right arrow
Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
We've updated the Topics page of our website to better organize and share our expert content. Read more about it here.

Freedom of speech at Middlebury?

RayMantaRayManta 175 replies7 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
This is a difficult, controversial topic, and I hope we are able to stay away from politics and discuss this in a thoughtful manner.

I have read about a recent event at Middlebury where a socially conservative speaker (a Polish professor named Ryszard Legutko, who’d been invited to talk about his recent book, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Tendencies in Free Societies), was suddenly dis-invited after student protest and uproar. Following this, school administrators "apologized to the students for their feelings of discomfort, agreed that they had every right to feel aggrieved, and assured them there’s steps underway to ensure controversial right-wing speakers are not easily invited to campus in the future,” to quote the source, which you can find easily enough on the internet.

I have to be honest, this frightens me. Whatever you may think of his viewpoint, Mr. Legutko appears to be a legitimate academic (at least on this specific subject) and not a rabble-rouser out to inflame tensions or incite hatred, anger, or even violence (let me know if I'm wrong). Midd is high on my daughter's list of schools to apply to next fall, and I am torn as to whether to try to convince her to remove it based on what I am reading. Without getting into politics (hopefully), I am curious as to whether anyone thinks my concerns are overblown and also if this would impact you or your child's college decision.

I'm also curious to know to what extent this sort of event (i.e., school administrations cancelling speaker appearances due to anger of student groups) is becoming commonplace. My daughter is focused on LACs, and recently I've been encouraging her to apply to Oberlin as a "more likely" acceptance (can't use the word "safety" any more), but now I am rethinking it based on Oberlin's reputation, even though this story obviously doesn't involve Oberlin. I've been assuming that, with all these LACs, such stories are overstated--how could such well-regarded schools act so, well, close-minded, and allow the students to dictate the boundaries of academic thought at their institution?--but I now understand that I may have been wrong, and they may be more common and more frequent than I'd like to believe. How prevalent is this today? Is it just at certain schools, or are such freedom-of-speech issues arising across all LACs? Basically: Is this something to worry about?
157 replies
· Reply · Share
«1345678

Replies to: Freedom of speech at Middlebury?

  • doschicosdoschicos 20882 replies217 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
  • tk21769tk21769 10647 replies27 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    IMO the issue you're raising is bigger, broader, and older than you're describing.
    For better or worse, virtually no college in the USA is devoted exclusively to the life of the mind and free academic inquiry. This has always been true.

    Middlebury probably isn't very different in this respect than most peer colleges, notwithstanding one or two incidents that became newsworthy. I don't see how an incident like the one involving Charles Murray at Middlebury is guaranteed never to happen at Hamilton, Bowdoin, or one of the Ivies. On balance, Middlebury is still a very good college in a gorgeous setting, with some really excellent programs. You can expect it to attract students who care passionately about many things, including politics (along with many others who prefer to quietly focus on academics or their social lives.)

    The best way to address your concerns (regardless of where you wind up) may be by carefully choosing your major, courses, instructors, activities, and friends. Ultimately, your own college experience to a great extent will be what you make it.
    · Reply · Share
  • milgymfammilgymfam 766 replies14 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited April 30
    If you’re concerned about free speech on campus in general, FIRE is a good resource.

    https://www.thefire.org/10-worst-colleges-for-free-speech-2019/

    https://www.thefire.org/schools/middlebury-college/
    edited April 30
    · Reply · Share
  • RayMantaRayManta 175 replies7 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Thanks for your thoughtful responses. To be clear, I have no objection to a good, non-violent student protest. Heck, leave out the "student" part. Protest is a healthy part of democracy. I know you all know this; I just articulate it to further explain my viewpoint about this.

    And you're correct--the goal of this protest was not to stop the talk (although the language the protesters used in the days leading up to the talk was a bit over the top). When I was a student, there was a protest about a speaker I remember well. The speaker was not prevented from speaking, and he was challenged in the Q&A portion of his talk, which was very enlightening. I myself walked out of my law school graduation ceremony as a form of protest (in my case, because of the speech of our class president, which I felt was out of line and didn't represent my views). So I'm cool with protest.

