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Middlebury’s Shame and Redemption?

As has been widely reported, a number of students at Middlebury embarrassed themselves by preventing scholar Charles Murray from speaking at their school. They later violently rocked his car, and then went so far as to injure the Middlebury professor who was to question Murray and moderate a Q&A following Murray’s remarks. The attached video is a model example of a kind of intolerance that exists on too many campuses today:

To Dartmouth’s credit, Murray spoke unimpeded at the College on April 28, 2016. For reasons of its own, The D chose not report on his talk.

Subsequently, Middlebury’s President Laurie Patton has come out forcefully against the behavior of her students (compare and contrast Phil Hanlon’s non-action after the BLM library invasion), and more significantly two professors at Middlebury, Professor of English and Creative Writing Jay Parini and Professor of Political Science Keegan Callanan, have drafted a Statement of Principle that is their take on the rules of intellectual decorum and give and take that should govern life at that school. Parini taught at Dartmouth from 1975-1982; he moved to Middlebury in the latter year:

Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.

Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and even to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.

The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.

A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.

All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.

To date, 62 Middlebury professors have endorsed the Statement of Principle. (Middlebury has 283 full-time and 58 part-time faculty members.)

The Hanlon administration would do well to support such a cogent set of ideas, and then back up that endorsement with enforcement the next time students seek to impede the free exchange of ideas at the College.

Addendum: Murray offers his own description and analysis of the events that befell him in an archly titled essay: Reflections on the Revolution in Middlebury. His conclusion:

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.

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