Politics & Policy

College Admins Apologize to Students Upset Over Conservative Speaker

Then-Minister of Education Ryszard Legutko at the Prime Minister Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland, in 2007. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)
Protecting students from views that make them uncomfortable on campus is really not going to do them any favors in the long run.

In a meeting last week at Middlebury College, administrators apologized to students who were upset that a conservative speaker had been invited to campus — and pledged to do more to prevent right-wing speakers in the future.

Audio of the meeting, which was obtained by The College Fix, features three administrators trying to calm students who were offended by the invitation of Ryszard Legutko, a conservative Polish politician whose views they described as homophobic and Islamophobic.

It’s important to note that Legutko’s planned April 17th speech had actually been canceled a few hours beforehand, with administrators citing “safety concerns,” and Legutko wound up simply giving a small, private talk in a political-science professor’s class instead. According to The Fix, it seems as though the students at the meeting did not know that this talk had occurred, because it had taken place the same time that afternoon as the meeting.

Obvious from the audio of the meeting, the fact that the college had essentially canceled Legutko’s appearance was not enough — the students believe that he should have never been invited in the first place.

“There is a distinct compromise of the students who felt marginalized on this campus or who put effort into this protest, or this combat effort, they feel like their academic freedom has been compromised because they are not capable of learning because their emotional state is so distraught or their emotional energy is just consumed by this,” one female student said.

(She was referring to a pro-LGBT protest that had been scheduled to take place outside of the lecture hall in response to Legutko’s presence.)

Rather than explain the value of academic freedom or of knowing how to engage (or at least coexist) with different viewpoints, administrators can be heard desperately attempting to apologize to the students and reassure them that nothing like this would ever happen again in the future.

“I hear you, and you should be outraged, and we should acknowledge that and apologize, because that’s the least we can do right now, because we can’t make it right in the moment,” one administrator said. “But in the future we will do everything we can to make it right.”

Other administrator comments included “You are absolutely right, me apologizing is not going to cut it,” and “I’m just really frustrated too, and again that doesn’t make this right, doesn’t absolve me of my responsibilities in any shape or form, but we’re going to keep at it, because this is not the institution we want.”

Honestly, the college took the wrong approach. What’s more, I say this as someone who certainly does not agree with many of Legutko’s views. For example, I am a strong supporter of LGBT equality, and I think that his views are flat-out wrong in this arena. In fact, I would count myself among those who find his views offensive.

The truth is, though, protecting students from views that make them uncomfortable on campus is really not going to do them any favors in the long run. In the real world, after all, there are no such luxuries. Make no mistake: These students will, after they graduate, have to encounter people who, for example, believe that homosexuality is a sin. Keeping these people off of campus is not going to keep them out of society, and I strongly believe it would be better for these students to start to learn the kinds of skills that they will need to deal with these situations in a supportive environment rather than to simply shield them from reality until it hits them in the face after they graduate.

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