Friday, March 10, 2017

That's Great. Now Prove It

Students and professors at Middlebury College were ashamed and embarrassed after an explosive protest Thursday night that has forced the school to reconsider what it means to embrace free speech.

The normally peaceful campus of Middlebury College, with its mountain backdrop and elite reputation, was shaken last week after violent student protesters shut down a talk by controversial conservative social scientist Charles Murray and injured a Middlebury professor who was with him.

Many on campus, including the college president and leaders of the student organization who invited him, disagree vehemently with Murray’s views on social welfare programs and race, but on Saturday they said the campus failed in its duty to exemplify how to debate unpopular ideas with civility.
Depending on the criteria, Middlebury usually pops up in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country in most of the ubiquitous surveys of college rankings and reputations. Having a reputation for being a mountain redoubt of close-minded leftist thuggery doesn't help the ol' U.S. News score, though. And in response, two professors at Middlebury have released a "Statement of Principle" that ran in the Wall Street Journal. Given the paywall issues with WSJ, I cannot guarantee this link will work, but the entire statement is here. Meanwhile, the nut of the message:
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.
This is 100% spot-on. So do you believe it actually has any meaning on the Middlebury campus? Or would it have any meaning on the campuses of other similar colleges? It's often difficult to believe there's any commitment to free speech in academe. This database, compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, details the state of play quite clearly.

Middlebury has a chance to prove their commitment to principle is more than a public relations move -- they should invite Murray back to campus and let him make the presentation he planned to deliver on March 2. Better yet, they ought to invite him to speak at their commencement. It might be the only time most Middlebury students actually get an incongruent message in their four years at the institution.


Bike Bubba said...

I'd pay $10 to see that on PPV......especially if kids were told (a) if you don't attend commencement you don't graduate and (b) you will listen respectfully, and we will enforce that.

Gino said...

Before you have have an environment that welcomes both sides to the debate, you must first come to accept that there are two legitimate sides. I don't see this happening in an academic setting where all the profs agree with each other.