On March 2, 2017, protesters interrupted an event at Middlebury College featuring controversial political scientist Dr. Charles Murray, forcing organizers to cancel the event as originally planned, and move it to a non-public location on campus. Afterward, as Dr. Murray exited the relocated event, the protests turned violent, resulting in injuries to the event’s moderator, Professor Allison Stanger.
Dr. Murray had been invited to speak at Middlebury by the school’s American Enterprise Institute Club, a conservative student group. Dr. Murray has written several controversial works, most notably “The Bell Curve”, published in 1994, where he argued that there is a link between intelligence and race. A group of Dr. Stanger’s students reportedly asked her to moderate the talk, which she agreed to, because, as she later explained, she believed it represented “a chance to demonstrate publicly a commitment to a free and fair exchange of views in my classroom.” Protesters and groups objecting to the event argued that Dr. Murray is a white supremacist, and that he should not be given a forum on campus.
When Dr. Murray took the stage, protesters stood up, turned their backs on him and began chanting, making it impossible for him to be heard. Consequently, the event was shut down after roughly ten minutes, and moved to a non-public location on campus, where it was live-streamed. Some protesters learned of the live-streaming location of the event and attempted to disrupt it from outside, reportedly by shouting and chanting, banging on windows and setting off fire alarms. After the event ended, Dr. Murray and Professor Stranger left the building and attempted to get into a car, but protesters blocked their path. An altercation ensued, and Dr. Stanger reported being shoved and pulled by the hair. As she and Dr. Murray left the event in a car, protesters reportedly climbed on it, hit windows, and rocked it from outside whenever the vehicle stopped. As a result of the incident, Dr. Stanger suffered whiplash and a concussion.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence and intimidation during a campus protest. Students and other members of the higher education community have the right to free expression and association on campus, but those rights must be exercised in a manner consistent with university values, including non-violence and social responsibility. Violent attempts to prevent or retaliate against on campus expression not only pose a direct threat to the immediate victims, but also undermine academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, and harm democratic society generally.