I am a 2017 graduate of Middlebury and will matriculate at Harvard Law School in the fall. While at Middlebury, I co-led the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) club that invited Dr. Charles Murray to speak, and I was one of the two students heckled on stage by anti-Murray protesters during the event. As a future attorney and accidental free-speech advocate, I have been particularly concerned by Professor Kevin Moss’s recent false attacks on political science professors in the fallout from the Legutko lecture cancellation. What I read sickened me, not only for its inaccuracy, but also for what it showed me about the troubling state of intellectual life today. [pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]With fact-checkers like this, who needs fake news?[/pullquote] Moss’s op-ed of April 25 was not the first time that he has played the polemicist in our student newspaper. Moss has not published an academic book in 20 years, but he has made time to criticize members of the Middlebury community. In 2017, he attacked Middlebury alum Professor Paul Carrese ’89 for stating the obvious: that Charles Murray was prevented from speaking at Middlebury. Moss, pointing to the inaudible live stream held in a private locked greenroom, “corrected” Carrese, and claimed that Murray was not prevented from speaking. With fact-checkers like this, who needs fake news? In 2016, Moss wrote in to scold a Christian student organization at Middlebury regarding its theological requirements that its leaders not support gay marriage. In 2007, The Campus reported on his failed effort to get the College to reject a two-million endowment in the name of the Chief Justice of the United States. Moss objected because he did not agree with the Chief Justice’s legal opinions. This sad and embarrassing attack on political diversity earned a sharp rebuke from then-President Liebowitz, printed in these very pages. Liebowitz wrote that Moss’s resolution “misrepresents and distorts the record of Justice Rehnquist.” That rebuke should not surprise anyone who has followed Moss’s recent contributions to campus discourse. Moss’s attacks on members of the community are not confined to the pages of The Campus. On April 17, Moss created a bizarre meme calling for “a few poli sci professors” to “be fired.” This was set against a backdrop of fire. How clever. After Moss posted this online for dozens of faculty and alumni to see, it made the rounds with recent alumni, students, and other members of the Middlebury community. It was also mentioned in the Addison County Independent. This was a stunningly public and childish act. In his op-ed of April 25, Moss offers the same kind of unsupported claims and distortions that earned his 2007 resolution a rebuke from President Liebowitz. First, Moss expresses surprise at Professor Callanan’s statement, in his open letter of April 15, that some of the Legutko quotations circulating campus were doctored or taken from context. As an alum with a deep interest in free speech, I kept a close eye on the campaign against the Legutko lecture. It is clear to me that Callanan’s characterization was entirely correct. Take for example the use of square brackets in the second quotation pictured in “College Braces for Right-Wing Speaker Accused of Homophobia,” published in The Campus on April 16, 2019. Compare this doctored version of the quotation to the original as it appeared in context in the Polska Times. In the original, Legutko was referring to same-sex marriage in context, not LGBT rights as a general class. The quotation was distorted through the insertion of inaccurate supplied words in order to make it more inflammatory. If a lawyer used square brackets in this manner in a submission to a court, he could face reprimand. [pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"] Moss’s op-ed trafficked in mischaracterizations and libelous ad hominem attacks.