Skip ‘transparency’: We want clarity

By EDITORIAL BOARD

SARAH FAGAN

Three weeks ago, the Middlebury College Republicans (MCR) published an op-ed titled “An Invitation to Reengage.” In the piece, MCR co-presidents Dominic Aiello ‘22.5 and Brendan Philbin ‘21 announced Charles Murray’s return to Middlebury’s campus this March. Aiello and Philbin say they invited Murray to discuss his latest book, “Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class.”

We’re not so sure that particular motivation comes across — at least, not in the op-ed. 

For one thing, Aiello and Philbin don’t mention “Human Diversity” until the fourth paragraph. Even then, their allusion to the “subject of the talk” seems peremptory at best. Nowhere does the piece make any reference, for instance, to Murray’s belief that the intellectual orthodoxy surrounding social sciences is faulty, or his claims that recent advancements in genetics and neuroscience undermine this orthodoxy. Really, the other nine paragraphs suggest that the MCR are a lot less concerned with issues of biology, gender, race and class than they are with those related to free speech and protest policy. 

That isn’t a complete surprise. Anyone on campus in 2017 knows that bringing Murray back inevitably represents an enormously symbolic act. Still, there’s a bit of a double standard here: despite repeated calls for “academic inquiry,” Aiello and Philbin don’t seem terribly interested in the subject of the inquiry they’re calling for. 

That irony is made worse by the piece’s claims at transparency, as the two promise to be “as transparent as possible with [readers] about [their] planning process in order to avoid many of the mistakes made in 2017.” To be clear: we think transparency is a good thing. We appreciate the MCR’s explanation of their decision timeline, as well as the ensuing planning process around the event. Still, we think the Middlebury community deserves more. 

We believe there’s a fundamental difference between transparency and clarity. Attempts at transparency are often passive; they involve revealing the necessary details, usually in order to avoid error or scrutiny. Attempts to clarify, by contrast, are active. They’re born out of a desire not just to avoid confusion or cover your bases, but to help everyone involved achieve genuine understanding. 

Many of us are still struggling to understand the MCR’s decision to restage the event. On first reading that Murray is set to return, we’d be willing to bet many students’ first reaction wasn’t to wonder what the specific date and time of Murray’s talk would be, or when exactly Aiello and Philbin proposed the event to administrators. We’d bet that, like us, the news provoked questions of a slightly deeper, more pressing kind. For instance, are we supposed to believe the MCR thinks the Middlebury community will really benefit from the specific research contained between the covers of “Human Diversity”? Or is the event better understood as symbolic, even statement-making? If so, what exactly is that statement (not to mention, how do the MCR believe it’s a constructive one for the Middlebury community)? What does the MCR believe that the Middlebury community stands to gain from “engag[ing] diligently and respectfully” with Murray’s work on March 31?

However helpful some of the logistical details may be, Aiello and Philbin’s “transparent” article doesn’t come close to answering these kinds of questions. The Campus has reached out to the co-presidents on multiple occasions for elaboration on their decision to bring back Murray, and neither co-president has agreed to meet in person. We believe that anyone involved in re-engulfing Middlebury in such profoundly polarizing debates on campus has a responsibility to make their justification and thought process as coherent and accessible as possible.  

The need for clarity extends beyond the MCR. We’re left similarly confused by the administration and SGA’s roles in the planning process; if the administration was planning the event with the MCR since September, why wait until now to let the broader community know? Why did the initial news come from the MCR (and by way of op-ed), rather than from the administration? At the SGA Cabinet and Community Council’s most recent meetings, members discussed the logistics of Murray’s upcoming arrival. Because they went into “executive sessions,” neither the public nor Campus writers were allowed to sit in. Why not? At very least, haven’t the last three years demonstrated the need for inclusive, accessible dialogue? 

Murray’s anticipated return has, predictably, thrown Middlebury’s campus into widespread conversation. And yet for all of these discussions, debates and purported explanations, there remain a lot of questions. Members of the Middlebury community deserve open, thoughtful and — above all else — clear answers.