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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Student Reminds That with Rights Come Responsibilities

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Protesters from Middlebury College, the town community and from across the state of Vermont, came together at Mead Chapel on the evening of Oct. 13 to demonstrate against Ari Fleischer, Class of 1982 and press secretary to President George W. Bush.
In so doing, they exercised their fundamental right: The freedom to speak in dissent. With rights, however, come responsibilities. John McCardell, president of Middlebury College, alluded to those responsibilities when he reminded us of "the freedom to listen." That courtesy was conspicuous in its absence at the demonstrations against Fleischer.
Middlebury College invited Fleischer back to his alma mater to honor a distinguished alumnus of this institution. The invitation had also been, in part, a testament to the enduring tradition of engaging in critical discourse on issues of grave importance. The courtesy, or lack thereof, with which Fleischer was greeted by a section of the demonstrators last Sunday undermined not only the honor accorded to his accomplishments by this institution, but also challenged the very essence of academic freedom.
I have thus far been, and continue to remain, a strong critic of the Bush administration's policy on the Middle East. Fleischer, in his role as spokesman for the White House, disseminates a message I often find myself in disagreement with. I do not, however, doubt for a moment, that he, from his own words, "deeply believes in the person that he works for." And I cannot deny that he fulfills his role as the critical link between the presidency and the press with due integrity and commitment.
Often in our lives, we face the challenge to separate the person from the institution, and the institution from the policy. In attacking the policies of the United States government, the protesters at Middlebury College had insulted the person — Ari Fleischer, Class of 1982, distinguished alumnus of the College — and dishonored the institution — the office of the press secretary, which serves as the citizens' portal to the policies of the administration.
Fleischer came to Middlebury College with his message, just as the protesters gathered at Mead Chapel with theirs. While Fleischer's message remains with those present in the audience, the message from the demonstrators lost itself somewhere along the way of their own hisses and heckles, and their show of disrespect.

Fahim Ahmed is a senior from Bangladesh. He is a regular contributor to The Campus.


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