Free speech at Middlebury?

I recently visited Middlebury and loved the campus and the location (I love to ski both alpine and Nordic). I could go into details on the academics, but they basically checked all my boxes. However, I recently have read some articles online about how the school basically limits speech from conservatives.

I’m generally not very outspoken politically, but if students and professors were to find out I was conservative, how would they react? I know people in college and high school who received worse grades on writing assignments because they expressed a particular view that the professor did not agree with. Does this happen at Middlebury?

I am also Catholic. Is there any bias against religion on campus? Thank you, and please don’t start any political debate in the comments!

I am assuming you are talking about the invitation to Charles Murray to visit in 2020. The issue was not that Murray is conservative. The issue is was that his previous visit triggered protests because of the nature of his speech. In fact, even the campus Republicans were split on whether or not he should be speaking on campus.

In terms of religion on campus, there are several religious student organizations present. There is representation for Quakers, Buddhists, Mormons, Jews, Muslims as well as a Catholic student organization. You can look for their contact info on the website and reach out if you have specific questions.

It should not be a surprise that many colleges in general tend to skew liberal, especially those in the northeast. Midd students tend to identify as Democrats (over 50%) or Independant (over 30%). While there are conservative students on campus, they are the minority. If that is an issue, maybe it just isn’t a good fit.

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While conservatives are a minority at Midd, there are a good number.

There are good number of Catholics on campus as well, though I would expect that they also tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum.

My question is what do you mean by “free speech”? Remember that people claiming that you are a misogynist or a racist, based on what you would consider flimsy or non-existent evidence, is also covered under that same title.

My question is why Middlebury rather than, say, Washington and Lee? It is also a top LAC, but has politics that lean more towards the center.


I have no problem with what side people would tend to fall on. I was more so just worried that conservatives would be treated differently. I completely support free speech, and while I disagree with calling people names based on no knowledge of the individual self, it falls in that category.

I come from the mountain states region and like colder weather and skiing. Middlebury also has an excellent campus and has a great languages and study abroad program (I plan on obtaining at least a minor in Spanish along with my STEM major).

You will not be treated differently by faculty, and other students will treat you in the same manner as students with similar political views treated you in high school, though in amore mature manner.

Did the majority of kids in your school, your teachers, and your friend group hold similar political views as you do?

You can’t ski
At Washington & Lee

Just kidding. There actually is some skiing in western Virginia, just not as much as in Vermont.

Have you looked at University of Vermont or St Michael’s? How about St. Lawrence?

College campuses tend to be liberal bubbles. The complaint from conservatives about free speech is common at many LACs as well as bigger universities.

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Did he actually visit in 2020? I know he was invited back but I didn’t hear anything about it after that.

OP, there are definitely Catholics on campus.

Or conservative bubbles, depending on the campus.


I don’t know for sure but I have to imagine if he did, there would be an account of it - positive or negative.

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I come from a very liberal area. Almost all my friends are very liberal, and it has had no impact on our friendship.


In that case, I think that you’ll be fine, and you don’t really need to worry.

Ahhh, Now I see

Your OP is truly a loaded one.

By the very nature of your question, pitting conservatives vs. liberals, you’ve automatically injected politics into the OP. I’ll try to refrain from getting into that, as I don’t need the SuperMods to join the increasingly long line of folks who are already irritated with me!

So? POTUS is too. How is that relevant?

To what articles do you refer? Would you be able to give cites? Concrete examples of this might help refine the discussion.

I sure hope not, but do you have any publicly available examples of this? I’m sure you are not referring to a “wrong” answer academically or factually, but, as you say, one that the teacher didn’t agree with as a matter of politics. If you had examples, it would be great if you could give them. Perhaps I’m naive, but any professor at any reputable institution (including one like Middlebury) would have some serious issues to face if s/he based a grade on politics.

As for your OP title about “Free speech” at Middlebury, you do understand that Middlebury College is a private, and not public, institution? I do not believe the free speech protections of the First Amendment of the US Constitution apply to a private entity like Middlebury, although I understand that there may be free speech protections at private institutions under state law in California and Rhode Island. You might want to take a look at this for more guidance: Ask SPLC: What can private school students do when they're censored? - Student Press Law Center

You also may want to make a distinction between censorship vs. being challenged on views and engaging in an intellectual or policy debate. Those are two entirely different issues. I’m a “liberal” (whatever that means) and was attacked in law school about my anti-death penalty beliefs. Or so I thought I was “attacked”. In hindsight, it was just other law students wanting to challenge some of my views, which were admittedly naive and unfounded. Having those debates made me read up on cases and law review articles and understand the legal and policy issues better. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Indeed, isn’t that what “university” and “higher learning” are all about? To learn and to grow?

AFAIK, Middlebury is a superb school. I would be very surprised if you would be “censored” there, but I sure do bet that, like pretty much any school, healthy debate is welcome. It’s when it becomes unhealthy, that it’s an issue, and different folks have different strokes as to what that means. For example, if you said “X is my view, and I don’t want to discuss”, you should be free to walk away and not be harassed. You are entitled to your view. However, if it is a class, and you are discussing a policy issue with your teacher and classmates, and someone points out your sources are incorrect, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s important to understand that distinction.

