After a student protest at Vermont's Middlebury College managed to shut down an event last week featuring conservative writer Charles Murray, a liberal professor who had agreed to engage Murray onstage described the "hatred" unleashed upon her by protesting students, how she feared for her life — and that the incident is "a metaphor for what is wrong with our country."
Allison Stanger, a Middlebury political science professor and a known Democrat, wrote on Facebook days later that she viewed her appearance with Murray — author of "The Bell Curve" — as "a chance to demonstrate publicly my commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom."
That apparently is more than can be said for some of her faculty colleagues, whom Stanger revealed had already judged "Murray’s work and character" before the event "while openly admitting that they had not read anything he had written."
Stanger went on to describe what she witnessed from the stage Thursday:
I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community. There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange, but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair-pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen, and they were stranded outside the doors. I saw some of my faculty colleagues who had publicly acknowledged that they had not read anything Dr. Murray had written join the effort to shut down the lecture. All of this was deeply unsettling to me. What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters.
Stanger and Murray eventually exited the venue and livestreamed their Q&A from a private location — a contingency plan agreed upon ahead of time in case things got out of control. You can even faintly hear protesters still shouting outside the new venue in the video of their talk.
Allison Stanger (left) chats with Charles Murray. (Image source: Middlebury College video screen cap)
But when Stanger and Murray exited the room, protesters were ready for them.
"We confronted an angry mob as we tried to exit the building," Stanger wrote. "Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm both to shield him from attack and to make sure we stayed together so I could reach the car too, that’s when the hatred turned on me."
Stanger said that a "thug grabbed me by the hair and another shoved me in a different direction. I noticed signs with expletives and my name on them. ... For those of you who marched in Washington the day after the inauguration, imagine being in a crowd like that, only being surrounded by hatred rather than love. I feared for my life."
Murray also wrote about the experience, noting the mob attack came despite the presence of "two large and capable security guards." Seems that among the mob "a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass," Murray said. Their only option? Walking right toward the guy as a security guard "pushed him aside," he recalled.
"The three of us got to the car, with the security guards keeping protesters away while we closed and locked the doors," Murray said. "Then we found that the evening wasn’t over. So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood."
They actually had to take a "decoy route" to their post-event dinner, Stanger wrote, adding she told a colleague she "felt proud of myself for not having slugged someone." But the respite was short-lived. Stanger said they were told the protesters knew where they were and that they should leave.
"We raced back to the car, driving over the curb and sidewalk to escape quickly," Stanger recalled. "It was then we decided that it was probably best to leave town."
After all was said and done, Stanger needed a trip to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a concussion.
"This was the saddest day of my life," she added.
(Content warning: Rough language):
More from Murray:
A college’s faculty is the obvious resource for keeping the bubble translucent and the intellectual thugs from taking over. A faculty that is overwhelmingly on the side of free intellectual exchange, stipulating only that it be conducted with logic, evidence, and civility, can easily lead each new freshman class to understand that’s how academia operates. If faculty members routinely condemn intellectual thuggery, the majority of students who also oppose it will feel entitled to say “sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say” when protesters try to shut down intellectual exchange.
That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly? I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.
Peter Beinart, a journalism and political science professor at City University of New York — and a liberal — wrote a piece for The Atlantic condemning the Middlebury incident, saying it "suggests that something has gone badly wrong on the campus left."
Beinart observed that liberals who are actively shutting down free speech may find themselves silenced one day, too:
Liberals may be tempted to ignore these incidents, either because they are uncomfortable appearing to defend Charles Murray, or because, in the age of Donald Trump, they’re worried about bigger things. That would be a mistake. If what happened at Berkeley, and now at Middlebury, goes unchallenged, sooner or later, liberals will get shouted down too. To many on the campus left, after all, Zionism is a racist ideology. Drone attacks constitute war crimes. Barack Obama was the deporter-in-chief. Hillary Clinton supported a racist crime bill. Joe Biden disrespected Anita Hill. There will always be justifications.
Middlebury College President Laurie Patton said Monday the school "will follow a process of determining a course of action for each individual understood to be involved in some way in the events of last Thursday" and Middlebury police "will investigate the confrontation" after the livestream, which "we believe involved individuals from both on and off campus."
Here's a lengthy clip of the event that was eventually shut down. The fun really starts just after the 19-minute mark. (Content warning: Rough language, from mouths and on signs):