Middlebury College cancels another controversial speaker because of “safety concerns”

UPDATE: I have sent this letter to the President, the Dean, and the Provost of Middlebury:

Dear President Patton, Provost Cason, and Dean Taylor,

I was appalled to hear that Middlebury College has canceled a talk by Ryszard Legutko because the safety of the College community could not be guaranteed if he appeared. The report by Inside Higher Education notes that the administration, including at least two of you, helped make this decision.

While I am strongly opposed to the right-wing views of Mr. Legutko, and the increasing conservatism and growing anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiments of Poland (and much of Europe), I value free speech in America, especially as the paramount virtue of a university. Students will not learn how to defend their positions, or think properly, unless they are able to hear all sides of controversial issu. You are surely aware that the University of Chicago has formulated “principles of free expression” defending that idea. This should be a model for Middlebury College and for all colleges and universities.By claiming that you could not guarantee the safety of your community, and canceling a right-wing speaker, you are in effect giving the Left (of which I am a member) a heckler’s veto over speech at Middlebury. For it is almost always the Left that threatens the safety of speakers and campuses. (Of the 26 college disinvitations occurring in 2018 and 2019 whose political source could be identified, 21 were prompted by the Left and only 5 from the Right.)  You of course realize that using “campus safety” as an excuse to cancel talks creates a tacit policy in which right-wing speakers are censored at the expense of those on the left. This was the case two years ago when Charles Murray was censored at Middlebury in a shameful exercise of student censorship and administrative cowardice.

I hope you will reevaluate your policy and take action to guarantee the safety of all invited speakers by using your campus security to guarantee academic freedom and First Amendment rights at Middlebury.

Cordially,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

______________________________

Inside Higher Ed (IHE) is becoming a clearinghouse for all the Authoritarian Leftist shenanigans at American colleges and Universities. Today’s top story—to my mind at least—is the disinvitation (or rather, cancellation) of a talk by a right-winger scheduled to talk at Middlebury College in Vermont. As you may recall (see my posts here), in 2017, Middlebury students, who had gone wild by overrunning the campus library, accosting white students and accusing them of racism, also shut down a talk by infamous sociologist Charles Murray, forcing him to cancel a public presentation and actually injuring one of his hosts, a Middlebury professor. There are reports that the students involved in that harm were disciplined, but, as far as I know, the nature of that discipline has neither been revealed nor described.

Now Inside Higher Ed describes yet another instance of a speaker whose invitation to Middlebury has been canceled—on the specious grounds that the College couldn’t guarantee the safety of the speaker.

Let me hasten to add here that I’m equally eager to criticize disinvitations and deplatforming of Left-wing speakers, but I almost never find out about them. They do exist, though: in the FIRE “Disinvitation Database”, for instance, l counted 31 disinvitations in 2018 and 2019 (so far). Of these, 22 came from the Left, 5 from the Right (speaker topics opposed by the Right: abortion, the speaker’s religion, sexual orientation, and the Israel-Palestine conflict), while 4 disinvitations were “not applicable” as to ideology.  If you hear of a case of disinvitations stemming from the Right, do let me know.

To see the IHE article, click on the screenshot below or go here.  There are other reports at the Burlington Free Press and the student newspaper, The Middlebury Campus

From IHE’s report on the disinvitation of speaker Ryszard Legutko:

Legutko is a professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University, in Kraków. He is also a member of the European Parliament and is associated with far-right views that have growing support in Eastern Europe. He has offended many groups, and criticism at Middlebury has noted his support for discrimination against gay people. His fans note his stance against dictatorship in the era when the Soviet Union controlled Poland.

I find the rise of the right wing in Poland, and the concurrent rise of anti-Semitism (with both trends holding over Europe in general) reprehensible, and so I suspect I’d be deeply opposed to what Legutko had to say (I haven’t listened to his class appearance mentioned below). But so what? He should be allowed to talk because a student organization invited him. But he wasn’t, and the Middlebury administration is to blame for the disinvitation:

. . . . On Wednesday, another controversial figure was slated to give a talk at Middlebury. Again, protests were planned against the speaker, although it is unclear if those protests would have disrupted the speech — a violation of Middlebury rules and the norms of campus discourse. This time Middlebury called off the event, citing safety concerns.

