Middlebury College in Vermont announced that it has disciplined more than 30 students for their actions during a campus riot on March 2 against libertarian social scientist Charles Murray. The school said it had identified “more than 70 individuals” who may have violated student handbook policies.
“We are almost halfway through with the investigation and disciplinary process and we hope to bring it to a close by the end of the academic year in mid-May,” the announcement says. The school said it would not comment on what disciplinary action it has taken until the disciplinary process is complete, so the public won’t know for months whether students have been given slaps on the wrist or stronger sanctions.
The school also said it found “no unambiguous evidence that any member of the Middlebury College faculty violated faculty policies in regard to their actions on March 2.”
On that day, Murray was scheduled to speak. Protesters arrived ahead of time, angry that he wrote a book in 1994 (before most of the protesters were born) that deals with human intelligence, including noting statistical differences in average intelligence among various races. Murray has attempted on multiple occasions to explain this part of the book, and has publicly welcomed questions on this topic to dispute claims that he is racist.
Guilty With No Chance to Demonstrate Innocence
At Middlebury, however, many students weren’t interested in arguing with Murray; they simply wanted to shut him down. A Democrat professor, Allison Stanger, agreed to moderate a debate with Murray, and prepared to ask him tough questions. But students stood up in the audience and chanted “Racist, sexist, anti-gay: Charles Murray, go away!” and other things that made it impossible for Murray to speak.
Stanger asked students to quiet down, but they wouldn’t. She and Murray had to move to another room to broadcast their discussion by video. Some protesters discovered the new location and started banging on the windows and setting off fire alarms. The two were surrounded by a mob when they tried to leave. In the course of protecting Murray from angry students, Stanger was injured to the point where she needed a neck brace.
Protesting a speaker is within students’ First Amendment rights, but when they actively prevent a speaker from giving a speech, or place that speaker and other students and faculty in physical danger, that’s a problem. At that point, the way they are exercising their rights to free speech and assembly is directly preventing others from exercising those same rights.
The University of California-Berkeley and Auburn University have had similar problems recently, with students becoming violent in response to speakers with whom they disagree. At Auburn, that speaker was self-identified white nationalist Richard Spencer. His speech is abhorrent, but students and protesters who resorted to violence ended up making him a martyr for his cause, which is counterproductive for those wanting to counter his ideas.
So far, it appears Middlebury is the only school of late willing to communicate that violence is not an appropriate response to speech. Berkeley police, for example, were commanded to stand down during campus riots this spring that included vandalism. These illiberal liberal students need to learn that one counters ideas with better ideas—and physical violence and temper tantrums are not better ideas.
Middlebury may have only slightly punished the students. They could have been “disciplined” with being required to write an essay or hear a stern lecture from an administrator. Until more details surface, we won’t know whether Middlebury is truly taking a stand against violent and disruptive protesters or just trying to save face.
This article previously misspelled Allison Stanger’s last name.