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Midd President Patton on Free Speech

Laurie Patton.jpgThe President of Middlebury, Laurie Patton, has taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to explain and defend the Middlebury administration’s handling of Charles Murray’s calamitous visit to its campus and to reinforce the college’s commitment to free speech. Her piece is entitled: The Right Way to Protect Free Speech on Campus: Communities of higher learning should work to make all of their members feel included, but not at the cost of free speech and robust debate. Patton has been President at Midd for just under two years now; previously she had been a professor at Emory before becoming the Dean of Dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke.

Congratulations to Patton for addressing head on the conflict between the values of free speech and what is often called inclusiveness — but which is too often just a code word for certain groups seeking to censor visiting speakers whose views they dislike. Such feelings, according to Patton, must take a back seat to the academy’s belief in the free and open exchange of ideas:

Laurie Patton WSJ.jpg

Patton’s argument echoes the thoughts of John Haidt’s assertion in his piece: Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice:

Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” - its purpose, end, or goal. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” — the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

Let’s hope that Patton’s and Haidt’s view wins the day.

Addendum: Given Charles Murray’s notoriety, it is worth listening briefly to him talk about the Middlebury experience and his vision for pedagogy at a successful institution of higher learning. Click here to hear to his twenty-seven minute discourse:

Charles Murray YouTube.jpg

A firebrand he is not.

Addendum: A close observer of the Dartmouth scene writes in:

Murray has posted his reply to Middlebury’s president Patton’s WSJ op-ed.

The salient paragraph:

Last Saturday, Laurie Patton, the president of Middlebury College, published her reflections on the episode in the Wall Street Journal. She included a fine statement of principles about freedom of speech on campus. I applaud those principles. But I differ with her assessment of how the administration handled the situation. To me, the aftermath of the Middlebury affair is a case study in a sickness of American higher education: Hand-wringing in the face of a toxic threat to the university.

Here is the tell that strips away President Patton’s post-hoc PR campaign in her WSJ op-ed (emphasis added):

To begin with, Dr. Patton’s introductory remarks at the lecture — which you can see here, seven minutes into the video — could have been improved upon. In effect, she said that principles of free speech required that this person [Dr. Charles Murray] who represents everything Middlebury abhors be allowed to speak. It was not a message calculated to make students think she would come down on them like a ton of bricks if they strayed out of line. In fact, a reasonable person could conclude that she was just going through the motions… .

As it turned out (thanks to Dr. Patton’s “leadership and resolve”), Dr. Murray was NOT allowed to speak.

For his physical safety and in order to proceed at all, he had to be shuttled by campus security personnel to a secure, alternate venue where Middlebury videoed him speaking to an empty room.

BTW, Charles Murray’s daughter (one of his four grown children) graduated from Middlebury in 2007.

Addendum: As I have noted previously, Murray spoke at the College last year without incident. However the organizers took care not to announce the visit until the day on which it was held. People in attendance report that Murray’s talk and the Q&A that followed it were among the most intellectually stimulating evenings that they have encountered at the College.

Addendum: Another alumnus writes in:

Patton’s failure to properly handle discipline of the rioters vitiates all her fine words about the importance of free speech.

I read her actions as a cynical ploy to mollify alumni, donors, and potential applicants, while maintaining a cowering pose that she hopes will keep the campus left off her case. What normally happens is that the campus left creates disorder focused on the president until eventually the board of trustees replaces him (or her).

Patton with the support of her board could stop all this in nothing flat, but as we have seen for decades, the academic/administrative left is happy with the situation, and the useless trustees fail to insist on standards.

So Patton’s words given her actions can’t be taken seriously — they are just an attempted dishonest manipulation of public opinion.


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