Middlebury College seems dead-set on adhering to social justice norms by apologizing for the violence that occurred when social scientist Charles Murray came to speak—not apologizing to Murray, the professor rioters injured, or the students who wanted to hear Murray’s speech, but to the rioters who shut it all down.
In a post for The Middlebury Campus, Bert Johnson, chair of the school’s political science department and an associate professor, apologized to the students who were upset over Murray’s invitation, writing that he should have consulted with dissenting students before co-sponsoring the event.
“The short amount of time between when the event became public and when it occurred gave all of us scant opportunity to listen to and understand alternative points of view,” Johnson wrote. “Most importantly, and to my deep regret, it contributed to a feeling of voicelessness that many already experience on this campus, and it contributed to the very real pain that many people – particularly people of color – have felt as a result of this event.”
You want to know who’s about to be truly “voiceless” at Middlebury? The right-leaning students who invited Murray to talk about economics. Those students were already a minority on campus, and are about to have their right to invite speakers taken away because the majority of campus residents hold liberal viewpoints and the loudest objectors don’t want to hear anything with which they disagree.
It’s Offensive to Treat Charles Murray Like He’s a Nazi
Murray wasn’t invited to discuss the decades-old book that discusses race and the protesters found objectionable. He was there to talk about his 2012 book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America,” which used statistics and research on white Americans to make a point about the class system in this country, which he argues transcends race.
Murray isn’t a provocateur like other speakers who have been forced off campuses. He doesn’t say things simply to get a reaction. When a couple of social scientists gave a transcript of Murray’s speech to college professors and asked them to rate it on a scale of “very liberal to very conservative,” the overwhelming majority of professors who responded rated it as “middle of the road.”
“Some professors said that they judged the speech to be liberal or left-leaning because it addressed issues like poverty and incarceration, or because it discussed social change in terms of economic forces rather than morality,” the social scientists wrote. “Others suggested that they detected a hint of discontent with the fact that Donald Trump was elected president. No one raised concerns that the material was contentious, dangerous or otherwise worthy of censure.”
Yet at Middlebury, Murray was painted as some kind of right-wing racist monster, unworthy of a platform to speak at the college. If someone whose speech is found unobjectionable can be treated this way, any right-leaning speaker can, because the loudest faction of the Left isn’t really interested in shutting down what they call “hate speech,” they just don’t want anyone to hear different viewpoints.
The Rioters Run the Asylum
Middlebury’s Johnson says the college continues to “debate what to do next” and wants to hear from a new committee that has been formed to limit invited speakers. That committee was formed in a student government meeting convened after Murray’s speech.
During that meeting, just one member of the student government stood up for free speech. Several student senators argued for shutting down opposing viewpoints. Sen. Hannah Pustejovsky said Murray’s invitation to give a speech that numerous professors and others found unobjectionable “feels like the community standards were violated.”
Sen. Connor McCormick responded by saying students should be able to invite who they want to campus, even if that person’s ideas are unpopular. Sen. Travis Sanderson said that some speech should not “have equal platforms.” Another senator, Nikki Lantigua, said Murray’s writing “questioned her own existence which has caused her mental health to suffer,” according to the minutes of the meeting. She said she was “exhausted” and felt physical pressure because of Murray’s presence.
Later, Sanderson said “speakers can be shut down” and praised the protesters. The students agreed to table discussion of a bill that would denounce Murray, but voted to create an ad-hoc committee to discuss “the ideas of the community standards” and the legislation that was introduced. Given how many members of the student government claimed that Murray’s speech violated community standards, one can guess what that committee will decide.
Students obsessed with social justice may be winning campus victories by scaring administrators into agreeing with them, but the tide might be turning against them in broader American society. Pundits on both sides of the aisle have denounced the tendency of self-identified liberal or progressive students to act illiberally by becoming violent in response to speech they don’t like. Even President Barack Obama has told students on numerous occasions to engage with speakers they disagree with, rather than trying to shut them down.
More recently, “The Simpsons” made fun of social justice warriors at Yale University. If even pop culture is starting to turn on these students, they may soon find themselves unable to curry favor with college administrators. Those administrators will have to become more afraid of negative publicity from giving in to the demands of the perpetually outraged. With the outraged continually embarrassing themselves with displays of violence and vulgarity, that point may arrive soon.