    What concerns me here, though, is the reaction of the administration.

    I don't know whether we're allowed to paste links, and don't want to violate the community rules, so I'll just paste a short quote from the same article (from a site called quillette, if anyone wants to find it), which was written by a student who was present.

    The student writes, in part:

    "The response of the administrators was an endless expression of sympathy and guilt, as well as pledges to make things right. The students actually demanded that the administrators take notes. And like an obedient underling, one of the professors whipped out her phone to record every demand (all of which were subsequently published in manifesto form).

    The three faculty members spoke openly about their desire to block speakers with certain viewpoints from coming to campus, and discussed plans for an extensive background-check scheme that would allow Middlebury officials to systematically analyze speakers beforehand [. . . ]

    After about an hour, three more college officials entered the room, and students again jumped up to the whiteboard to list their demands . . . I was stunned by the realization that the school was no longer run according to any coherent set of ideas set down by the administration, but rather by the knee-jerk diktats of a small group of radicalized students operating in open alliance with like-minded staffers."

    That's what bothers me--the fact that a small group of students is apparently able to dictate who may speak on campus, with (apparently) the support of school administrators.
    · Reply · Share
  • tpike12tpike12 502 replies9 threadsRegistered User Member
    A student view from the inside.

    https://quillette.com/2019/04/27/what-i-saw-at-middlebury-college/


    The three faculty members spoke openly about their desire to block speakers with certain viewpoints from coming to campus, and discussed plans for an extensive background-check scheme that would allow Middlebury officials to systematically analyze speakers beforehand. I recorded all of this because I’m passionate about free speech—and I felt it was my duty to show other students that members of their own administration were explicitly advocating for a system that would allow them to restrict speech on campus in accordance with their own privately held biases.
    · Reply · Share
  • circuitridercircuitrider 3367 replies168 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    LACs are in a tough position because one of their major selling points is how close and personal their student bodies are. I'm not aware of a single protest - correct me, if I'm wrong - anywhere, involving the Second Amendment right to carry a firearm, reducing marginal income tax rates, or even withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, to name a few run-of-the-mill, conservative causes. But, the minute a speaker is perceived as being anti-LBGTQ or less than welcoming of racial or religious minorities, they are touching a raw nerve; you are almost daring students to mount a protest in order to prove they are not anti-gay or racist in the eyes of their fellow students.
    · Reply · Share
  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing 2119 replies100 threadsForum Champion Williams College Forum Champion
    edited April 30
    It’s huge everywhere, not just at Middlebury. Freedom of Speech itself is being denounced by some student activists, who believe it gives cover to racists and bigots.

    It is unfortunate because it is not the powerful who benefit most from robust freedom of speech protections, but rather the less powerful minorities in the society.

    And a mob mentality has taken hold, where anyone deviating even slightly from a political orthodoxy is shouted down.

    A group of students at another top college just encountered a protesting group at a student government meeting because they were proposing a pro-Israel group. The student government listened to the protestors, and the pro-Israel group is believed to be possibly the first proposed student group ever in the college’s recorded history to be voted down and not to be “recognized” by the student government as a campus group.

    So no, I do not think you need discourage your daughter from applying to Middlebury specifically, just because some of their incidents got more press. The type of student protests described at Middlebury are happening at colleges all across America.