An email that went out to the campus hours before the scheduled appearance by Ryszard Legutko said, “In the interest of ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff and community members, the lecture by Ryszard Legutko scheduled for later today will not take place. The decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.”

The email was signed by Jeff Cason, the provost, and Baishakhi Taylor, dean of students.

They went on to write that due to location changes and an increased number of expected attendees, “we didn’t have the staff capacity” to assure safety.

The Alexander Hamilton Forum, a group at Middlebury that invited Legutko, indicated that it would invite him again in the fall, and a Middlebury spokeswoman indicated that the college was open to that visit, consistent with “standard” event scheduling rules.

While he was unable to speak in a public lecture, Legutko did appear in a political science class, some of which was live-streamed to Facebook.

Here are a few links to detractors and supporters of Legutko’s talk:

An open letter circulating on campus questions sponsoring “a speaker who blatantly and proudly expounds homophobic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic discourse.” Bringing such a speaker to campus amounts to “shutting out large swaths of the Middlebury community, all of whom are engaged, critical and rigorous thinkers whose energies would be better spent not combating degrading and dehumanizing rhetoric.”

A recent Middlebury graduate who is from Poland published a letter in the student newspaper in which he said in part, “I am all for Middlebury inviting speakers that hold views different than those of the campus majority. But you could at least seek speakers who are not bigots and hypocrites.”

Keegan Callahan, assistant professor of political science and director of the Alexander Hamilton Forum, circulated another letter about the planned visit. While noting that many respect Legutko, the letter stressed the value of the college having speakers with a range of views.

The  Middlebury administration is complicit with its Authoritarian Leftists students in this violation of free speech, for the excuse that “we are unable to guarantee the safety of the College community” doesn’t wash. It is the school’s responsibility to guarantee the safety of the college community, and they could do so if they wanted. All they have to do is ensure a strong security presence and prevent disruption by removing disruptors from the site of the talk (protests outside a talk, of course, are fine). Since it is almost always the Left that constitutes the locus of violence here, shutting down talks that “endanger the campus community” is a tacit agreement that only Left-wing speakers will be permitted.

In this way the Left has taken a page from the Islamist playbook: by threatening violence against those who oppose a group’s ideology, they guarantee that the opponents will be silenced. Shame on Middlebury College for doing this, and so soon after the College was nationally shamed by many for its treatment of Charles Murray.

After I finish this post I’ll write to Middlebury’s President, Laurie Patton, at her email address that’s publicly available on the Middlebury website. My letter will also go to those who signed the disinvitation notice, Provost Jeffrey Cason and Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor.  Their actions are shameful, and parents and students should be aware of them.

And yet there’s more; IHE reports an other disinvitation that had escaped me:

The decision by Middlebury came just a few weeks after Beloit College, a liberal arts institution in Wisconsin, shut down a planned speech by Erik Prince, an associate of President Trump and the controversial founder of the security company Blackwater. Administrators canceled Prince’s chat following student protests in which they banged on drums and built a barricade of chairs on the stage where Prince was due to give his talk.

What is happening to our colleges? Well, we already know: they are becoming vehicles for political indoctrination and social engineering rather than learning (and learning to think). Middlebury College is complicit in these changes.

19 Comments

  1. Caldwell
    Posted April 18, 2019 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    “homophobic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic”

    The Diabolical Quaternity of sins.

    His critics proved him mostly correct about their “tyrannical” qualities.

    • Posted April 18, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      All positions, beginning just right of those of the radical Left’s, are now smeared as identical to the most extreme.

      And this:

      “I am all for Middlebury inviting speakers that hold views different than those of the campus majority. But you could at least seek speakers who are not bigots and hypocrites.”

      IOW, I’m all for free speech, except…, and where “bigot”* = ‘someone with views I disagree with.’

      * Hemant ‘friendly atheist’ Mehta favorite word, used by him and his ilk to ‘other’ & demonize their ideological opponents.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 18, 2019 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    As much as I agree with your take on the deplatforming I also find it hard to understand how having this guy speak at your college is a good idea. And considering the current attitudes toward much less offensive speakers, how did they think this one would turn out. Why not just have Bush or his vice president come and talk about all the benefits of the Iraq war?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 18, 2019 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Sorry, I am referring to the Prince issue not the other guy.

