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Columnists Condemn Hanlon in VN

James Heffernan.jpgThe criticism of Phil Hanlon’s denunciation of Mark Bray does not seem to be dying down. Emeritus Professor of English James Heffernan had a column in Friday’s Valley News that did not pull any punches: Hanlon Abandoned Free Speech, History. It begins as follows:

As Valley News staff writer Tim Camerato reported Monday, more than 100 active members of the Dartmouth College faculty have denounced a statement made by Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon and posted on the college website on Aug. 21. In this statement, President Hanlon reprimands visiting professor Mark Bray for endorsing violence. As an emeritus member of the Dartmouth faculty, I too find President Hanlon’s statement deplorable.

In condemning “anything but civil discourse” while insisting that “Dartmouth embraces free speech and open inquiry in all matters,” President Hanlon not only contradicts himself. He also reveals his ignorance of history — above all the history of Dartmouth College.

Hefferan takes as his leitmotif the defense of the Orozco murals by President Ernest Martin Hopkins on the grounds of free expression — the same parallel that I drew on July 12 in commenting on how Hopkins would have responded to the violence of Middlebury students in preventing Harvard scholar Charles Murray from speaking there.

Heffernan’s conclusion:

In charging that Professor Bray’s public comments “do not represent the views of Dartmouth,” he implies that all Dartmouth professors think — or should think — exactly alike, that they are all just so many outlets for one institutional, indivisible mind. Also, in reprimanding a Dartmouth professor for endorsing “violence,” President Hanlon makes no distinction between launching a violent attack and physically defending oneself against it. Against the present-day heirs of fascism Professor Bray condones only the latter — for the very same reason that President Hopkins urged us to join the war against the original Fascist regimes. Can anyone doubt what he would have said about President Hanlon’s attempt to silence what has now become a leading voice against the virulent fascism of our own time?

Steve Neslon.jpgIn a column on Saturday, — The Backlash to Antifa Misses the Real Threat — a second Valley News columnist, Steve Nelson, lit into Hanlon, too:

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon sure stepped in it recently. His disavowal of visiting lecturer Mark Bray’s remarks about antifa drew a sharp rebuke from Dartmouth faculty in a letter signed by more than 100 members. Hanlon wrote, “Recent statements made by Lecturer in History Mark Bray supporting violent protest do not represent the views of Dartmouth.” Faculty members found Hanlon’s disavowal a disturbing and gratuitous attack on a colleague.

Bravo to the faculty and boo to Hanlon. It hardly bears stating that Bray never claimed to be representing “the views of Dartmouth.” It is also worth noting that by any fair reading or hearing, Bray did not “support violent protest.” I listened to several of Bray’s news appearances and found nothing particularly radical about his views. Even if he had declared support for violent protest, Hanlon’s disavowal would have been somewhat chilling in an academic environment.

There is an unexpected directness in these columns, one that makes me think of, uh, me. Not that it is not deserved, of course; it is; but the vociferousness here bespeaks an anger with Phil that goes beyond the issue at hand. He is really a very poor leader, and I think that the piling on has begun. Not a moment too soon.

Addendum: Rumors of a moving van parked in the driveway of the President’s Mansion on Webster Avenue are premature.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Emeritus Professor Heffernan refers to: “…the virulent fascism of our own time.” Bray supports violent suppression of speech. Hanlon says Bray’s views are not those of Dartmouth. One hundred faculty members criticize Hanlon for criticizing Bray. The Valley News clutches its pearls and joins the fray. Amidst this cacophony, exactly what speech, or whose thoughts, are being suppressed?

If we are living in a time of “virulent fascism,” just what vocabulary has Professor Heffernan kept in reserve for discussions concerning, say, Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia or Mao’s China? Would he refer to those places are “really, really virulent fascism.” After all, in a truly fascist state, the good professor would not have been able to publish his article in a newspaper, and had he had the foolish courage to submit it, he’d already have had a midnight knock on his door, and we would not know where he is today.

Addendum: A parent writes in:

Much of the controversy turns on a disagreement over whether Bray supports the use of preemptive violence against the far right, or only the right to defend oneself from attack. I am no fan of fascists, but a Washington Post review of Bray’s book (“The History, Theory and Contradictions of Antifa”, 9/1/17), demonstrates that Bray does, in fact, endorse the use of preemptive violence to “no platform” fascists (i.e., to deny them the right to speak). In an interview with NBC News on August 26th, Bray was pressed to state whether he considers preemptive violence a form of self-defense, and he declined to give a straight answer (which is disappointing for someone who has complained that Hanlon denied him the opportunity to “contextualize” his position). Withing very broad limits, the First Amendment allows Bray to take whatever position he wants, and his defenders have the right to support him, but they should have the courage of their convictions. Meanwhile, Hanlon is correct to make clear that Dartmouth, as an institution, does not endorse the views of each and every Dartmouth professor, even though it does support their right to express those views.

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