The Middlebury Mob and Freedom of Speech

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If you are unfamiliar with current events, let me bring you up to speed. On March 2, Charles Murray was to give a lecture at Middlebury College. A group of students and “outside agitators” prevented Murray from speaking at the arranged venue and attacked his car as he left, and injuring a professor who was accompanying Murray, Allison Stranger. Apparently the election of Donald Trump has upset the “veteran critics” as Osita Nwanevu refers to them, to the extent that they are unable to comment on incidents such as a mob preventing free speech at a university. President Trump was only elected five months ago, so I am sure we all understand the trauma that the liberal pundits have faced.  The coronation of Ms. Clinton was destroyed by that fiendish Electoral College and, of course, the Russians hacking and conspiring with the Trump campaign, to hear them tell it, has permanently scarred the “veteran critics,” and delayed their ability to write about things like the Middlebury incident.


We certainly appreciate Osita Nwanevu stepping in and encouraging more campus mobs to stop published authors and recognized social scientists from speaking at colleges. You never can be too careful of what a social scientist might see in data, and if they draw any conclusion that you disagree with, then you have the right to stop them from publicly speaking. This forcing speakers with whom you disagree from speaking on college campuses sets a precedent that will not reflect well in the long run for the students involved, or at least, it shouldn’t.


The mob that disrupted Murray’s lecture claimed that Murray was a racist, and that his speaking at Middlebury would be counterproductive. Murray is a political scientist who has written books that some people claim are racist. I cannot and will not pass judgment on Murray’s books here, but I can say that he certainly uses scientific methods and considerable data to support his conclusions. Murray has, of late, arrived at the conclusion that people such as myself and my ethnic persuasion are coddled, lazy, and not interested in hard work. I have read most of The Bell Curve, the book that the Middlebury Mob claims is racist, and I saw facts, not racist conclusions, based on unreasonable hatred, but then, I was not looking for hatred when I read the book; I was interested in facts and research by a credentialed social scientist, and that was what I saw in The Bell Curve.  


To quote Osita Nwanevu from the sixth paragraph on his article in Slate: “Those students have also warned that granting people like Charles Murray prominent platforms on our campuses in the spirit of open discourse may be counterproductive.” A warning from students, stating that “people like,” as in a group with a certain mentality, are “counterproductive.” The conclusion that “open discourse” is now counterproductive has, of course, been arrived at by college students, who apparently know what is best for colleges in terms of guest speakers. The students are right, (supposedly) and if they have to use force to quell counterproductive behavior, then so be it. Of course, people that support Murray probably don’t operate in mobs, and it appears that Murray didn’t have any “outside agitators” to forcibly insist that he be allowed to talk.


When last I heard, students didn’t decide who was allowed to give lectures at a university, or at least none of the universities I have attended asked me to approve of who gave lectures there. It is not as if Charles Murray is some whack job off the street; his credentials are too long to list, but suffice to say a Ph.D. from M.I.T. might qualify him to be worthy of a few minutes of a student’s time. If you object, don’t attend the lecture. Even better, an intellectual idea that I am sure I learned in college, would be to listen to the lecture and then, raise your hand, wait until you are called on, and state a logical, well-reasoned argument against whatever point Murray was making. I would suggest that the students’ inability to present a convincing argument is evidence that they do not have any convincing argument, only the ability to assemble a mob to force people into retreating from an arranged venue. This is not an admirable trait for people who are supposed to be college material, no matter how admirable Slate or Osita Nwanevu consider mobs forcing speakers from their venues to be.


If you object to Charles Murray, do the research, write a book and refute his conclusions. A message to the Middlebury Mob: The writings of Charles Murray are still in the libraries and the halls of academia, and his ideas and conclusions are still being discussed. In the meantime, your mob is now gone. The news reports concerning your opposition to Murray would look much better if you had engaged in a spirited debate, and your lack of willingness to do so reflects poorly on your academic abilities, not to mention your personal integrity. Charles Murray could have given a lecture to a nearly-empty hall, or one of your mob could have presented a convincing counterargument; the fact that you didn’t speaks volumes more than Charles Murray’s writings ever could.


