The college canceled a lecture by Ryszard Legutko, a controversial scholar and far right member of the European Parliament from Poland, on Wednesday, April 17. The email announcing the decision was signed by Dean of Students Baishakhi Taylor and Provost Jeff Cason three hours before the event.
"This decision was not taken lightly," they wrote. "It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response."
In an email to The Campus on Thursday, April 18, Head of Media Relations Sarah Ray clarified the “safety risk” that prompted the cancellation was an inability to crowd-manage the escalating number of people planning to attend the event.
“We canceled the event because we simply did not believe we could respond effectively to potential security and safety risks given the large number of people planning the two events – the lecture and the event the students had planned in response,” Ray wrote.
The planned student protest, a celebration of queer identity, was intended to be peaceful and non-disruptive, and the students planned to allow Legutko’s talk to play out uninterrupted. In a second email on Thursday, Ray clarified that, "The fact that there were students who were planning to hold an event near the lecture was not an issue."
"The safety concerns stemmed from the rapidly growing number of people who had expressed an interest in attending the two events," she reiterated. "We simply did not have adequate staffing to ensure the safety of all the attendees."
When asked whether other students were threatening the protesters, Ray responded that she could not confirm this.
In an email sent on Wednesday evening, Cason and Taylor recognized the protesters' intention to be non-disruptive.
"We recognize that students worked hard and transparently to plan a non-disruptive event that would remain within the bounds of our protest policy," they wrote. "We also recognize that students, staff, and faculty planning to attend and critically engage with Ryszard Legutko's lecture lost the opportunity to do so."
Legutko's talk was scheduled to take place at 4:30 in Kirk Alumni Center on Wednesday, which is housed at the college golf course. The event was moved there from Bicentennial Hall as interest in Legutko's visit grew, and to reduce potential security risks.
The administrators said the college had worked with both events and protest organizers to find a new location.
"However, it became clear with the increased number of participants that we didn’t have the staff capacity to adequately ensure everyone’s safety," they wrote. "We appreciate the thoughtful work of faculty and student organizers, their contributions to the planning process, and their desire to prevent disruption." They said they made their decision based on Middlebury's event policy. The college will meet with organizers of both events in the future.
According to Grace Vedock '20, a protest organizer, the decision to cancel the event was made by the college's senior leadership.
"It was never our intent to prevent the event from happening; we have reiterated at every step of the process that we did not want to impede his right to speak," she said.
Vedock said the protest, which was to incorporate a celebration of queer identity, will be rescheduled once safety concerns are addressed. The protest group's statement can be found here.
Legutko was invited by the Alexander Hamilton Forum, a speaker series founded last year that “aims to foster thoughtful engagement with the ideas that have informed the creation and development of the American polity.” The director of the program is Assistant Political Science Professor Keegan Callanan. When reached for comment on the administration's decision, Callanan said he had already invited Legutko to speak on campus next year.
"The principle of freedom of inquiry must be held inviolable, " he said. "I have asked Professor Legutko to speak at Middlebury College during the 2019-2020 academic year. I have proposed that he speak on totalitarian temptations in free societies. Hundreds of students now wish to hear him speak; their right to open inquiry must be vindicated."
This story will continue to be updated.
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Riley Board '22 is the Editor in Chief of The Campus. She previously served as a Managing Editor, News Editor, Arts & Academics Editor and writer.
She is majoring in Linguistics as an Independent Scholar and is an English minor on the Creative Writing Track.
Board has worked as a writer at Smithsonian Folklife Magazine and as a reporter for The Burlington Free Press. Currently, she is a 2021-2022 Kellogg Fellow working on her linguistics thesis. In her free time, you can find her roller skating in E-Lot or watching the same sitcoms over and over again.