The following letter was sent to President Laurie Patton and members of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG) on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. A list of SLG members is available here. Parts of this letter have been lightly edited to comply with The Campus’ style guidelines. An open letter to President Patton and her Senior Leadership Group: As a group of faculty who came together in the wake of Charles Murray’s last visit to Middlebury in 2017, we are truly saddened and baffled that we are facing his return to campus this spring. We believe that over the past three years, our campus has grown significantly in becoming a more inclusive, self-aware and responsive institution, that is open to frank conversations about racial and other inequities that structure our community and broader world. A lecture by an ultimately insignificant, debunked pseudo-scholar, arguing that race, class, and gender inequalities are a product of genetics rather than social systems and practices, would typically be a laughable and easy-to-ignore event. However, the presence of this particular insignificant, debunked pseudo-scholar reopens many wounds that we have worked hard to heal over the past three years. We write to our administrative colleagues in Old Chapel seeking answers that we hope to receive in a public forum. The largest question that dogs us is, “How did you allow this to happen?” As stewards of Middlebury’s institutional culture, mission and reputation, you certainly recognize the many ways that this is a bad idea — no matter how events might play out on March 31, the event will cause many of us significant psychological distress, provoke in-fighting, generate bad publicity, potentially endanger members of our community, waste hours of time planning and stressing, and ultimately yield nothing beyond rekindled hostility. We believe you could — and should — have taken steps to stop this event from happening on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the institution and goes directly against our core values of integrity, inclusivity and intellectual honesty. Murray’s talk seems predicated on the “pillar” of academic freedom, but also contradicts our other two pillars of integrity and respect. Perhaps it is too late for an administrative action to save face from what will undoubtedly be another hit to our reputation. However, there are some crucial questions that remain unanswered as to how we got to this point that need to be explained: 1. Based on reporting in The Middlebury Campus, the decision to bring Murray was made by three people: College Republican co-presidents Dominic Aiello and Brendan Philbin, and the organization’s advisor, James Douglas. Not only were they the initiators of the event, but it appears that they were the only three members of the organization who knew about it at all. Philbin’s email to The Campus claims that the administration advised him to keep it secret from everyone else, including his fellow Republican students. Is this true? If so, what rationale was the administration following to encourage this unilateral action that placed other student members of the organization in such an unfair and uninformed position, given that many were quoted as disagreeing with the invitation? None of us who are advisors of organizations would ever encourage such secrecy and duplicity, so we are quite concerned that our administrative colleagues seem to have done so. 2. Douglas is the advisor for the College Republicans. However, our handbook policies for student organizations explicitly state that organizations are “required to have a current full-time faculty or staff member serve as the advisor.” Douglas is not a full-time faculty or staff member, but rather an “Executive in Residence” who occasionally teaches. This matters because we believe that full-time faculty and staff members, even those who may be Republicans or sympathetic to Murray, would better understand how this invitation would fracture our community and generate genuine harm to the institution. Douglas’s role within the college community does not afford him the deeper understanding of the impact of this decision, as he will not have to deal with the repercussions that this event might have among the student body, faculty and staff community, and broader institutional reputation. Thus we ask why the administration gave Douglas the power and responsibility to advise and encourage the two students who made this decision, rather than enforcing the rules that require the organization to have a full-time faculty or staff member for mentorship and oversight? 3. Obviously this event will require significant security and facilities staffing. According to our handbook, “Student organizations bear full responsibility for arranging and financing any Department of Public Safety services that may be necessary in connection with controversial speakers.” Are the College Republicans fully funding and arranging these services, and at what cost? If so, where are they getting this significant funding, which will cost more than their allocated organizational budget? Our community deserves to know the source of this funding, especially if it is coming from outside groups investing in an event designed to divide and generate controversy on our campus. What are the other projected costs to this event that Middlebury will be funding directly, including staff hours and damage control to our reputation? We sincerely believe that our administrative colleagues wish they were not in this situation, being forced to risk so much because of a disingenuous event devised by just three people on a diverse campus of thousands. While we wish it had never come to this point, we ask President Patton and her administrative team to answer these questions in a public forum to provide transparency and clarity on their decision-making, knowing that it will be small solace in the wake of the turbulence and