    Your child will face some choices, wherever she goes to college. There may be times she chooses to stay quiet and away from the drama and proceed with her life, and you will want to reinforce for her that that is okay, and that she does not always need to be the one to take a stand. There may be times she agrees with a protest and joins it. There may be times she speaks quietly for or against a protest within her friend group, or quietly supports a friend who is coming under fire for being more vocal. And there may be times she speaks out bravely, as a voice standing up against the crowd for what she thinks is right, and you will be fiercely proud.
    edited April 30
    · Reply · Share
  • RayMantaRayManta 175 replies7 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Hello @mamalion , you raise an important point. No, I wouldn't want my money supporting hate speech. Which is why, in my opening post, I included the sentence, "Whatever you may think of his viewpoint, Mr. Legutko appears to be a legitimate academic (at least on this specific subject) and not a rabble-rouser out to inflame tensions or incite hatred, anger, or even violence (let me know if I'm wrong)." If the subject of his talk was discrimination against gays--I'd be all for not allowing him to speak; there's no social benefit to a lecture on such nonsense. But that wasn't what he was there to talk about. I'm against the idea of vetting individuals on other grounds to determine if they should have the privilege to speak. We could just as easily be discussing a former politician who was once convicted of a white-collar crime, or a porn star that some students object to.

    Again, I'm just raising questions. Perhaps the administration is listening to students--but perhaps, also, they are listening to a small group of students, and putting their interests over the rest of the community, who may have been interested to hear what this man had to say, even if as a skeptical, critical observer.

    @tpike12 --that's the article I'm quoting from.
    · Reply · Share
  • mamalionmamalion 725 replies26 threadsRegistered User Member
    As I think about campus protests of speakers, I am having trouble understanding them as anti-free speech. Free speech is a negative human right. That is, it is a right that says no to the government. In the case of college speakers, the government or administration has taken student money and forced the speech. In effect the speech is government speech, not the free-speech promised to the people. The power dynamic is different than the negative right, the right promised in the constitution.

    This is why I have a great tolerance of student protests. They may occasionally be flawed, but student protest represents the great American consciousness of the need to speak back to (perceived) injustice.
    · Reply · Share
  • waverlywizzardwaverlywizzard 138 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited April 30
    Not in agreement with raising opines here. Seems to be another forum for that.
    edited April 30
    · Reply · Share
  • mamalionmamalion 725 replies26 threadsRegistered User Member
    @RayManta We do not know what the speaker would have said. Speakers have a great deal of freedom once they have the podium. I’m a bit cynical when a classical (Plato) philosopher becomes an expert on contemporary politics and attacks gays, women, and Africans. His book is not with a university press. A quick google is very telling https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryszard_Legutko

    I think Better and Better of the protests. Smart kids at Middlebury
    · Reply · Share
  • PublisherPublisher 7765 replies80 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I have not read the entire thread, but I think that it is fair to note that there are two types of protest which commonly arise regarding those who speak on controversial topics or speakers who are controversial.

    The two types of protest are:

    Protests aiming to silence the speaker &

    Protests which aim to present a different point of view.
    · Reply · Share
  • tpike12tpike12 502 replies9 threadsRegistered User Member
    No one has a problem with students peacefully protesting, it is part of the American tradition.

    On the other hand, some students may be very interested in a classical philosopher's perspective on current politics. Or perhaps students that disagree with the speaker want an opportunity to engage with the speaker to challenge and discuss his ideas.


    America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, and who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.'

    -President Shepherd

    · Reply · Share
  • mamalionmamalion 725 replies26 threadsRegistered User Member
    Respecting the right of Nazis to march in Skokie is different than being forced to pay them.
    · Reply · Share
  • tpike12tpike12 502 replies9 threadsRegistered User Member
    Student activity fees are used for all kinds of purposes, some that an individual student is interested in and supports, others that they do not. They are all forced to pay for some activities they don't want or use.

    College campuses should always err on the side of more speech rather than less speech.
    · Reply · Share
  • JenniferClintJenniferClint 455 replies34 threadsRegistered User Member
    This issue of "intolerance" seems to be more prevalent on LAC campuses.
    · Reply · Share
  • PublisherPublisher 7765 replies80 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited April 30
    @Mamalion: The right of controversial groups to march in public is paid for by tax dollars (used in large part for security).
    edited April 30
    · Reply · Share
Sign In or Register to comment.

Recent Activity