Tue 7 Mar 2017
The New York Times reports:
Hundreds of students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down a controversial speaker on Thursday night, disrupting a program and confronting the speaker in an encounter that turned violent and left a faculty member injured.
Read the whole thing. Those who don’t trust the Times can find coverage in The Boston Globe:
When Murray was unable to speak because of the protesters’ interruptions Thursday night, administrators took him to a video studio in the same building and broadcast the event online.
But some protesters began pulling fire alarms, temporarily shutting off power to the live stream. When Murray finished his speech, he left the building with Allison Stanger, professor of international politics and economics, and other college officials, but was met by a group of protesters who wore bandanas to cover their faces.
College spokesman Bill Burger said he believed they were “outside agitators” who had been barred from the event, rather than Middlebury students. Flanked by security officers, Murray, Stanger and Burger moved toward Burger’s car.
By that point, more than 20 demonstrators had gathered. One threw a stop sign with a heavy concrete base in front of the car Murray was in, and several others rocked, pounded, and jumped on the vehicle. One protester pulled Stanger’s hair and injured her neck. She was taken to a hospital, where she was treated and released.
1) What explains the disparate treatment of Murray at Williams (respectful listening) and Middlebury (violent attack) that we discussed last week? As much as I would like to credit Williams for being a higher quality institution than Middlebury, my guess is that the key explanatory factor is Trump’s election. Last year, the Alt-Right was a punchline among the elite. Today the Alt-Right runs (?) the federal government. That is going to make some people very angry. Those people can’t (?) attack Trump/Bannon/Miller. Charles Murray (and John Derbyshire) are softer targets.
2) Uncomfortable Learning should invite Murray back to Williams to give the exact same talk he was scheduled to give at Middlebury. Murray’s talk last year was about the coming revolution in social science, rather than his book Coming Apart, which was to be topic last week. Murray reflects:
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.
That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly? I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.
Sounds like he would say “Yes” to another Williams speech. Let’s invite him!
3) Uncomfortable Learning should invite Middlebury Professor Allison Strahger to Williams to talk about what it was like to be assaulted by the crowd.
I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community. There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange, but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair-pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen, and they were stranded outside the doors. I saw some of my faculty colleagues who had publicly acknowledged that they had not read anything Dr. Murray had written join the effort to shut down the lecture. All of this was deeply unsettling to me. What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters.
4) What will Middlebury do now? President Laurie Patton has a lot of options, ranging from nothing to suspending the scores of students who prevented Murray from speaking, in violation of the Middlebury code of conduct.
5) What should Middlebury do? Needless to say, the whole situation is a nightmare, generating more bad press for Middlebury than any event in the last decade. Indeed, when was the last time that a NESCAC school had such a lousy week in the national press? (The coverage of Falk’s cancellation of Derbyshire was not nearly so negative nor so widespread.)
One option is to use this riot as an opportunity to rebrand Middlebury as the most intellectually open elite liberal arts college, the U Chicago of the NESCAC. A lot of parents (and applicants?) might find that desirable. Invite a different speaker from the right every week until the protestors get tired of protesting. Suspend any student who tries to prevent a speaker from being heard. Fire any faculty member who sought to silence views she disagrees with.
The odds of Patton (or any NESCAC president) following that course of action is low. But it sure would be interesting!
6) Professor Stanger writes:
To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken. Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree. This was the saddest day of my life. We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed.
Blaming the victim much? None of those protestors voted for Trump! Blaming him for the mob that attacked her would be like blaming W.E.B. Du Bois for the Tulsa race riot of 1921.
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