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Liberal Education
Cause for Hope at Middlebury

After protestors on campus sent a professor to the emergency room last week, Middlebury College professors Keegan Callanan and Jay Parini wrote a statement of principles that they published in today’s Wall Street Journal. As of early Tuesday afternoon, 48 of their colleagues had joined them in signing it. The declaration is an unequivocal and eloquent defense of liberal education properly understood:

Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.

Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.

The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.

A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.

All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.

There are over three hundred academic staff at Middlebury College. Parini and Callanan say they will update the list as more faculty sign it until March 11. Every faculty member at any institution which wishes to call itself a liberal arts college should be able to add his or her name to this list.

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  • f1b0nacc1

    While I am delighted to see that Parini and Callanan have produced what is to my mind a fine document, just what are they willing to endorse in the way of sanctions against those who violate those principles? These fine words (and let us stipulate that they are fine words) are nothing more than empty air if they are not backed up with substantive sanctions against transgressors.

    I will take my point a bit further. The thugs who engaged in the shameful acts at Middlebury are known to these professors, as they are to almost all other observers of this disgusting incident. What will be done to them?

    • Andrew Allison

      Thus far, a grand total of 15% of the Middlebury faculty have signed. There will be reason for hope when the number gets to 85% and the President who attempted to blame outside agitators for the violence is gone.

      • f1b0nacc1

        A good beginning, but as I said….I believe that without real consequences for the students (and faculty) who participated in the disruption, none of this matters too much

        • Andrew Allison

          No argument. As I commented on a previous post, the misbehavior will continue to escalate until the perps are spanked HARD.

    • Michael Swartwout

      First: actual consequences for transgressors. Second: other, concrete steps. For example, the president of Middlebury could make “Coming Apart” the required summer reading book for all incoming freshmen. Or, better yet, make it a graduation requirement: read the book, write a critique that addresses the arguments in the book (not ad hominem attacks against the author), and submit it for grading.

      • Fat_Man

        Better yet. The Bell Curve.

  • solstice

    Since when are violent thugs “protesters?” In a sane country, any student who attempts to shout down a speaker at a university would be expelled and any student who attempts to use physical force to silence a speaker would be thrown in jail.

  • WigWag

    Very nice. When will we hear about the suspensions and expulsions?

    • f1b0nacc1

      And consequences for faculty who egged them on?

      • Andrew Allison

        Absolutely. It’s time that the faculty who encourage this sort of totalitarianism paid the price.

  • Greg Olsen

    “The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.” Oops! The statement of principles just declared instititio non gratus on every “Studies” department on campus. They are fighting words for the culture warriors and “social justice” fanatics.

  • SpiderPie

    Well, it’s a start.

  • Jim__L

    Could someone link it so we can check for WRM’s name? 😉

    • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

      He teaches at Bard, not Middlebury. And I have no doubt he’d sign such a document if one were to circulate at Bard (which, so far as I know, has none of Middlebury’s problems).

      • Jim__L

        “Every faculty member at any institution which wishes to call itself a
        liberal arts college should be able to add his or her name to this list.”

        So WRM should be on. =)

        • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

          “should” — meaning “should agree with” and, perhaps, “should create a list of their own.” But if you click on the link, you’ll see that the list in question is Middlebury-specific. Here, for your convenience:

          For future reference, please note that English comprehension is your friend.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Since Jim_L’s comment cited a direct quote from the article above (i.e. “Every faculty member at any institution which wishes to call itself a liberal arts college should be able to add his or her name to this list”), his point that WRM’s name should be on this document is in fact directly on point, and completely consistent with the thrust of the article above.

            That you ignored the words “any institution” in this quote suggests that it is you who has the reading comprehension issue, not Jim_L

          • Jim__L

            Vepxistqaosani, you’re button-mashing a bit here with your criticisms, of me and Beauceron. I’m sure we disagree on some points (I’d be shocked if we didn’t), but could you ease up on the friendly fire?

  • Fat_Man

    Unbtil some of the protestors are expled and indicted, the statement is just more hot air.

    I am so done with the colleges in this country. Revoke their tax exemptions, seize their endowments, burn down their buildings, plow the land under, and sow it with salt.

    • Fat_Man

      Let me add that this is a fight for survival. It is us or the colleges. We must get rid of them.

    • Matt_Thullen

      Strongly disagree–salting the earth would make it unsuitable for planting. Let’s not destroy useful cropland.

      • Fat_Man

        The salt is symbolic. It will wash away after a couple of good rains.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Better that it be left a barren wasteland, a sign to those who try to follow that path in the future

        • D4x

          Not all colleges and universities are infected. Purdue, or College of Charleston, or Texas A&M come to mind. Since I saw these CDC maps, 2001 vs 2015, I think it correlates with Lyme disease, which can cause encephalopathy, an inflammation in the brain that affects cognitive function. The left coast started in the 1960s, maybe LSD in the water.

