Letter to the Editor: Disruption of event casts college in a different light
In the 1998 film “The Truman Show,” Jim Carey lives in a bubble, an ideal planned community, where he is unwittingly the star of a reality TV show. One day, a spotlight falls from the sky, actually from the top of the bubble enclosing Carey’s world, and what he knows as his reality begins to unravel.
When Middlebury students disrupted Charles Murray’s attempted effort to address the academic community, it was as if a spotlight fell from the roof of the Middlebury bubble. The campus community, like so many academic physical and intellectual constructions, has long harbored the illusion that any social issue can be adequately addressed with just the right balance of words and clever thoughts. Any and every topic can be examined, any and every social issue can be addressed and solutions identified through academic discourse tightly packed into a semester long course or summarized on a handout information sheet.
These assumptions were questioned by faculty, students, alumni and community members who challenged the notion that no harm is done when a pseudo-scientist designated as a white supremacist by the prestigious Southern Poverty Law Center is co-sponsored by a college academic department and introduced by the college president. Anyone investigating Murray would know that he does not engage in honest dialogue and evades examination of his outrageous notion that racial and gender inequality is due to differences in IQ.
A handout of questions given to students as preparation for the intellectual assault was considered a level playing field. The reality that came crashing down from the Middlebury bubble’s roof was not pretty and some of the extreme behavior that is alleged need not be defended. However, it does need to be put in the broader context of our post 2016 presidential election.
We are experiencing daily erosions of decades of advancements in equality and tolerance. Hateful forces with real physical life-threatening consequences are manifest all around us. Our society is in a crisis. Civil discourse is no longer “free speech.” It is funded disproportionately by wealthy power players whose agenda is to undo vital institutions and dismantle the state as we know it.
This is a bare-knuckle struggle for power. Middlebury College is now being forced to come out of its bubble and take a stand on historic conflicts, whether it is divestment or race relations. It cannot retreat back into its bubble if it wants to be viewed as a leading training ground for our nation’s leaders.
It must understand that its decisions about who gets to speak, and who gets legitimacy, reflects the allocation of highly important resources and power. The college has long sought to be in the spotlight. Now the spotlight has fallen at its feet, is shining backward, and is casting a long dark shadow.
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