    • Posted April 18, 2019 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      I didn’t say it was a good idea. My point is that once the guy is invited, you shouldn’t withdraw the invitation, especially on grounds of “preserving security.”

      Where did I say that inviting this right-wingnut was a good idea?

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted April 18, 2019 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Where did I say you said it was? I was simply making it clear that it was a bad idea.

    • BJ
      Posted April 18, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      I would love to go to a talk or debate where President W. Bush or VP Cheney try to justify the Iraq War in hindsight. I would love to hear what they think, what their rationalizations are, how they view the world, etc. That’s important information. I would also like a Q&A after to challenge them, but, even without that, the information imparted would be very valuable.

      It’s actually a good thing to hear from people with whom you vehemently disagree. Not knowing your opponent and failing to have the ability to think like your opponent is very dangerous.

      • Posted April 18, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        They would just say what they had said 100’s of times before. Their talking points are baked into their brains, delivered with glazed eyes. Nothing said to them would make any difference to them. They will never budge. What they have to say will be nothing new for you, I would expect. Just things like “Make the world safe for democracy”. “Remove an evil dictator who was a threat to the region”. They may not say that Saddam “was preparing weapons of mass destruction” since too much light has been shed on that lie.
        But I can see how others in the audience would benefit in this exchange. The war happened when todays’ students were pretty young, and hearing the old wrong arguments would be good for them to hear counter-arguments and to make their own.

        • BJ
          Posted April 18, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          I’d like to hear what they have to say in hindsight. Regardless, it’s always valuable, and you can’t say the same things over and over in, say, a 45 minute or one hour talk. You’re forced to elaborate. Also, like you said, it would also be beneficial for the less knowledgeable among us.

          It’s especially valuable if it’s a debate and/or there’s a Q&A after.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted April 18, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        I guess when you don’t understand someone, just make it up. My reference is simply to invite very controversial people would get the same protests from the students over and over. I did not say I would be offended – it is the students. How many times do we need to hear the same thing happening. They could invite 5 mass murderers to talk as far as I care.

        • BJ
          Posted April 18, 2019 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          “I guess when you don’t understand someone, just make it up.”

          I don’t even understand what this is in reference to.

    • Posted April 18, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Please explain why you think having Legutko speak is a bad idea.

  3. BJ
    Posted April 18, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    So, the lesson to students is once again, “If you threaten to cause enough violence, we’ll cancel speakers/events.” Remember kids: be violent enough and you win!

    This is the same place where they had to usher Charles Murray out the back door and his assistant (or maybe the professor who was moderating the debate or assisting him in some way) was assaulted, right?

    • BJ
      Posted April 18, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, you mentioned Murray in your letter (and original post), and good on you for doing so.

  4. Posted April 18, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    The sad irony? Legutko’s talk was to have been about his new book The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.

  5. Posted April 18, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    To lament the politicization of U.S. college education on the basis of happenings at a handful of prestigious institutions is gross over-generalization. There are about 2600 accredited 4-yr colleges and universities in the U.S. Reliable generalization would call for a random representative sample of maybe a hundred or so.

    • BJ
      Posted April 18, 2019 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      But if you look into the political leanings of both the professors and administration’s of all the schools as a whole, what you’ll find is an extreme lack of viewpoint diversity. Furthermore, these types of events seem to be occurring with increasing frequency. How long should they continue before we admit that there’s a problem and try to address it? It’s not like this is even exclusive to private schools known to lean far-left. Schools from LSU to multiple California public schools to Ivy League schools are getting caught up in this.

      • Rita Prangle
        Posted April 18, 2019 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        +1

  6. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 18, 2019 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    As to what is happening at US colleges; it is “the great awokening”, as described at:
    https://areomagazine.com/2019/04/17/listening-at-the-great-awokening/ .

    However, poster #5 makes an important point: the Evergreen/Williams/Middlebury cases are only one tail of a distribution. On the other hand, as BJ points out, disturbing omens have been cropping up elsewhere in the distribution as well, particularly among students and faculty in certain areas.


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