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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Middlebury College: college presidents whose superpower is appeasement.

The Speech President Patton Gave To Students
If there were any uncertainty about that, President Patton soon put it to rest. At seven minutes into the video, she took the stage and spoke for six and a half minutes. Let’s put this in present tense. Patton speaks in a somber tone, and is at pains to get across her own extreme reluctance to have Charles Murray on campus. Her points are:

Inclusiveness. “Thank you all—every single one of you—for being here.” Several times over the course of the next six minutes, Patton repeats a pledge of allegiance to diversity: “Middlebury is committed to unlocking the potential and brilliance of every student no matter their race, their class, their sexual orientation, their religious orientation, their disabled status, or any other demographic marker.”
Regret. “I’m here because if my schedule is free I always respond to the student requests.” Patton allows that college policy permits students and faculty freedom “to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them.” She sounds not one bit enthusiastic about this policy.
Repugnance. “I would regret it terribly if my presence here today, which is an expression of support I give to all students who are genuinely seeking to engage in a very tough public sphere, is read to be something which it is not: an endorsement of Mr. Murray’s research and writings. I will state here that I profoundly disagree with many of Mr. Murray’s views.”
Is every Middlebury student a repository of brilliance waiting to be unlocked? Presumably the Charles Murray of “The Bell Curve” would have doubts about that, as would anyone who takes the trouble to watch the 44-minute video, which serves as a pretty good illustration of what not-very-intelligent people look like when they succumb to a mob mentality. Patton’s list of the “demographic markers” she is eager to defend does not include political orientation. Indeed, she began her remarks by declaring, “Allow me to state the obvious. We are a left-leaning campus…”

Patton Didn’t Defend Free Expression—She Took Sides
Nowhere in her remarks was there any defense of the ideal of free expression on campus. She acknowledged that “college policy” left the door open to the American Enterprise Institute Club to invite Charles Murray, but Patton had nothing to say about why it was a good idea to let Murray or others not on the left speak.

Nowhere in her remarks was there any defense of the ideal of free expression on campus.
Patton’s explicit and emphatic avowals of her disagreement with Murray were gratuitous. She cited none of his views and gave no reasons why she disagreed with those views. She merely took sides: siding with the protesters in their uninformed distaste for Murray, though not in their willingness to deny him a platform.

The underlying message to the students who showed up to protest was that President Patton felt the justice of their cause, but was determined to stick with college policy allowing controversial speakers to speak. Patton positioned herself almost identically to how Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at UC Berkeley had positioned himself prior to the Milo Yiannopoulos event. Dirks had likewise empathized his extreme dislike of the speaker’s views and his temperate allegiance to free speech.

But perhaps the most striking precedent for what happened at Middlebury is the May 2013 takeover of a Swarthmore College board meeting by a mob of student activists. The president of Swarthmore at the time, Rebecca Chopp, sat in the audience and did nothing, even after students who were not part of the protest appealed to her to restore order. That event too was caught on video, and Chopp persisted afterwards in defending her inaction in the face of tactics of intimidation and lawlessness.

Stanger Participated in the Protest
But there are deeper layers of irony here. If you examine the video carefully, Stanger makes several appearances before she goes on stage. At one point (29:08), Stanger is to be found grinning at the chant, “Hey hey, ho, ho, Charles Murray has got to go.” At another (30:05) Stanger is broadly smiling as the crowd chants, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away.” Still later, as the crowd chants, “Black Lives Matter,” Stanger raises her hands above her head (33:20) and claps along. Soon after, the camera pans across her again (33:34) and she is chanting the slogan as well as clapping.

In other words, Stanger was not just present at the protest, but participated in it.

That his assigned interlocutor would publicly participate in an effort to prevent him from speaking at all is, I guess, part of the postmodern academy.
That his assigned interlocutor would publicly participate in an effort to prevent him from speaking at all is, I guess, part of the postmodern academy. Murray tweeted after the event, “Allison Stanger. She’s on the left. And fearless, funny, smart as can be, and as devoted to academic freedom as anyone I’ve ever met.”

Stanger is the Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury, and a figure to be reckoned with: Harvard Ph.D., a graduate diploma in economics from London School of Economics, author of some important scholarly works, including “One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy” (Yale University Press).

To this, we can add outpatient at Porter Hospital and martyr to President Patton’s commitment to non-interference in the right of Middlebury students to enforce their prohibition on free speech in their own creative way.

President Patton, however, was “deeply disappointed by the events that [she] witnessed.” She issued a letter to the community expressing her displeasure.

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