alleged misconduct occurred, to whose discipline Plaintiff was subject.”

The accused student thus can complete his senior year. But how will Judge Murtha rule on the merits of the case?