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June 13 2017

To Paraphrase Middlebury's President on Suppression of Ideas in Academia: Blah, Blah, Blah

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

To me, the aftermath of the Middlebury affair is a case study in a sickness of American higher education: Hand-wringing in the face of a toxic threat to the university.

--Charles Murray in "Fecklessness at Middlebury" at AEI Ideas

 

Laurie Patton, the president of Middlebury College, has finally opined on and explained actions the college is taking with regard to the students who not only shouted down Charles Murray, there to speak about his book "Coming Apart," but caused a concussion and neck injuries to a professor who dared to escort Murray on campus.

You can read Patton's vaporings on freedom of speech in the Wall Street Journal, but given the actions the college has taken against its violence-prone, idea averse students, I can offer you this paraphrase: blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, she's for freedom of speech (who ain't, in theory?), but here's how far she's willing to go in actually upholding that principle:

In the end, the board took disciplinary action against 74 Middlebury students. Most received probation, which means that they will face more serious penalties if they violate these policies again. A few, who took an especially prominent role in the episode, received what we call “college discipline,” which places a letter in their permanent file noting their infractions.

Because students often must disclose such information in applications to graduate programs and employers, it is a serious penalty, with potentially long-term consequences. For its part, the Middlebury Police Department investigated the events outside the hall and found no evidence to support criminal charges.

So if they riot again, well, then, just you wait!

Charles Murray comments: 

No, Dr. Patton. They faced no penalty for this offense. “Probation” at Middlebury doesn’t mean a weekly meeting with your probation officer and random drug tests. It just means a temporary mark on your record that is expunged if there is no further violation. A slap on the wrist? Not even that.

. . .

Serious penalty? Dr. Patton could write that with a straight face? Being involved in the protest will be a plus in the eyes of the admissions committees for many graduate programs. Employers? Most won’t notice, some will be amused. No one is going to say “Oh, we can’t hire this person. He was in a student protest a few years ago.”

Here’s the reality: A guest lecturer was shouted down. A senior professor, a senior college official, and the guest lecturer were assaulted. The professor was seriously injured. No one was punished. Not one single solitary person.

Murray calls for suspension or expulsion "because we’re not talking about students acting a little too boisterously or students whose worthy motives should mitigate their treatment." Institutions have an obligation, as Murray notes, to keep visitors and others safe from predators. The suppression of ideas is also a "grave infraction:"

In taking this view, I join with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who uses Aristotle’s concept of telos—the end, the purpose, that defines a thing—to think about what’s happening on America’s campuses. In Haidt’s words, “a university must have one and only one highest and inviolable good.” The telos of the university, he continues, is truth. The competing agenda of social justice is incompatible with truth. In their personal lives, students, faculty, and administrators are free to pursue social justice as they define it. But the university cannot take sides. The end of the university, its very reason for being, is to enable the unending, incremental, and disputatious search for truth. A university must be a safe place for intellectual freedom, else it has failed in its purpose. To respond to violations of that haven as the administration of Middlebury has responded is not a matter of being too soft on students. It is dereliction of duty.

Ironically, the university has become a safe place--to keep students safe from the threat of becoming an educated person. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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