Middlebury College announced its punishments this week for the students involved in the protests against Charles Murray — protests that devolved into violence and resulted in injury to a Middlebury professor. Most of the protesters who faced the possibility of discipline were placed on probation. None was expelled or suspended.
The school announced that 67 students have been disciplined. Forty-one students received sanctions from the College administration for participating in the first stage of the disruptive protest in Wilson Hall. The remaining 26 students, who faced more serious consequences for actions in the hall and outside the building, were sanctioned by the College’s Community Judicial Board, which held group and individual hearings in May.
The sanctions ranged from “probation to official College discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file.”
Some are characterizing the discipline as just slaps on the wrist. For example, former White House press secretary and Middlebury alum Ari Fleischer tweeted:
Middlebury slaps everybody on the wrist. A letter in the files. No one IDd who engaged in violence. The mob wins.
My take is somewhat different. Some form of probation seems like appropriate punishment for those who prevented Murray from speaking. Assuming no prior offenses, I think suspension would be too harsh. [See my amendment to this statement below].
Those who behaved violently or who threatened violence are a different story. They should be suspended, at a minimum. However, Middlebury claims it was unable to identify the people who engaged in violence. The claim seems plausible, since, as I understand it, these folks wore masks. It’s also likely that the worst offenders, or some of them, weren’t Middlebury students.
We also know, however, that the administration was under pressure from some professors to be lenient. That being the case, and college administrators being college administrators, it’s possible that Middlebury either feigned ignorance or, more likely, didn’t make a strong effort to identify those who engaged in violence.
Without knowing the facts, though, I can’t conclude that the discipline meted out was too soft under the circumstances.
My view on disciplining disruptive college protesters may be colored by my experience as one. In 1969, I was part of a group of activists that took over and occupied the administration building at Dartmouth. We were arrested for contempt of court and served 27 days in jail (we got three days off for “good behavior”).
After our release, we faced Dartmouth’s discipline process. As I recall, nearly all of us were placed on probation for various lengths of time (I got two trimesters, which was typical). Probation meant things like not being able to study abroad, have a car on campus, or participate in extracurricular activities (in my case, debate). Post-graduate institutions would be informed that we had been placed on probation, though I doubt many cared. (In this era, I doubt that any will care about the Middlebury students’ probation).
As I recall, only one student was expelled. He had manhandled one of the deans when we took over the building. Last I heard, he was a carpenter (I think).
I couldn’t reasonably have complained if Dartmouth had suspended or expelled me, but probation was also within the range of reasonable responses. It’s understandable, and maybe even commendable, when a college looks to the lower end of the range of reasonable punishments in deciding how to treat a 20 year-old first-time offender.
Unlike the Middlebury students, though, we spent almost a month in jail. That was more than a slap on the wrist.
Our Dartmouth mob didn’t win. Fleischer may be right when he says that the Middlebury mob did.
Let’s see if another conservative speaker shows up on campus and, in that event, whether he or she is able to speak without being harassed or disruptive.
AMENDMENT: On reflection, I want to amend the fifth paragraph of this post. I think that suspending the students who prevented Murray from speaking would have been a reasonable punishment, given the seriousness of limiting discourse at a college. However, I think that putting them on probation also falls within the range of reasonable punishment, assuming that the probation carries with it adverse consequences (as mine did at Dartmouth).