Forcing the person you disagree with off the campus is not the solution, and Osita Nwanevu’s encouraging that behavior is so far off the charts of decency and decorum that publishing such encouragement is disgusting, unprofessional, and unethical journalism. Pardon me for accusing Slate of journalism, something that they only occasionally practice, mostly by accident. If Slate wishes to offer the opinions of Osita Nwanevu, more power to them, but they must realize that by doing so, they are advocating the use of force (in this case a mob, which are never very well-organized) to opposed ideas with which they disagree. I understand that Charles Murray is accused (accused, not convicted) of racism, but I would bet that less than 3% of the protesters had any of Murray’s books on their bookshelf. For the record, Charles Murray has said bad things about my demographic, and yet I still read things that he has written, even when he disparaged members of my ethnic persuasion.


These students, and the “outside agitators” (how they got there is anyone’s guess, and again, I would suspect that people not on staff or not enrolled in the university weren’t welcome to disrupt university sanctioned activities, but who knows) have taken it upon themselves to decide who can speak at the university.  According to Osita Nwanevu, this is the correct (or is it politically correct?) course of action. If there was a mob of students and “outside agitators” who protested a speech by someone who spoke favorably of the agenda of the mob, would they then claim it was an acceptable practice? Mobs do not rule universities or the public domain.


While groups have the right to protest, the guarantee is in public places. Middlebury College is a private school, and as such, I am puzzled as to how “outside agitators” were given the green light to protest. Taken from the article “The Kids Are Right” from the Slate website, by Osita Nwanevu, where Nwanevu quotes a Middlebury College student: “For too long, a flawed notion of ‘free speech’ has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions, dehumanizing and subjugating people of color and gender minorities,” Middlebury student Elizabeth Siyuan told the New York Times on Tuesday. “While I defend Murray’s right to speak his mind, the fact that the college provided an elevated platform for him did more harm than good.” I am sorry, but a lecture at a small university in Vermont (2,526 students in 2014) is not like going on “Meet the Press” or a nationally-broadcast venue. Elizabeth Siyuan became the de-facto representative when she was quoted by the New York Times, and participating in a mob, forcing Murray to leave the venue and injuring a professor could hardly be construed as defending Murray’s right to speak. The "I will defend Murray's right" rings hollow in the light of the events that unfolded. 



Let’s take a look at Elizabeth Siyuan’s statement. “For too long, a flawed notion of ‘free speech’ has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions,” I guess free speech has just been around too long, according to Elizabeth Siyuan. I would be interested in whatever option she might suggest to replace free speech, as it seems to have worked for some two-hundred years, but since free speech allows ideas that Elizabeth Siyuan finds disagreeable, it is time to end it. First, I don’t think so, and secondly, Elizabeth Siyuan is coming off as selfish, biased, and unfair, not to mention downright un-American. The idea that there is a “flawed notion of free speech” is frightening, and coming from a college student is deeply troubling. Free speech is the foundation of our democracy, but apparently not for much longer if people like at Elizabeth Siyuan and Osita Nwanevu get their way.


Next, we have “individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions,” as if Charles Murray was just another Aryan Nation whack job inventing questionable theories and speculating without reason. Like his ideas or not, Charles Murray has a lot of research and evidence to support his conclusions; he doesn’t just dream them up, nor am I familiar with Murray making outright racially discriminatory statements, although I only have one of his books, the most famous one, The Bell Curve. I can tell you that Murray called members of my ethnic group lazy and pampered. I didn’t agree with Murray’s scientific conclusions, but I haven’t protested any of his speeches, nor have I joined a mob and forced him to leave a lecture venue.


What has gotten out of hand is college students who are convinced that they are the bearers of truth and anyone who disagrees with their exclusive truth is a liar that has no right to be heard. Encouraging such behavior, as Osita Nwanevu is doing, is doubly irresponsible, and journalistically unethical. Unless Osita Nwanevu wishes to be identified as something other than a journalist, in which case, let Osita Nwanevu encourage mobs to force unwanted speakers from institutions at will and offer up unconstitutional solutions to students too young or too “indoctrinated” to comprehend that the free exchange of ideas is the foundation of American democracy. If the students have their way, not for much longer. 


