An invitation to reengage

By DOMINIC AIELLO, BRENDAN PHILBIN

To the Middlebury community:

We’ve written this op-ed to inform you that we, as the elected co-presidents of the Middlebury College Republicans, have been working over the past several months to organize a speaking event featuring Dr. Charles Murray, the Harvard and MIT graduate and W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Disruptive protestors shouted down Murray at his speaking event on campus in March of 2017. This event will tentatively take place on March 31 at 4:30 p.m. in Wilson Hall.

We believe that the way the administration and the protestors handled the 2017 event was a stain on Middlebury’s reputation and a betrayal of its mission of “creating a world with a robust and inclusive public sphere,” per the college’s Policy on Open Expression. We believe that this public sphere is integral to the meaning of a liberal arts education and the freedom of academic inquiry.

First, we believe that this freedom of academic inquiry must not only be professed but also practiced. For the Middlebury community to live up to its mission statement, it must be willing and able to listen to, understand and challenge controversial ideas like those put forth by Murray. A college and its students should not only engage with ideas that run counter to their own beliefs, but they should also seek them. We believe that it is when our own perspectives are challenged — not reinforced — that we are able to develop as thinkers.

Second, we believe that Murray’s work is influential in mainstream politics and therefore deserves a platform on which to be heard. His forthcoming book and the subject of the event, “Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class,” will be published by Twelve, one of the more prestigious names in the publishing world. As the author of multiple bestselling books, he has established himself as one of the most prominent social scientists at the top conservative think tank in Washington. As just one example, founder of the Weekly Standard Bill Kristol has called Murray America’s “leading living social scientist.”

Realistically, we aren’t expecting everybody in the community to change their minds about Charles Murray. What we are expecting, however, is that he will be given the chance to speak that was denied to him in 2017 — and that you, as members of the Middlebury community, will be willing and prepared to hear what he has to say and engage diligently and respectfully with it. This gets to the heart of our goal with hosting this event: to engage the Middlebury community in a civil dialogue across vast ideological differences.

With the benefit of hindsight regarding Murray’s last event, we want to be as transparent as possible with you about our planning process in order to avoid many of the mistakes made in 2017.

We believe that the short notice on which Murray’s lecture was either posted or recognized by the community last time inhibited the ability of students, faculty and staff to thoroughly consider the most effective ways to respond to the event. This compromised the security of the event and its participants. To avoid making that same mistake, we began planning this event in late September and have chosen to announce it now, two months in advance. We hope that this additional time will allow the community to constructively engage with controversial ideas rather than violently shut them down.

Once we submitted our event proposal in late September, a dialogue immediately opened up between us and the members of the administration who are responsible for ensuring the success of events like this. Among those members were Senior Associate Dean of Students Derek Doucet, General Counsel Hannah Ross, Director of Public Safety Elizabeth Burchard, Associate Director of Public Safety Keith Ellery, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration David Provost and Director of Department of Event Management Jennifer Erwin.

Over the course of the nearly four months since we submitted our initial proposal, the input of the administrators above, as well as our club’s advisor Governor Jim Douglas and two faculty members from the Committee on Speech and Inclusion, was integral to the planning process. In our effort to host this event as a dialogue across differences, we took into consideration several recommendations from the Engaged Listening Project and are seeking to format the event in a way that acknowledges as many voices as possible.

We’d like to make clear that we not only welcome but also encourage any and all constructive forms of support or opposition to this event. We are fervent supporters of the right to peacefully protest and look forward to receiving input from the community in the coming months.

Signed,

Dominic Aiello ’22.5 and Brendan Philbin ’21

Co-Presidents, Middlebury College Republicans