[/pullquote] Another example is in the student protesters’ open letter itself. Although this letter only draws on a few of the many quotations put in circulation, even here they do not get them all right. Protesters insert the phrase “communist and liberal-democratic artists” as the antecedent of “they” in one of the pull quotes. Anyone who reads the sentence carefully can see that the letter’s authors got the antecedents of “they” wrong. The letter chops off the first half of the sentence, which makes clear that the antecedents of “they” are the various themes, tropes, and figures which function similarly in liberal-democratic and communist art. The protesters’ insertion completely distorts the meaning and context. There are other examples from emails circulating from the week of April 15. After reviewing his writings, many will take issue with some of Legutko’s beliefs. When you set out to turn an entire campus against a visiting scholar, however, you had better be impeccably accurate in your presentation of the evidence. Moving beyond his inaccurate discussion of the quotations, Moss further claims that Callanan’s letter contained “much more false information.” Unfortunately, Moss does not tell us what that information is. This is not because he will not, but because he cannot. In a world in which “fake news” is becoming more common, these types of attacks only serve to further degrade the situation. It would add a great deal to the debate surrounding what happened to Professor Legutko and the larger issue of free speech on campus if Professor Moss actually presented an argument on the issues. That, however, was not in his interest, as it is harder than creating digital art or attacking someone’s character in a newspaper. Moss’s op-ed trafficked in mischaracterizations and libelous ad hominem attacks in order to assassinate the characters of people he cannot meet in open argument. Moss’s attack on professors of great integrity and intellect was completely unwarranted. The proliferation of character assassination has made American society sick with the cancer of angry partisanship. No one is immune to its charms. It is all too easy to turn to when one cannot or will not address ideas. The result is that we are losing what makes us unique as human beings. What is clear is that Middlebury needs to take a closer look at its problems. The trustees should start seriously asking why Middlebury has not yet joined institutions such as Princeton University and Claremont-McKenna College in endorsing the Chicago Principles of Free Expression. Middlebury’s Trustees should endorse the principles at their upcoming meeting and incorporate them into the Handbook. Parents, alumni, faculty, and students should demand nothing less.
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Debate, disagreement, criticism and controversy. These define the American experiment and our experience as citizens. We think, argue and act because we have always cared deeply about the state of our country and the future of the American project. This clash of ideas has shaped our history, and is as important now as ever. The bipartisan American Enterprise Institute Club invited Dr. Charles Murray to speak today, not to push an agenda or even to try and convince you of his theories, but rather to start a conversation. We believe that what Dr. Murray has to say on the current divisions in our country is worth hearing and engaging with, regardless of one’s political beliefs. It would be useful for all to better understand why there is such a great divide between the working class and the elite, to understand how these divisions contributed to the election of Donald Trump, and how they are reshaping American society. Dr. Murray is trying to understand the causes of the “coming apart election,” and it is essential that we try to as well. This is why our voices, in articles, demonstrations and discussion, are of vital importance. Although many people may not agree with Dr. Murray we would like to invite everyone to participate this Thursday in Wilson Hall. Your attendance and participation will serve to enable true debate and growth. The event will begin with a few words from President Patton on the importance of discussion and debate for the liberal arts. Following Dr. Murray’s talk on his 2012 work Coming Apart, there will be a lengthy Q and A moderated by Prof. Allison Stanger. We structured the event this way so that everyone will have the opportunity to ask questions, and challenge each other’s, and our own, convictions. This discussion is incredibly valuable. We will not all agree. We are not operating under the false pretenses that Dr. Murray will radically change anybody’s mind. We hope that this event will allow for us to engage in a conversation that facilitates a better understanding. Without this desire to understand one another, especially people we disagree with, we cannot move forward. Instead, we will only continue to come apart.