In a more ghastly interpretation of this trend, we have a generation of young people who are convinced that they are right and no one who disagrees with them has the right to speak. These college students, having been coddled and never challenged to defend their ideas intellectually, insist that they have the right to force anyone who takes a different stand than them to be forced into silence, and that their use of force to silence those that disagree is justified. Charles Murray is, without much doubt, and elitist. The Middlebury Mob that chased Murray was not storming the Bastille. They weren’t taking a stand worthy of college-educated people, and neither is Osita Nwanevu. Let’s stop open discussion by force, and let’s label careful scientific work racist pseudoscience. If that is the scenario college students desire, then we might as well not have colleges; we have descended into an abyss that will consume our freedom and enslave us in lies, because the free exchange of ideas, even intellectual conclusions based on solid research and evidence, can no longer be considered. The Middlebury Mob may have may have accomplished its task, but symbolically, it has failed in more ways than can be listed. 



Billy Roper Added Mar 14, 2017 - 4:28pm
Those who hate the truth, as published in 'The Bell Curve', also hate free speech. Their worldview is an expression of the fragmentation of our society. Most of them have never bothered to read it, and never will, but as you said, it is very valid, and well researched science.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 14, 2017 - 4:37pm
Yes, having read it, I saw no way of challenging what Murray said. I don't thing the mob can either.
Dino Manalis Added Mar 14, 2017 - 5:12pm
Everybody's freedom of speech should be protected with civility and politeness!
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 14, 2017 - 7:21pm
Especially in college campuses.
Louis E Weeks Added Mar 15, 2017 - 10:22am
For the last 20+ years the far left was able to suppress debate and Conservative expansion with "shame tactics". simply scream racist or bigot or xenophobe etc and Republicans would back down pretty much every time.
Then came Trump.  Trump shrugged off the name calling and doubled down on his message, normal Americans flocked to Trump because of that one fact alone.
Those on the far left are in desperation and shock at the loss of their powerful tool to stop all debate so now they are turning to force.  Anyone who does not bow down to them must be destroyed.......
Bill H. Added Mar 15, 2017 - 11:35am
Both parties have redefined free speech as “speech with which I agree.”
If one can get out of their "bubble" and see what is happening on both sides, you will become enlightened.
As an example, here is a list of college professors created by Turning Point, a conservative student organization which is a catalogue of what it thinks are dangerous and “anti-American” professors who deserve public shaming for allegedly trying to “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” The watchlist homepage of course includes a disclaimer that Turning Point will “continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish.”
Of course, we are all seeing the efforts of the current administration on trying to stifle news and news organizations who report news that does not shed a favorable light on the current presidency. We are constantly told by the Trump administration that the only sources of "true news" are Fox and Breitbart (and now, the National Enquirer).
Pointing fingers and blame accomplishes nothing. Throwing rocks at each other reminds me of elementary school. We all need to sit back a long distance and take a look at where we all are at this point in time.
Discussion and debate has always been the hallmark of free speech.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 15, 2017 - 1:20pm
Discussion and debate, the hallmarks of free speech are becoming scarce at colleges. The Middlebury Mob was out of line attacking Murray. Slate's Osita Nwanevu is out of line encouraging that behavior. They would be much better off teaching them to present a convincing argument rather than to bully them until they leave campus. Colleges are in a sad state if they continue to allow this. Since the spoiled Millennials are of the opinion that they can expel by force anyone they wish, the colleges are going to have to insist that they sign pledges not to suppress free speech. There should be a clause in the pledge that if, as a student, they are convicted of bullying someone exercising the right of free speech, they are to be expelled from the college and they forfeit their tuition for that semester.
Bill H. Added Mar 15, 2017 - 3:45pm
Are you going to admit that both "sides" have the same issue?
It is obvious to me, as I don't support either radicalized political party.
It does not seem obvious to those who have been brainwashed into their bubbles.
Bill Kamps Added Mar 15, 2017 - 4:58pm
