Middlebury Agonistes

Princeton’s Robbie George and his lefty sparring partner Cornel West have put out a splendid statement unequivocally condemning the shameful events at Middlebury. Excerpt:

All of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses. As John Stuart Mill taught, a recognition of the possibility that we may be in error is a good reason to listen to and honestly consider—and not merely to tolerate grudgingly—points of view that we do not share, and even perspectives that we find shocking or scandalous. . .

It is all-too-common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities. Sometimes this is done by questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions; or by disrupting their presentations; or by demanding that they be excluded from campus or, if they have already been invited, disinvited. Sometimes students and faculty members turn their backs on speakers whose opinions they don’t like or simply walk out and refuse to listen to those whose convictions offend their values. Of course, the right to peacefully protest, including on campuses, is sacrosanct. But before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?

The statement is still gathering signatures, and includes mine of course.

Meanwhile, over 100 members of the Middlebury faculty have issued a “Statement of Principles” that address the rot there directly. Excerpt:

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

The rest continues in this tone. Let’s see if these faculty members take some steps, like denying or revoking tenure to any of faculty members who encouraged the mob against Charles Murray, kicking out of their classes any students who participated in the mob.

By contrast, consider the “Statement on Violence at Middlebury” issued from the American Political Science Association:

The American Political Science Association (APSA) condemns the violence surrounding a talk by political scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College on March 2, 2017, which resulted in an injury to the talk’s moderator, Allison Stanger, the Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics The violence surrounding the talk undermined the ability of faculty and students to engage in the free exchange of ideas and debate, thereby impeding academic freedom on the Middlebury campus.

After this follows some standard boilerplate about the APSA’s commitment to free inquiry, which, it admits “can at times involve intense exchanges and debates about ideas and evidence – including ideas or arguments that some consider suspect or wrong. Violence, however, is not an appropriate answer to speech.”

Nice to know the APSA draws the line against violence. I am sure this was a tough call for them. Probably had to have a lot of meetings to think it through. Notice what is conspicuously missing from this statement: any reference to the downshouting or disinviting of conservative speakers that has run rampant on campus. It would seem the APSA tacitly accepts this practice. It’s only the violence they object to. How bold of them.


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