Case Closed: Middlebury Puts the Past Behind


Miss emerging from her safe space.

Miss has emerged from her safe space, at least temporarily, to remark upon the denouement of the free-speech melodrama played out earlier this spring on the campus of Middlebury College in snow-flakey Vermont.

The college has just released a report on the riotous antics of its students and “outside agitators,” whose noble if disruptive activities successfully prevented agent provocateur Charles Murray from talking about his latest research on class-stratified white America and the recent election.  The hullabalo happened back in March and a tsunami of punditry ensued.

In a press release, the college solemnly, reverently, and with deep sorrow infused with the compassion of wise elders charged with the oversight of today’s youth, who are the hope of our future, informs us:

In total, the College disciplined 67 students with sanctions ranging from probation to official College discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file. Some graduate schools and employers require individuals to disclose official college discipline in their applications.

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 Community Judicial Board is empaneled from a pool of trained community members and, when hearing a case, consists of up to four students, two faculty members, and two members of the staff.

The release next relays that the Middlebury Police Department (MPD)

announced that it had concluded its investigation into the violence that took place following the event as Murray and Professor Allison Stanger left the building. The department said it has been unable to identify any specific individual responsible for the injuries sustained by Stanger. MPD also said it had established that as many as eight masked individuals were in the area and used tactics indicating training in obstruction. Further, the department said that while it had identified a number of other people who were in the crowd of more than 20 people outside the event venue, “on consultation with the Addison County State’s Attorney it was determined that there was insufficient information to charge any specific person who participated in damaging the car or interfering with or blocking the car’s progress as it exited the parking lot.”

Oh, well…the masked avengers of racism couldn’t be identified as matriculants of Middlebury, so who really cares? Let’s just put the whole sorry episode behind us and focus instead on lessons learned.

Lesson One: Mob violence is an effective, consequence-free tool to suppress free speech. Don’t like a speaker? Cover your face, rough up a faculty member, vandalize some cars–and you’re good to go. It’s not like anybody’s going to wear out shoe leather trying to track you down. Or label your behavior as anything other than a “disruption.”

Lesson Two: There is no Lesson Two. According to the press release:

Today’s announcement concludes the College’s review and response to the events of March 2.

Compare, if you will, this response–case closed–to how Middlebury swung into action in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, some 1100 miles away from the Vermont campus. The similarity between the two riots is unnerving: Middlebury students participated in neither! But the college’s response could not be more different:

On Wednesday, Sept. 17, the College’s Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) held a Teach-In to discuss the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The room was packed to standing room, as students and faculty listened to the panel and engaged in discussion. 

Roberto Lint Sagarena, Director of the CCSRE, began the teach-in with a brief chronology of the events that transpired in Ferguson on the day of the shooting and days thereafter.

More recently, in the wake of some campus dust-up involving Black Lives Matter*, posters, injured feelings, and inexplicably but predictably Fox News:

The Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of the College release[d] an all student email, the message included the following:

The administration is taking this step to show its support for the BSU and for all students of color at Middlebury, to acknowledge the particular challenges they confront, to honor the vital and varied contributions they make, and to affirm that there is no membership in this community other than full membership. To be here is to belong here. Equally, we support BSU’s effort to draw attention to the compelling moral issues underscored by the Black Lives Matter movement.

[snip]

This also is a first step to make all students’ opinions welcome in the public sphere. In the spirit of fostering greater rhetorical resilience…we want to support the interests and efforts of all Middlebury College students and student organizations to present and advocate for their views without asking for or requiring administrative support.

Although I for one feel reassured by Middlebury’s professed commitment to “rhetorical resilience,” I wonder how resilient Professor Stanger feels. Head and neck injuries are bedeviling.

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Ethan Allen explains that Middlebury will be exempt from the first amendment.

*Fun Fact: A robust 1.3 percent of Vermont’s current population is African-American; in contrast, a staggering 3.1 percent of the Middlebury student body is black. In other words, there are almost enough black people in the state to fill a small auditorium.

Credit: Michael Foreman, “Grendel’s Mother.”

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2 thoughts on “Case Closed: Middlebury Puts the Past Behind

  1. 1.3%? Wow, things have vastly improved on the diversity front in Vermont in the last 25 years. Clearly, Middlebury is on the front lines of the social justice offensive. The maple syrup must taste sweeter than ever.

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