          CDC Lyme Disease Cases 2001 versus 2015.

          I know, just a theory!

          • f1b0nacc1

            There are some fine institutions of course (I have a protege at Purdue, and I would regret to see him caught up in the destruction), but the broader point stands. Evacuate those worthy of being saved, nuke the rest from orbit, it is the only way to be sure….grin…

          • D4x

            Whatever happened to that neutron bomb that kills mammals, leaves buildings and trees intact? And, as one who can still visualize that moment in 1962 Miami, ‘why are they making us hide under our desks we are all going to be fried’, hard to find nuking anything from orbit a solution.

            Probably not helpful to be reading about Cuba1962 in Follett, Vol. 3.

            Still think it is Lyme disease.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The neutron bomb (a hugely misleading name, but that is another subject….) wouldn’t be a bad idea, but to be honest, most (not all) of these campuses are fantastically ugly anyway, so obliterating them completely wouldn’t be a bad idea.

            Plus, Lyme’s disease is spread by ticks, not mammals (though they are carried by mammals, I suppose…), which would be far, far less susceptible to a neutron bomb’s radiation anyway…

            Napalm perhaps?

          • D4x

            Clockwork Orange re-programming?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Ah, the glorious 9th!

            You made my morning….

  • demboj

    This is a Rodney King type statement: an appeal for reason; a wish for the lion to lie down with the lamb, Until now, it wasn’t clear that anybody on the Middlebury College faculty had such feelings. I notice that there is no call for action in the resolution. It doesn’t call on the school administrators, or government officials, or the demonstrators, or the faculty, to actually do anything,

    • f1b0nacc1

      The lion may lie down with the lamb, but only one of them will get up after lunch….

  • BrianFrankie

    I agree the document is a fine one. But, unfortunately, it is far too late. Had this been published 20 years ago, or ten, or even three, perhaps it could have made a difference.
    I notice, looking at the list this morning, that there are 63 names on it. Including Professor Stanger (best wishes for recovery, Professor). Out of 300 faculty. A document of this nature, in a true liberal arts setting, should garner near-unanimous approval, almost immediately. But in what passes for the modern American academy, this document is actually perceived as controversial, even subversive, and a good proportion of academics disagree with the principles espoused. Thus, there is a far-too-slow rate of accumulating signatures, and I doubt even a majority will sign it.
    There may even be some fear about signing it, which may be tragically well-founded. Remember that Lenin, as he staged his takeover, purged moderate fellow-travelers first, before going after his actual enemies. He wanted power, and he consolidated it by destroying threats near him, within his own party, as first priority. The modern struggles in the academy may not be quite as existential as they were for Trotsky, but the factions in control of the liberal arts colleges want power, and have few qualms about the means they’ll employ. The signatories of this document have marked themselves, and there are likely to be career consequences, particularly for younger faculty.
    There are ironies aplenty, of course. Most poignant, as always, is that those who have enabled, and even encouraged, the emergence of the illiberal disposition on campus are quickly cast aside. Rarely is this so well illustrated as with poor Dr. Stanger, shown smiling and clapping along with the protesters on the video of the public forum, only to be injured not two hours later by the very groups she was supporting. They say conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality; this saying was never intended to be as literally true as for Dr. Stanger.
    I don’t know where we go from here. Modern liberal arts education long ago passed the farce stage, and is now in full Cultural Revolution mode. I’m sorry it has taken so long for people to notice, but now that we are here, I cannot see any easy solutions (maybe a fence around the entire campus?). Other commenters have said there should be consequences imposed on the protesters. Sure, there should, but who will bell this cat? The administration is sympathetic to, if not passively complicit in, the acts. Vice President Burger may be a fine guy, Dr. Murray has vouched for his efforts on 2 March, but look at his body language as he warns the crowd about campus policy prior to the presentation. His every sentence drips with ironic detachment; he clearly does not believe in what he is saying about consequences; no one else will, either. The administration has no interest in sanctions, and if they even tried (half-heartedly) the resulting violent protests would almost certainly rip the campus to pieces and almost certainly result in casualties.
    Conservatives are gone from campus, and classical liberals are on their way out. Only the radicals will be left. I hope I am wrong about this. Maybe, just maybe, if we see another 200 signatures on the principles document before Saturday, we’ll have a flicker of hope. Otherwise, there is no way this ends well. It makes me sad – I’ve spent time in Middlebury. The town and campus are both beautiful, and there is so much potential for a great teaching college. But the days when Middlebury could recover are past. Irredeemables and deplorables (ha!) are in control now.

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