Alumni Request Colleges Become ‘Safe Spaces for Intellectual Diversity’

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Middlebury College alumni, now working in academia at the school, are demanding universities to become “safe spaces—for intellectual diversity” following an aggressive disruption of a Charles Murray lecture.

The alumni letter reads, “As university professors and administrators, we are deeply concerned with escalating attacks on free speech and inquiry all across American higher education–and we believe that lessons of national import can be learned from the situation at our alma mater in Vermont.”

The letter continues to say that events like this are not exclusive to Middlebury, listing recent examples of physical intimidation and harassment of speakers at UCLA, Claremont McKenna College and Evergreen State College. The alumni says, however, that “the stakes now are heightened because students nationwide are rejecting freedom of expression and embracing a new version of the heckler’s veto.”

Saying that the protest regarding Murray’s lecture is “an opportunity to firmly defend these foundational principles,” the group expresses discontent for the college’s reaction to the event, saying it has been “simply insufficient to address the current threats to higher education, free expression, and reasoned discourse.”

At the event, administrators did discipline students who initially forced Murray’s speaking event to be held in an anteroom, following the assault of a professor as she accompanied Murray from the building. However, alumni say that more needs to be done by the university to prevent these events from occurring.

The alumni also expressed feeling unsettled about Middlebury students’ responses to a statement published in The Wall Street Journal, which was signed by over 100 faculty members expressing their belief that “learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech is respected.”

According to alumni, 151 students signed a response to the statement, and say that Murray’s “oppressive language” creates “violence,” which is why they attempted to silence him with force.

“This view is self-evidently wrong. Shouting down a speaker–to say nothing of setting off fire alarms or committing assault–is not ‘defending’ reasoned discourse,” the alumni said. “The appropriate response to Murray’s lecture event, which by design featured his commitment to take questions and hear objections, would be an argument in kind. A special place for such important exchanges of views used to be known as a college or university.”

The letter also lists several suggestions for administrators to demonstrate the school’s dedication to free speech, like creating “greater transparency” regarding repercussions for students involved in the protest.

The alumni also seek “more balanced representation” on a committee dedicated to reviewing the incident, saying that the current group contains one faculty member who signed the WSJ statement, two professors who signed the opposing statement which defends the students’ behavior, and one student who signed the letter saying Murray’s views are violent.

Another request is for Middlebury to  “organize a speaker series in 2017-18 on freedom of speech and intellectual diversity.” Specifically, that events “should encompass both speakers who favor traditional liberal views on freedom of speech, and those favoring the newer view that allows certain individuals and groups to veto a speaker who allegedly imperils diversity and inclusion,” while prohibiting disruptions for any presentations.

The last request demands Middlebury to endorse the Report of the Committee on Free Expression issued by the University of Chicago in 2015, which has been praised by free speech advocates, urging universities to adopt the model.

“These four steps…would do a great deal to express Middlebury’s core commitments to its central activities of education and free inquiry, and to advance the national conversation about these commitments,” the alumni continue. “If Middlebury considers itself a leading institution of higher education, it should be a model worthy of emulation, not a beacon of intolerance.”

(H/T: Campus Reform)

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