Letter: Response to “Response to ‘Response to Setting the Record Straight’ ”


Re Response to ‘Response to Setting the Record Straight (online, Dec. 1)

The academic department at Arizona State University that I direct — the School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) — received an email from Middlebury faculty member Kevin Moss, inviting our school to “correct” the putative falsehoods he describes in his Campus posting about a February event at ASU with Middlebury professor Allison Stanger and a Reed College professor, on controversies about speech and speakers on college campuses.

We are accused of “distort[ing] the record” of the Charles Murray events at Middlebury in March 2017 and “play[ing] into the dominant narrative used to defame the college.”

Professor Moss may not realize that the director of this ASU School happens to be a 1989 Middlebury College graduate; that I returned to the College as a faculty member from 1996 to 1998; that I have stayed in touch with Middlebury mentors and friends in the 20 years I have lived out west; that I am grateful to have visited my alma mater occasionally; and that my wife and I encouraged our two children to apply to Middlebury.

It is true that as a proud alum, and professor, I have followed the news and commentary about the Charles Murray episode and its aftermath with greater care than the typical American academic might have done. Nonetheless, our school’s February event with professor Stanger was not my idea, but was proposed to us by a professor from ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications; and he did so without knowledge of my deep Middlebury connections.

The topics that professor Stanger and Reed professor Lucía Martínez Valdivia will address are of national interest. Further, this event is part of a series our school has organized — with co-sponsorship from ASU’s O’Connor College of Law and the Cronkite School — on “Freedom of Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Life.”

We have assembled a range of viewpoints, from those who advocate restricting speech and speakers to those holding a more traditional First Amendment view about latitude and protection for campus discourse. Information about the series, including a two-day conference, is on our school’s website under “Events” — and a reasonable observer would conclude that we seek civil debate in an academic setting, open for anyone to attend, about these important national issues.

One more point of context: Fairness requires disclosure that I have publicly stated my views about the significance of the Charles Murray episode, and the college’s response to it, in an opinion essay I co-authored with five other Middlebury alums who became professors in various academic fields. That essay appeared in RealClearPolitics on June 1 and is readily available. At least half of the authors would consider themselves politically liberal or progressive; and it would take quite sophisticated efforts to discern therein any intent to defame or polemicize.

Finally, to the accusations: While I respect, as a Middlebury alum and friend of the college, the professor’s concern about accurate representations of the college and events there, we will have to agree to disagree about the many matters of interpretation involved. I would not retract a word of the brief description our school provided to advertise this dialogue event about the Murray episode and its aftermath.

That description obviously is not the final word on these events and their significance. That said, there is nothing false or distorting about it, even if it necessarily compresses a complicated episode.

The fundamental facts about this episode, evident in many journalistic and eyewitness reports — and in investigations by the college and the town police that followed — are that a speaker invited through normal college procedures was forcefully prevented from speaking in the originally invited venue; that similar use of force and noise continued in an effort to disrupt the backup venue provided to the speaker and professor Stanger; and finally that these preliminary episodes of force led to open violence later in the day.

It is odd to accuse our school of distorting the record when the alternative account would omit the fundamental fact about forcefully preventing a scheduled speaker event from unfolding as invited and as originally planned.

One of the prerequisite conditions for higher learning is civility in expressing disagreements about ideas, whether abstract and theoretical or practical and political.  I understand that there are disagreements about the meaning and reasonable interpretations of the Middlebury events at issue. However, unreasonable accusations of the sort proffered here don’t sustain or replenish the civility needed at Middlebury and all other serious places of learning.

Paul Carrese ’89 is an author and academic.

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10 Responses to “Letter: Response to “Response to ‘Response to Setting the Record Straight’ ””

  1. anon on December 7th, 2017 9:00 pm

    Well said. Cheers!

  2. alum on December 8th, 2017 9:38 am

    “Inviting [us] to “correct” the putative falshoods”… wow, what nerve. A coy of the “invitation” would be interesting to see.

  3. Kevin Moss on December 8th, 2017 10:01 pm

    “Professor Stanger was there to verbally challenge the speaker. She never got the chance, and the invited speaker never spoke.”

    Still not true: she got the chance to challenge him (and didn’t, in my opinion, but that’s perhaps debatable) and the speaker spoke. If you said the event did not unfold as planned, had to be moved, etc., that would be true. “She never got the chance” is just false, as is “the speaker never spoke.” He did. You can watch it online. I don’t even see how this is debatable, and if you have the moral high ground, why not just go with something true?

  4. Alum on December 9th, 2017 7:26 pm

    Motion for the Campus to post Professor Moss’s comment as, “Response to ‘Response to “Response to ‘Response to “Setting the Record Straight”‘”‘”

    anyone second?