People should not be able to control free speech by shouting down, or embarrassing others who they do not agree with.  Simply positing a conservative point of view is not racist, as such, but even if it were, people are entitled to put it forward.  Neither side should be able to control the debate by saying some speakers are not worthy of being heard. 
Unfortunately we are in a time, when spin, is taking control over facts.  Trump claims he is restoring jobs in America, with a few tiny anecdotes, and he claims the unemployment rate he decried under Obama is now accurate, even though its method of calculation hasnt changed. This is the same thing every recent administration has done.  They dont accomplish anything, but they can find some factoids that "prove" they are accomplishing things for the American people.  Nonsense.
Part of controlling the spin, is controlling the speech we hear.
Billy Roper Added Mar 15, 2017 - 7:35pm
At one of these protests, somebody is going to pull a gun and start shooting, then things will get very real for the snowflakes.
Bill H. Added Mar 15, 2017 - 7:50pm
Billy - Somehow I believe that you actually long for this to happen?
Bill H. Added Mar 15, 2017 - 7:50pm
Both sides get spun information from their sources of choice, and many (it seems most these days) believe every word they read or hear. The president, the pundits and the news sources seem to know how gullible the average news consumers is these days and takes full advantage of it.
Yes, there are those out there who actually believe that Obama tapped Trumps phones, Trump has never talked with Vladimir Putin, 2 million people voted illegally, and that Obama knew nothing about Hillary's private server (to be fair).
People are so polarized and programmed these days that they only hear what they want to hear and believe while in the "comfort zone".
Although somehow I don't think that the majority of Trump supporters who may presently be on Obamacare will be rallying around the flag and cheering for the present attempt at replacing it.
I agree that the ACA has it's issues for sure, but I suspect that the new plan that "will be so great, it will make your head spin" will simply result in even more profiteering by the insurance companies, medical providers, and pharmaceutical companies with the result of the costs of medical services skyrocketing even more. This conclusion is not from news sources from either "side", but from past experiences that have occurred when corporations are left to set pricing without any ceilings or controls.
I was working in the communications sector during the time they became deregulated and saw what immediately happened to customer billing costs.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 15, 2017 - 8:34pm
Bill, there is one solution that almost no one will talk about for lowering medical expenses, and that is to get more doctors into the system, and everyone, especially the AMA, refuses to consider such a scenario. More doctors would mean more competition, but no one will consider such things. I believe it is Kansas that started a rural medical school out in the boondocks, but look at where all of the other medical schools are, why, they're in cities of course. I applaud Kansas for doing this. Want physician expenses to go down? Use that thing called supply and demand. This is another essay for me, so stay tuned.
As mentioned, I do not think that supporters of Charles Murray would picket someone who proclaimed ideas that were contrary to Murray's views, and, I am sorry Bill, but you just don't see conservative advocates disturbing peaceful lectures and forcing them to other venues, and you do not see conservatives claiming that people espousing liberal views as "counterproductive." The students who participated in that disturbance should be disciplined, and, if deemed necessary, expelled from the university. Having spent a lot of time at universities, and listening to a lot of lectures, I can safely say that it never so much as crossed my mind to mistreat a guest speaker, and I have heard many lectures that I did not agree with. The Middlebury Mob incident should never have happened, and, read The Wall Street Journal of March 15 and see what solutions they suggest. 
Bill H. Added Mar 15, 2017 - 11:56pm
Thanks for you honest response, Jeff.
I have some strong views on issues that I feel concerned about. I am neither a Republican, Democrat, Liberal, or Conservative.
I simply do not trust Donald Trump at all, and I certainly hope his plan does not prove to be a nightmare for the American people while being just a fortune-producer for the insurance industry. I also have issues with people who simply label others that they may not agree with in order to avoid any logical discussion on points and counterpoints.