pain that March 31 has already caused. Signed, Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community Film and Media Culture Professor Jason Mittell and Sociology Professor Jamie McCallum co-authored this piece on behalf of the Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community. A list of the group’s members can be found here. Editor’s note: Jason Mittell is The Campus' faculty adviser. Any questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We, a group of more than 40 Middlebury faculty, wish to publicly express our outrage and disgust at the images of racist and violent graffiti discovered in a classroom last week, as reported in The Campus on November 1. Moreover, as we stated in our September editorial, we stand with Addis Fouche-Channer ‘17 and believe she was smeared by the college’s judicial process, while also being denied both presumption of innocence and due process. We call upon senior administrators to issue a public apology to her, and to withdraw the presumption of guilt implied in the official report. We wish to make it explicitly clear that a process that defames and threatens a Middlebury graduate is an affront to the entire institution. In light of this event and others, it is clear that despite strong words of support and admirably proactive stances from the Middlebury administration around national issues like DACA and the equal rights of transgender persons, more must be done to repair trust and demonstrate a commitment to racial justice. While we understand that the process of diversity and inclusion must look to the future, the administration needs to right these recent wrongs, in part as a way to acknowledge how previous policies and practices were unfair to people of color. Without recognizing and redressing the wrongs of the past, efforts to move forward will continue to be undercut by the appearance of hypocrisy and insincerity. We are gratified that more than 90% of our faculty colleagues, including President Patton, supported our Sense of the Faculty Motion on Friday Nov. 3rd to promote steps to move forward on diversity practices. It is in the spirit of this shared commitment towards future progress on diversity practices in our community that we need to answer the lingering question as to why a student of color was treated unjustly by the college, without being given a proper apology or a clear explanation. This would indeed help us as we move forward towards our shared goal of making Middlebury a truly inclusive community. Members of Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community are listed on their website, which can be found at go.middlebury.edu/inclusivecommunity.
We were dismayed to read the article, “Former Student Was Falsely Accused as Charles Murray Protester,” posted on The Campus’ website last Friday. Seeing the false accusation and mistreatment of Addis Fouche-Channer ‘17 by our staff and administrative colleagues laid out in such chilling detail leads us to question the values of our community. We were not, however, shocked by the story. Many of us spent the spring semester advising and supporting Addis and other students similarly trying to navigate an always opaque, and often misleading and unfair, judicial system. Anyone who is shocked by a Black community member being treated as guilty-until-proven-innocent in 2017 has not been paying attention! The publication brings to light some of the details of student mistreatment last spring in a way that allows us to openly confront the issues. Even though Addis’s story is the one that has been made public, her case is not a unique outlier, but part of a larger pattern of racial injustice that has material consequences beyond the demographic make-up of the student body and faculty. We want to commend Addis’s bravery in stepping up to tell her story; in our contemporary world of politically-legitimized white supremacy and weaponized social media, she is putting herself at risk in calling attention to her case. We are here to say publicly: Addis, we have your back! This story becomes even more vital in light of recent announcements that our administration has committed to ramp up security for college events to ensure the safety of all when visitors come to campus. These policy discussions overlook that for many of our students, staff, and faculty of color, Middlebury does not adequately ensure their safety on a daily basis. While we certainly want to have policies and practices that ensure the safety of everyone within our community, including visitors, we must note that such security measures often have a heavier impact on people of color, and could exacerbate feelings of exclusion, alienation, and suspicion. As we invest in security and make our policies more pro-active, we must also address racial profiling on campus, ensuring that public safety, private security contractors, and administrators do not profile our students. So where do we go from here? We call upon our colleagues in the administrative and staff offices involved in this fiasco to share publicly what they have learned from the mistreatment of Addis and last spring’s actions more broadly. We recognize the important boundaries of confidentiality, and urge our colleagues to avoid further trying our students in the press—they have already been subjected to those indignities enough. But as an institution predicated on learning as its core primary objective, we must be a learning institution that can admit mistakes and failure, and publicly share what we have learned from those mistakes. It is not just about taking responsibility in a broad and general sense, which President Patton has done repeatedly; it is about demonstrating the humble learning that comes from admitting specific mistakes, and highlighting how we can and will do better for our students going forward. Information on Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community can be found at go.middlebury.edu/inclusivecommunity.