  5. Sad Teacher on December 9th, 2017 7:35 pm

    This whole ordeal is quite sad. Regardless of the various versions presented, the lack of civility demonstrated by both sides on this issue and by professors of the college no less is worrying. The students deserve better. The college deserves better. I know that if an applicants to the college treated their colleagues in the way that professor Moss, Stanger, and now Carrese have been treating each other through the medium of the campus, calling each other out, making a public display of things, they would have no place at Middlebury. Descalation is something I work to teach my highschool students when they find there opinions conflict with there classmates. Often times, misunderstandings can be solved with a simple conversation, as I’m sure could have happened with this disagreement between Moss and Stanger. I’m less inclined to believe that articles published to the campus serve as an expedient means of conversation. I implore you to talk to each other in person. You will no doubt find that each of you are much more alike than these articles have shown thus far. I only hope that professors Moss, Stanger, and Carrese can work to be better examples as they all are no doubt wonderful professors who have changed the lives of many students. We all need to do better, but the first step is to stop “responding” and start listening.

  6. Alum on December 10th, 2017 6:27 pm

    I hope you’re not an English teacher

  7. Prof. Moss is still wrong. on December 10th, 2017 10:16 pm

    Professor Moss is wrong– now for the third time. Let’s explain why through a hypothetical:

    The controversial Dr. Smith is invited to speak at State College. His colleague, Dr. Jones, worries aloud, “Are you sure you want to do it? They might shut you down.” But Dr. Smith persists and arrives for his lecture at State College.

    He is met by a crowd of 300 students, half of whom scream at him for 30 minutes. He can’t deliver his lecture. Then he is whisked away, locked in a broom closet, and told to talk into a camera. He does so, over five fire alarms and the din of continued protest so loud he can hardly hear himself think. (He’s wearing a good directional mic that doesn’t pick up this loud noise on the recording.) Meanwhile, in the auditorium, students can’t hear a word of the telecast due to the continued screaming and chair banging. Finally Dr. Smith is whisked off campus and arrives back to his home institution on Monday morning.

    Dr. Jones asks, “Well, did you get the chance to speak?”

    “No,” says Dr. Smith, “I didn’t. It was terrible. They shut down the lecture.”

    Now: Has Smith utter a “falsehood” to Dr. Jones? Of course not! No reasonable person would accuse him of that. He has given an abbreviated, common-sense summary response. He did not “speak” at State College in the normal, common-sense use of that term in the context of campus speeches. Of course he spoke in SOME sense of the term– he utter words into a camera while physical on campus. But by the most technical standard, every prospective student who chats with her parents while she tours campus has “spoken” at Middlebury. It would be nonsense to say a prospective students has told a “falsehood” when she says she didn’t “get a chance to speak” at Middlebury, and it is nonsense to say that someone stuck in a changing room, talking into a webcam, “got the chance to speak” at Middlebury.

    One would have to be churlish indeed to fail to see that the statements “Dr. Smith did not get the chance to speak” or “Charles Murray did not get the chance to speak” are reasonable, common-sense shorthand descriptions of the events.

    So Moss is wrong to castigate such a description as a “falsehood.” It’s truthful.

    But not only that: Moss’s original accusation hilariously assumes that this “falsehood”– which allegedly conceals the fact of the telecast– somehow “defames” Middlebury. Does he really think that the fact of, or facts surrounding, the telecast somehow enhances Middlebury’s reputation? Ha! The telecast was interrupted by pulled fire alarms (illegal acts, every one of them) and fist pounding and shouting and chair slamming; protesters literally screamed in the faces of students remaining in the lecture hall to prevent them from hearing the livestream. So no, the telecast was no credit to the college. It was a shameful hour for the college. Media reports presented it–rightly– as EVIDENCE of the insanity of moment: Murray and Stanger only able to find refuge behind a locked door.

    Leaving it out of a two-sentence website description of the debacle, on a website announcement for a panel event, is not a “falsehood” or an act of “defamation.” It is a common-sense abbreviation, and one that only makes Middlebury look better! The full, detailed account is much, much, much worse!

    Of course, all of this applies equally to the other so-called “falsehood” Moss preposterously purports to identify. He insists that Stanger did indeed “have the chance” to “verbally challenge” Murray. How about an experiment? Let’s get 200 people to scream at Moss for thirty minutes; then let’s beat a drum in his ear while we ask him to respond to this post. Let’s see if he feels he’s being given a “chance” to “verbally challenge” me under those circumstances. A common sense summary of this situation is that Stanger did not have the chance to do what she came to do.

    So Moss’s attack is nonsense; the ASU webpage contains no falsehoods.

  8. The Alumni on December 11th, 2017 12:18 pm

    It is almost like certain members of the Middlebury community do not want the truth told about their behavior?

    The Truth will set you free!

  9. Midd Alum '09 on December 12th, 2017 4:52 pm

    It’s time to invite these individuals into a room where they can hash out their differences like the mature adults they are. A protracted back-and-forth in the Campus only serves up red meat to those who have largely made up their minds, and actively harms any viable path forward.

    No more grandstanding. Let’s just be done with this, and allow the College to move forward.

  10. The Alumni on December 14th, 2017 10:40 am


    So anyone can spray paint anything they want on a house of worship now?

    We’re glad ’09 stepped up.

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Letter: Response to “Response to ‘Response to Setting the Record Straight’ ”