Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
“There’s nothing like a little violence to focus the mind.”
Allison Stanger, a political science professor at Middlebury College, shared this insight in a March 13 column on the Opinion Page of the New York Times.
Stanger is the liberal professor who made the fateful decision to take part in a public exchange with Charles Murray, the controversial author of The Bell Curve, and more recently, Coming Apart, a prescient look at the decline of the white working class (and the reason he was invited to Middlebury by a student club).
Now Stanger is recovering from a concussion and whiplash, courtesy of an angry mob of Middlebury students who refused to let Murray speak on their campus.
First the students stood and chanted, drowning out the speakers.
“What alarmed me most,” said Stanger, “was what I saw in the eyes of the crowd. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. They couldn’t look at me directly, because if they had, they would have seen another human being.”
When Murray and Stanger were moved to another room to complete the program, the students hunted them down, and forced them to leave the building. As the two tried to get into a car, Stanger was assaulted.
“Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me. I feared for my life,” she said.
“Once we got into the car, protesters climbed on it, hitting the windows and rocking the vehicle whenever we stopped to avoid harming them.”
Since then, she has “spent a week in a dark room to recover from a concussion caused by the whiplash,” and is still in a neck brace.
Now she has signed a “declaration” written by two Princeton professors that calls on college officials to defend free speech.
“Our willingness to listen to and respectfully engage those with whom we disagree (especially about matters of profound importance) contributes vitally to the maintenance of a milieu in which people feel free to speak their minds, consider unpopular positions, and explore lines of argument that may undercut established ways of thinking,” reads the declaration.
Robert George is a leading Catholic public intellectual and Cornel West is a liberal activist. The two jointly teach a class at Princeton that models reasoned discourse to students, who are more likely to get a single progressive frame in liberal arts classes and in student events.
“Such an ethos protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies,” continues the statement, which has been signed by many academics across the nation.
In her New York Times column, Stanger acknowledged that the students’ violent behavior sparked condemnation, as well as renewed concerns about assaults on free speech at other U.S. campuses.
While she argued that President Trump’s intemperate language played a role, by bringing political discourse to a “boiling point,” she also blamed fellow professors for joining the protests against Murray.
She pointed out that many of those who called Murray a “white nationalist” hadn’t read his books, and picked up this bit of fake news from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Stanger wants the students who took part in the assault to be punished.
But much of the blame for the cowardly and despicable violence that erupted on her campus should be placed at the door of intolerant liberal academics and administrators who legitimize the assault on free speech by marginalizing conservatives and restricting the hiring of scholars who disagree with progressive ideologies.
“We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological,” said Nickolas Kristof, in a December 2016 column in the New York Times.
“Repeated studies have found that about 10% of professors in the social sciences or the humanities are Republicans.”
The assault on two scholars at Middlebury College was an attack on free speech, reason, and the rule of law.
It’s past time for Americans to challenge the status quo of elite institutions of higher education, like Middlebury, where our future leaders learn the wrong lessons.