Dear Middlebury Students, Faculty, and Staff, The goal of the American Enterprise Institute Club is to promote open and academic debate and discussion of a wide range of issues. In the past we have brought several speakers to campus and via Skype. To further the debate, we hold regular discussion meetings often centered on current events or the research and scholarship of Middlebury faculty. On Thursday, March 2nd we are cosponsoring, along with Political Science department, a lecture and discussion with distinguished public intellectual Dr. Charles Murray at 4:30pm in Dana Auditorium. Dr. Murray, a political scientist by training and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, will be discussing his 2012 work Coming Apart. This critically-acclaimed book explores class divisions in the United States, placing particular emphasis on the White working class. This work is particularly prescient given the recent political change in America. Moreover, examining and engaging with a wide variety of thoughts and ideas is an essential part of what it means to pursue a liberal arts education. In this pursuit, we must as an institution encourage robust discussion and expose the Middlebury Community to diverse thoughts, opinions and understandings on the important topics of today. This lecture represents our answer to the challenge that President Patton put forth to the Middlebury Community in her inaugural address. It will allow “us to have more and better arguments, with greater respect, stronger resilience and deeper wisdom.” We believe that this is an argument worth having that will enable us to work towards the common good. Intellectual diversity has a rich tradition at Middlebury College. In his 2007 Baccalaureate address, former President Ronald D. Liebowitz discussed the essence of a liberal arts education. “Liberal education,” he said, “must be first and foremost about ensuring a broad range of views and opinions in the classroom and across campus so that our students can question routinely both their preconceived and newly developed positions on important matters. Such deliberation will serve as the best foundation for enabling our graduates to contribute to the betterment of society.” It is important that the Middlebury Community have the opportunity to hear, consider and respond to important ideas. In that regard, we would like to extend an open invitation to you, the Middlebury Community, to participate in this event. Your presence will help to ensure that this is a thoughtful and academic discussion of ideas. In addition, it will demonstrate Middlebury’s commitment to diversity of all kinds. We truly hope that you will accept this invitation. Respectfully, Alexander Khan Phil Hoxie Hayden Dublois Ivan Valladares Members of The American Enterprise Institute Club, Middlebury College
What will our government do going forward? This issue serves as more than mere content for nightly news shows. It is on the minds of students at Middlebury who want to see something done about the issues that our country is facing. While it is discussed among friends sitting around a table at Proctor, unfortunately, the debate and discussion usually stops there. The American Enterprise Institute club began at Middlebury as a way to extend this debate. The American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington D.C., does research and analysis on the political and economic situations of the United States. At Middlebury, AEI provides a platform for open debate and discussion on issues ranging from the economic situation of America’s middle class to the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Syria. Through weekly meetings, discussions of articles, books and movies and bringing speakers to campus, AEI hopes to facilitate the much-needed open debate that is missing on Middlebury’s campus. Today, Republicans hold control of both the House and Senate, while President Obama is in the White House. As politically responsible citizens, we are driven to ask – how will our government function under these conditions? A divided government will not only affect what bills are passed, but also what bills are brought to the floor. When looking at the issue of divided government we are really looking at the future of the immigration debate, tax reform, the issue of climate change, as well as many other issues that affect us in the present as well as after college. The vast effects of divided government on the American populace as well as the Middlebury student body must be discussed and debated. For this reason, the topic of AEI’s first policy conference, to take place on March 14, will be divided government and what it means for both the constitution and the legislative process. Professor Shep Melnick of Boston College will give the conference’s keynote address. Melnick, who currently teaches courses on American politics, is a scholar of the Constitution and examines the intersection of law and politics. In addition to giving the keynote address, Melnick will be sitting on the first of two panels, which will focus on divided government and the legislative process. The first panel also features former governor of Vermont, Jim Douglas. Governor Douglas, now an Executive in Residence at Middlebury College, started his career in Vermont politics as a representative in the Vermont House of Representatives. He has also served as Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Governor of Vermont. Professor of Political Science Matt Dickinson and Chair of the Political Science department and Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson will also be sitting on the first panel. The subject of the second panel will be the legislative agenda of the 114th Congress. This panel features Governor Douglas, Melnick, Assistant Professor of Political Science Adam Dean and Stan Veuger, currently a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Veuger’s research focuses on political economy. He is also a frequent contributor to The Hill and the U.S. News and World Report among other publications, and writes on a range of topics including health and tax policy. AEI’s policy conference will begin at 11:00 a.m. this Saturday, March 14 in Wilson Hall (formerly the McCullough Social Space). It is open to the public and is intended to serve as a platform for debate and discussion on a wide variety of issues that affect America in the present and future. Whether you are interested in politics and economics, or you simply want to learn more about an issue, this conference will be the first step towards sparking a larger conversation about the future of America at Middlebury.