- 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 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.
- 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.
Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.Amen to that last. The notion of completely free and open debate is a mirage, certainly on any university campus. There are always limits to what we will admit into civilized discussion. In admitting that they are setting limits to the sort of debate they will tolerate, the students are being more honest than the high-minded professors. The debate is not over whether to have completely free debate, which nobody truly wants; it is over what the limits should be.
Many who chose to disrupt the events of March 2 did so with this principle in mind. We contend that free, reasoned, and civil discussion are certainly necessary for genuine higher learning, but that the speaker in question denies the basic equality of those invited to engage in such discourse, and therefore undermines the foundation of such discourse. By protesting the characterization of the speaker’s research as worthwhile of academic inquiry, students did more to defend the integrity of reasoned and civil discourse at Middlebury than did the administration and co-sponsors of this event.
We hope that Middlebury College would not allow a classroom debate in which a white student argued that the black students in the class, due to inferior intellectual inheritance, did not belong. We ask the undersigned professors to consider the historical and societal context for such a debate, and to consider what base assumptions make the inverse argument, that white students are genetically inferior to black students, so far outside of our collective imagination or dialogue.
A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.
In his oft-quoted Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr warned of a white moderate “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”
No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.
What is the point of enumerating “unassailable” core values if not to signal that certain questions are closed for discussion? When professors say “the impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate,” does that not signal to student protesters that they are unwilling to listen to or discuss alternative perspectives on the matter?
I actually find this exchange of manifestos encouraging. It represents the kind of argument over fundamental principles that we all agree ought to be a key part of university education. And thus in a roundabout way it upholds the wisdom of inviting Charles Murray to the campus in the first place: it has forced both sides to make the best arguments they can for their positions. This, right here, is education as I understand it.
Here is how a cynical university administrator might sum up the whole affair: In America, there are racists. If we never let our students confront racism, they will never learn how to argue against it; in fact they might simply be so astonished by it that they might not know how to respond. Obviously we can't bring David Duke to campus, so what we need to do is to find a racist – or a man who can plausibly be portrayed as one – with sufficient academic credibility to make the invitation believable. We'll invite him to speak and then watch the students who rebel against this really get to work, first organizing their opposition and then having to defend it against the withering assaults we know they will get from the Free Inquiry crowd. Plus they will get to see themselves attacked by big-name columnists in the Times and dragged through the mud on Fox News, things that anyone who wants to change the world will have to put up with sooner or later. Think what a learning experience it will be. They'll hate us, of course, but why should we care about that? It's our job to shake them out of the safe cocoons they grew up in and prod them into life; the last thing they need is more warmth and cuddles. Welcome to the real world of politics and the intellect, kiddos.