One final point about “free speech”. In my naive days, I used to believe I was a First Amendment absolutist: people have the unfettered right to say anything. As I got into the law, I realized that was terribly simplistic, as there are many acceptable legal and totally legitimate restrictions on speech (e.g., slander, libel, deceptive advertising, stock market manipulation, fraud etc). Given social media and its instantaneous reach to literally millions or billions of people in a second, I am seriously rethinking my views under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and social media intermediary liability for publishing third-party content that raises legal issues. But that’s just my view, and I am happy to debate it. And that’s what schooling is all about. None of us have all the right answers, and it is the forum of ideas and debate that makes us wiser.

I wish you the best in your education and further career. One thought that I leave you with: keep an open mind. It will serve you far and wide (and it’s something I remind myself that I have to do). I’ve learned so much by doing that.


An anecdote, I know, but a data point involving more than one student.

We have a good friend’s son who graduated from Middlebury a few years ago. He and his more conservative friends always edited each other’s papers for conservative tells and/or positions that could negatively impact their grades.


Where is @skieurope at a time like this?! :grin:

First of all, it is a single data point, since only a single student is making a claim. I cannot even count the number of times that a student who has a personal issue with something in a class has come forward and said “a number of students in the class”, rather than “I”. Furthermore, it has passed through the perception filter of two different people before you heard it, so it is not really a primary source.

As a scientist, I would not consider that to be a reliable data point.

I have also heard way too many “horror stories” about the terrible times that conservative students claim to have in the oppressive nasty liberal college professors and students. They rarely, if ever, prove to be real representations of what actually happened.

For a kid who grew up in a conservative bubble, being in a college at which the majority of students and faculty question ideas and concepts which the kid has accepted as unquestioned fact can be upsetting and disorienting. I would also guess that when a conservative students gets their first essay back which has lost points because it makes claims that the student thought are well established, but which they were expected to provide support and evidence, of have been debunked, it would be shocking and feel like discrimination.

I mean, a conservative students who writes that “The Soviet Union Collapsed because of Reagan”, assuming that this is well enough established that it doesn’t need support, and they are dinged for claiming that this is the accepted version of histor, they will likely assume that the professor is a Liberal Who Hates Reagan.

Or perhaps the student uses “intelligent design” as as a acceptable scientific theory, or claims that climate change is not supported by the majority of the world’s climatologists, etc, and their grade suffers. They may come to the conclusion that they are being targeted for “being a conservative”, rather than simply because they are holding on to historical or scientific theories and concepts that have been disproven or debunked.

So maybe your friend’s kid and their friends were actually going through to make sure that their work did not use such outdated and disproven scientific or historical notions. They may indeed perceive this as being “conservative tells” rather than “bad science/history”.

While it is more common among conservative, because A, more conservatives attend colleges which lean liberal than vice-versa, and B, more conservative bubbles exist than liberal bubbles (connected to A), it is not exclusive. There are also cases in which a left wing students have assumed that they were being attacked for ideological or other reasons because their assumptions were not shown to be unsupported, or the narrative taught in class was not the one that they were taught.

Rather than provide anecdotes:

This is also an interesting read on conservative students at “liberal” colleges:


To the extent that your post deals with the accuracy and veracity of sources for research or to substantiate a point, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Especially to those who feel aggrieved that their personal politics, rather than the validity of their position, is being questioned. These are WHOLLY separate.

Let me give you an example from the “liberal” perspective: when I was in law school and mouthing off against the death penalty, I mentioned to my classmates that it is totally wrong for the state to execute someone. One of my classmates immediately retorted about a state’s war powers that clearly contemplate taking the life of opposing forces. As I mentioned, I was pretty clueless in law school and immediately retreated to lick my intellectual wounds, although I had done no research to substantiate my views. Since then, I’ve read up more about the actual deterrence effect of the death penalty and the concept of cruel and unusual punishment under the US Constitution. As a youngster, I came at the death penalty from an uninformed view, but my learnings since then have only INCREASED my personal vehemence as a lawyer and human against the death penalty.

I only raise this example as a situation where my arguments were weak and unsubstantiated. It made me read up on the subject more. I want to avoid the political discussion the OP rightfully suggested, albeit with a question that begged political responses. That’s why I am limiting my response to your point about the accuracy of sources for academic work product.

Your point about the imperative that the sources cited in academic settings (e.g., papers, exams, research etc.) are accurate is a fundamental one. Yes, I do believe Neil and Buzz landed on the moon. Yes, I do believe that the earth is round, not flat. I don’t believe that, if you don’t like a particular viewpoint, that you immediately refer to it as “fake news”. If it is “fake”, show why.

I am willing to be convinced on many issues, since I don’t often have the time to engage in-depth research. And any open-minded person is too. However, if your sources are wrong, perhaps your answer is wrong too. That applies wherever you may fall on the political spectrum. And this is what learning is all about, either in school, college, grad school, and/or life.

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I can see lots of lively discussions regarding Critical Race Theory now that it has become a catch phrase. TBH, I see no reason why that can’t occur calmly and without recriminations. It’s not going to change the historical record.

A catch phrase where people use it to describe what it actually is, or a catch phrase where people use it to describe anything that they do or (usually) do not like?