Rethinking The Judicial Process

By The Middlebury Campus

In the wake of the highly controversial protests against Charles Murray — which raised questions about the nature of free speech, political expression and power imbalances at Middlebury — many students are facing College discipline for their participation in the protests. This situation has caused us to consider the ramifications — academic, social and emotional — of Middlebury’s judicial process in its current form, and whether that process is sufficiently swift, fair and holistic.

We are not the only ones to have asked this question; on Monday, April 24, the SGA passed a bill put forward by Community Council Co-Chair Travis Sanderson ’19 and Brainerd Senator Kyle Wright ’19. The bill seeks to alter existing language in the “protests and demonstrations” section of the College Handbook, the specifics of which can be found at go/sga. On the whole, we support the bill, which includes changes such as explicitly forbidding Public Safety from using violent force. But furthermore, we believe that the way in which judicial processes are currently carried out — as exemplified by the Charles Murray case — are unduly harmful to students and exacerbate feelings of distrust between members of the college community, regardless of the final verdict.

As a private institution, Middlebury has competing interests and motives. One of those motives, undoubtedly, is to do right by its students. But other motives — maintaining a “positive” image in the press and maintaining credibility in the eyes of alumni, for example — can sometimes seem to compete with the College’s responsibility to its current students. At moments, it feels as though those motives are directly at odds. We feel this with the Charles Murray case, as some alumni and members of the non-Middlebury community have called for severe punishments of student protesters, including expulsion. Without clear communication from administrators about the disciplinary process, students are left only to surmise that these pressures are leading to more serious disciplinary action. Some students facing hearings with administrators are the same students who have worked closely with the same administrators to enact positive changes on our campus this year. The previously established trust between these students and administrators has taken a hit due to overwhelming uncertainty, regardless of the specific outcomes of these hearings.

This ties into the problematic nature of the administration’s communication with students in general, as we have addressed in past editorials. The administration’s relationship to students is not a new issue, and it is certainly not specific to the Murray incident. Therefore, we would hope that those responsible for managing this judicial process take this as a clear opportunity to demonstrate the dedication the administration has to clarity and fairness. It is no secret that this is an important moment for the Middlebury community, and College administrations’ treatment of students during this judicial process must reflect a commitment to a community of respect.

The discipline process is painstakingly long. It happens largely behind closed doors and without public accountability. This lack of accountability, sadly, holds across numerous administrative issues — not simply judicial processes. The manner in which the Murray protest investigation has been conducted thus far raises questions as to the fairness of which students are receiving discipline; in its statement to the community, the College has declined to comment on the nature and range of disciplinary action taken against protesters.

We as an editorial board have decided not to comment on the final outcome of this process; we direct you to various Notes from the Desk for a diversity of editorial opinions on the subject. Rather, we would like to make clear that we aim to critique the process; the ways in which the administration has attempted to gather data and generate oral confessions — without putting much in writing, when pressed for heightened transparency — is unduly convoluted and manipulative.

In addition, the process is decidedly non-holistic; it disregards the emotional wellbeing of students who put themselves in a position of vulnerability to protect the already-vulnerable. In proceeding with disciplinary action against protesters, we implore the administration to consider the mental and emotional health of students in their management of these incredibly sensitive cases. We hope that the administration will take action to alleviate the uncertainty that continues to foster an environment that further marginalizes the marginalized.

The editorial represents the official opinion of the editorial board of The Middlebury Campus.

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