21.4.17

THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.

Longtime academic administrator William M. Chace asks, "Why Pick on Middlebury?"  He raises a valid point.
[Middlebury's] enrollment of some 2,450 students represents 0.012 percent of the national enrollment. Those students, none of whom will study either homeland security or transportation and materials moving, gained admission to the school in a process so competitive (16 percent of applicants admitted) that it renders them highly unrepresentative of American college students in general. Middlebury professors, all 270 of them, are similarly unrepresentative of American college teachers, of whom there are 1.5 million. They teach small classes, most of them enjoy the privileges of tenure, and they are better paid than most of their national colleagues. Middlebury is small, prestigious, and remote.

But when the controversial and itinerant political scientist Charles Murray was invited by some Middlebury students to speak at the college in February, he was angrily denounced by other students and was prevented by denunciations and threats from giving his talk. Protected by public safety officers, he was ushered away from the lectern; the professor whom he was scheduled to debate suffered an injury in the melee.

In the weeks thereafter, Middlebury (founded 1800) became, for the first and only time in its history, the face of American higher education.
I write from the perspective of a utilities and transportation major with more than a passing interest in materials moving, and a former employee of a university offering a concentration in homeland security who concurs with Mr Chace's thesis that most of the action in higher education goes on in the community colleges and land-grants and mid-majors.  And for the most part, students don't carry on like the entitled snowflakes in their epistemically closed resorts.
Murray went on to speak, and to be heard with only minimal commotion, at Duke, Columbia, New York University, Notre Dame, Villanova, and Indiana University. The Middlebury debacle was not repeated. At Duke, Murray’s talk proceeded peacefully before an audience of 50. At Columbia, 150 faculty members expressed their support of Murray’s right to speak; 60 people attended the talk. The lecture at NYU prompted protest, but those in the audience, all 50 of them, heard it. At Villanova three protestors were removed after some four minutes of sustained objection before Murray spoke to about 100 people. Murray spoke peacefully to a small crowd at Indiana while, outside the room, there was some protest. But since these events had nothing spectacular on show, the commentators had no “revelations” to announce.

When mulling over Middlebury and these other institutions, it is helpful to keep in mind the remaining 4,600 American colleges and universities, public and private. What to make of their calmness? When characterizing American higher education, why turn to Middlebury and Charles Murray? Why is it easy to imagine that what happened in Vermont summed up the state of American higher education? What, if anything, did Middlebury “reveal”?
All valid questions, and yet the position of a Middlebury or a Yale or an Oberlin in the status hierarchy matters, as the crazy ideas that originate there find their way into the humanities curriculum everywhere (and Mr Chace ought not be too sanguine about deconstructing Introduction to Chemistry either); and the kind of foolishness that infected Student Affairs at Delaware (imagine, a state university invisible in the football polls and generally irrelevant in the basketball tournament) is likely to break out elsewhere, absent the faculty taking their duties as stewards of the curriculum seriously.

We don't hammer on Middlebury (or Oberlin, or Yale) for enabling their snowflakes.

We hammer on Middlebury in order that Northern Illinois (or Delaware, or Nebraska) not enable snowflakes.

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