Leef pans ‘Middlebury mob’

George Leef’s latest column for the Martin Center highlights the recent lunacy at Middlebury College.

Middlebury College in Vermont is a liberal arts school. The prolific author and American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray was asked to speak at Middlebury and answer questions from faculty and audience members. He is used to confrontations, but could not have imagined how vicious things would get up in the Green Mountain State.

Inside Higher Ed’s story on the event explains that college officials admonished the students prior to the talk that they could protest but not disrupt Murray’s talk, which was to be about the way white America is coming apart—the title of his latest book—along class lines. Unfortunately, that admonition did no good. “As soon as Murray took the stage,” we read, “students stood up, turned their backs to him and started various chants that were loud enough and in unison such that he could not talk over them. …

… And then matters turned worse. Fearing that there might be a raucous, disruptive mob instead of an audience of students willing to listen and consider Murray’s arguments, school administrators had set up a contingency plan. Once it became clear that the mob had killed the lecture, they moved to another location where Murray would give his talk, which would be live-streamed to students.

Sadly, that location was soon beset by the mob, with banging on windows and pulling of fire alarms. Murray and Professor Allison Stanger, who was the moderator for the talk, tried their best to continue a rational discussion.

Finally, Murray, Professor Stanger, and a few others tried to leave campus. …

… What could have caused such unrelenting hatred among students at an expensive liberal arts college? Why do some students feel justified in demonizing, shouting down, and even physically assaulting people who are perceived as enemies? Clues are found in the sentiments of Middlebury students such as Nic Valenti, who explained why he thought that it would be perfectly acceptable to shout down Murray in this letter published in the school newspaper the day before the scheduled talk:

When I first arrived at Middlebury I was clueless to the systems of power constructed around race, gender, sexuality, class or ability, and found that when I talked about these issues as I understood them—or rather, as I didn’t—I was met with blank stares and stigma rather than substantial debate. As a young bigot, I can recall thinking: ‘I thought at Middlebury I would get to have intellectual discussions, but instead it feels as though my views are being censored.’ However, as a first-year I had failed to consider a simple, yet powerful component of debate: not all opinions are valid opinions.

What can we make of that statement?

First, it tells us a lot about the instruction at Middlebury. A student who enters the college quickly becomes convinced that he used to be a “bigot” because he hadn’t grasped the leftist narrative that America is a bad country due to its various oppressive “systems of power.” That’s standard fare in an array of “studies” courses, but it’s evident that he heard nothing in his studies to challenge those easily debated notions.

Moreover, Mr. Valenti misses the obvious irony of saying that he was eager for intellectual discussions at Middlebury, but feels himself justified in helping to prevent an intellectual discussion involving a scholar of distinction and the rest of the school.

Finally, it is impossible for Valenti (or anyone else) to know which opinions are “valid” unless the person holding them is allowed to present them and argue the case for them.

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