Discussion: (41 comments)
Comments are closed.
A public policy blog from AEI
View related content: Carpe Diem
My AEI colleague Charles Murray reflects thoughtfully (and pessimistically) in his essay “Reflections on the revolution in Middlebury” on his experience last Thursday at Middlebury College, where and he and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger were attacked by a violent mob of student protestors following a chaotic attempt at a lecture (Professor Stanger was assaulted and briefly hospitalized) and when as Dr. Murray told Time Magazine, “the inmates ran the asylum.” Here’s an excerpt:
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 be 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.
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.
Related: Watch a video of Charles Murray’s attempted lecture here.
Read the letter from Middlebury College faculty requesting that Murray’s lecture be cancelled because he is: a) “a discredited ideologue paid by the American Enterprise Institute to promote public policies targeting people of color, women and the poor” and b) “not an academic nor a ‘critically acclaimed’ public scholar, but a well-funded phony.”
Read the letter from 450 Middlebury alumni/ae who objected to Dr. Murray’s campus lecture because “The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Dr. Murray a ‘white nationalist’ who “uses racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by… genetic inferiority.”
Read the letter from Middlebury College president Laurie Patton on Friday extending her “sincerest apologies to everyone who came in good faith to participate in a serious discussion, and particularly to Mr. Murray and Prof. Stanger for the way they were treated during the event and, especially, afterward.”
Read Charles Murray’s “Open letter to the Virginia Tech community” from about a year ago when there was a controversy about his lecture at that college campus, and when his book “The Bell Curve” was mis-characterized by the Virginia Tech president.
See the response to Middlebury’s “intellectual thuggery” from AEI president Arthur Brooks, who is concerned that “If the events at Middlebury become a pattern across the country, our national tradition of free expression is very much in danger.”
Here’s a Q&A with Charles Murray from 2014:”‘The Bell Curve’ 20 years later.”
Read Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger’s Facebook account of her experience with Charles Murray: “This was the saddest day of my life.”
Comments are closed.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2017 American Enterprise Institute