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Moats: Middlebury Protest Outcome

Republicans students at Middlebury College are unhappy about what they see as the lenient discipline administered to students who disrupted a speech earlier this year by author Charles Murray.

The incident drew national attention and became another battleground in the struggle taking place at campuses around the country about free speech and censorship.

Other students were unhappy for another reason – that Murray had been invited in the first place.

Nor was the college administration happy about an incident that brought widespread criticism from those accusing the college of elite liberal intolerance.

Faculty members were unhappy for diverse reasons — liberals defending academic freedom were on one side. Others were unhappy that the college had given a platform to someone whose views they said were racist. Bitter feelings divided friend from friend in the close-knit college community.

The only happy person in the whole story may have been Murray himself. He was aggrieved and insulted, but he will be able to dine out on his martyr status for months to come.

I haven’t read Murray’s work. I only know that his early book, “The Bell Curve,” was harshly criticized for linking race and intelligence. It’s troubling when vestiges of old-style racism make an appearance dressed up in modern costume, particularly now, when white supremacists have been traveling to college campuses, thriving on the ill feeling they provoke.

My attitude is that it's generally not a good idea to try to shut someone up. Better to let him make a fool of himself and let those who disagree show what a fool he is.

I don't view angry differences, openly expressed, as a bad thing. Wrestling with racism on campus is good preparation for wrestling with racism off campus. Taking it to the level of violence, as at Middlebury, where a professor was hurt, is when people go too far.

On these issues I am always heartened by the words of Louis Brandeis, the great Supreme Court justice, who wrote that the founders “believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.”

“Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards,” he wrote. “They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.”

That applies to Murray, to his critics, and to all the engaged and committed people looking for the truth about racism, freedom and justice in this turbulent time.

David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
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