I once did a radio talk show on a local college FM station back in the early '70s for a little over a year and always made it a point to model the late Joe Pyne as it came to being able to argue both "sides". I even (just like Joe) had a speech impediment (stuttering) that was the key reason for me wanting to do a radio show. For some crazy reason, I would not stutter in front of a mike. Once in  a while, I would become one of the call-in characters and start and argument with myself. One of my characters was Slarty McWilliams who was a redneck  truck driver that would occasionally call in on his mobile telephone while driving his truck on the interstate and always drunk as hell. We (I) would go back and forth on many controversial subjects and Slarty became one of the most famous non-existent characters in the area.
I witnessed my father in law's supplemental insurance plan rates increase by 40% every year for about 4 years in a row back around 2003 to the point of where he had to go with a plan that would not cover his specialty cancer doctors, inevitably resulting in his early death.
Profiting is the American Way, and is fine as long as peoples lives, the quality of water and the environment, and the ability to earn a living wage is not compromised. It is also the responsibility of honest corporations to take into effect how their individual decisions can affect the overall state of our country, which seems to have become a lost art.
Mircea Negres Added Mar 19, 2017 - 11:00am
On Friday or Saturday, Blade Nzimande (minister of Higher Education) and some senior folks from universities came to a meeting with students to discuss the "challenges" facing students and universities. He was prevented from speaking, shouted down and then black students demanded that all the white people in the hall leave. Eventually, the whole thing degenerated into a brawl in which chairs flew quite liberally and unsurprisingly, the meeting ended.
Then there was the matter of guest speakers at universities, where Israeli figures and sympathisers were basically told not to show up, while known hijacker Leila Khaled gave a lecture and so did a senior figure from Hamas, both of whom were quite well received and without any threats of violence from Jewish students or Zionists on campus. Freedom of speech involves allowing others to speak, even if sometimes what they have to say is unpopular or offensive, but this tactic of students shouting down those whom they don't like and in some cases have never even heard speak is stupid to say the least.
Bill H. Added Mar 20, 2017 - 1:23am
Bottom line, there needs to be discussion on both sides of the coin. People are getting news and info from polarized sources and rarely get to see how the other "side" thinks for feels, other than what they are told by their sources.
The result? Narrow minded, antagonized, under-informed people on both "sides". We see it in the general populace and in the White House.
Where is Walter Cronkite when you need him the most?
Tamara Wilhite Added Mar 21, 2017 - 7:59pm
Liberal students attacking an elderly professor and one of their own teachers for daring to try to speak, surrounding a car to prevent it from escaping and potentially dragging  innocent victims to a disabling beating or their deaths, are a short step away from lynch mobs of the French Revolution and China's Great Leap Forward.
They have been taught that all morality is measured by the power and spread of their political ideology, a belief shared with Islam, and that all evils are thus acceptable if the ideology is strengthened. Death threats to critics and liberal bullies beating up disabled people? OK if they are conservative. Threats to rape women, bother parents and girlfriends, the weaponization of poverty to cost people their current jobs and online demonization campaigns to kill their prospects for a new job? They violated progressive tenets, make examples of them so no one else will deviate from the growing list of accepted views and approved words.
Authoritarian liberals are the fascists conservatives have been smeared as. It is the religious right of the political left, and classic liberals like moderate Muslims find themselves to do more than barely criticize their violent ideological brethren .. and too often resort to the "no true scotsman" fallacy, calling violent liberal bullies who agree with all DNC talking points "anarchists" to deny the relationship in an effort to save the reputation of the ideology.
This is the logical end result of two decades of liberals declaring they and only they are smart, rational, moral, educated and everyone who disagrees is ignorant at best (assumption then that everyone once educated converts to liberalism), and otherwise is crazy, stupid or evil. And when you think you're good fighting evil, a message reinforced by teachers deliberately training activists in college and the media that abandoned truth telling in order to spread the Truth of liberal ideology ... of course it gets violent. Social Justice Warriors are the sacred warriors of the progressive cause.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 21, 2017 - 8:22pm
Well stated, Tamara. Excellent observations of those who want to stop the truth from being told.
Bill H. Added Mar 21, 2017 - 11:15pm
As I stated....!
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 22, 2017 - 5:27am
Yes, you too Bill.