To the surprise of nobody, students at Middlebury College received minimal punishment for violently disrupting Charles Murray’s talk in March. The mob got everything it wanted — the talk disrupted, professors intimidated, and Murray’s work tut-tutted in the media — and the only repercussions are meaningless “probation” and “a permanent record in the student’s file.”
Middlebury deployed several pretexts for abdicating its disciplinary role. The police could not confirm who injured Professor Allison Stanger or damaged property, so the college proceeded as if no violence had occurred. As for disrupting the talk, that flagrantly violated the school’s rules, but Middlebury administrators were satisfied with disciplinary letters and putting the disrupting students before a “Community Judicial Board” staffed by students and faculty.
Despite the college president herself warning them beforehand to behave, the protesters went forward as if they had nothing to fear. They were right.
This embarrassing institutional response exposes striking tolerance of a mob’s imposing its will on a university. Participation in this kind of spectacle ought to carry serious repercussions, but here the size of the mob did the opposite: It served as the college’s reason for mitigating punishments.
As David French has pointed out, leftist activists strategically use crowds during riots. Not everyone wants to be the one to attack an innocent woman, but the mob can serve as cover while someone in a mask does so, and no one stops him or points him out to authorities.
The mob has good reason to believe that it can make the Charles Murrays of the world into untouchables. If professors know that they can incur physical harm from associating with Murray, then their behavior will change.
In the aftermath of the events, the professor who signed off on AEI’s event with Murray repented, and think pieces have appeared questioning what kind of free-speech rights people like Murray should have. This demonstrates the sophisticated side of the same coin: using political opposition to Murray to expel him from academic circles.
However sophisticated its reasoning, Middlebury College’s poor excuse for punishment provides further evidence that it sides with the mob.