This document represents an initial statement on the principles of inclusivity, civil freedoms and community, drafted by a group of more than 40 faculty members at Middlebury, which formed in the wake of March 2nd. We share it with all members of the Middlebury community in the hope that it will initiate and engender a robust discussion of inclusivity and related issues in our community. Middlebury's Mission Statement asserts our collective responsibility to ensure that everybody in our college can "participate fully in a vibrant and diverse academic community." Our Community Standards state that we are dedicated to fostering a "diverse and inclusive community committed to civility, open-mindedness and finding common ground.” While our community is comprised of people with a wide range of identities, backgrounds, and perspectives, some of these positions are validated more than others by historical differentials of power which continue to manifest themselves in both symbolic and material ways. Hence, inclusivity as a shared value cannot be achieved through passivity and neutrality. Simply asserting that everyone is equal will not solve structural inequities deeply embedded in our daily lives and histories. Inclusivity does not mean merely assembling a diversity of people into our ever-evolving community—it requires continual vigilance against creating or reinforcing the factors that marginalize, disempower, or delegitimize historically under-represented members of the community. We must openly acknowledge and actively resist these inequities. In particular, as a historically white institution in a historically white state, Middlebury is especially fractured around issues related to race and racism; people of color regularly find themselves marginalized, neglected, objectified or excluded from full participation in our community. A culture of inclusion requires not only active resistance against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and all other forms of unjust discrimination, but also continual reexamination of any policies, curricula, and pedagogies that may support these forms of oppression. The task of actively challenging oppressive ideologies and practices should not just be reacting to short-term controversies, but also working proactively over the long term to maintain and nurture the public space within which our community exists and grows. Freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry are central to our educational mission, and we must robustly protect those freedoms for all students, staff, and faculty. But because freedom of speech and a culture of inclusivity are mutually imbricated values, such freedom comes with the obligation that it be exercised responsibly, especially when offering the platform of our campus to outside speakers who may undermine our culture of inclusivity—symbolically or otherwise. Thus, we all have the right and the responsibility to challenge any form of hateful speech at our institution, through a critique that examines its source, intent, financing, and impact on members of our community. We agree that the purpose of higher education is not to make anyone comfortable in their opinions and prejudices. But speech that justifies, naturalizes, and reinforces the positions of the privileged vis-à-vis the marginalized should be rigorously scrutinized and critiqued, and speech that challenges such opinions and prejudices should be encouraged. We recognize that sometimes the values of inclusivity and justice come into direct conflict with other core values of our community or challenge established rules and policies. In moments of such conflict, members of our community may choose to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. Disruptive as it may seem, civil disobedience is often constructive as a necessary means to reorganize and redefine the values and relationships that make up a community. In such instances, Middlebury must reassert our core commitments, consider such actions within their broader contexts, and employ restorative justice methods that allocate responsibility properly and strengthen our community. These social values and civic practices are public goods, and we are collectively responsible for taking care of them. The choice between free expression and inclusivity is a false one, and understanding the ways they interact is an essential part of our educational mission. We pledge to be an academic community that continuously practices these complementary principles of freedom and equity in order to promote a liberal arts education that prepares all its members for full participation in an open and democratic society. For other members of the Middlebury community who wish to engage these issues with us, go to go.middlebury.edu/inclusivecommunity