Free Inquiry on Campus: A Statement of Principles by over One Hundred Middlebury College Professors

On March 2, 2017, roughly 100 of our 2500 students prevented a controversial visiting speaker, Dr. Charles Murray, from communicating with his audience on the campus of Middlebury College.  Afterwards, a group of unidentified assailants mobbed the speaker, and one of our faculty members was seriously injured.  In view of these unacceptable acts, we have produced and affixed our signatures to this document stating core principles that seem to us unassailable in the context of higher education within a free society.

Our statement of principles first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on March 7, 2017.

The principles are as follows:

Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.

Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.

The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.

The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.

Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Students have the right to challenge and to protest non-disruptively the views of their professors and guest speakers.

A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.

No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.

No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.

The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.

The purpose of education is not the promotion of any particular political or social agenda.

The primary purpose of higher education is the cultivation of the mind, thus allowing for intelligence to do the hard work of assimilating and sorting information and drawing rational conclusions.

A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.

All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

We are steadfast in our purpose to provide all current and future students an education on this model, and we encourage our colleagues at colleges across the country to do the same.


Jay Parini, English and American Literatures

Keegan Callanan, Political Science

Julia Alvarez, Writer-in-Residence Emeritus

Molly Anderson, Food Studies

Glenn Andres, History of Art and Architecture

Christopher Andrews, Computer Science

Ata Anzali, Religion

Jason Arndt, Psychology and Neuroscience

David H. Bain, English and American Literatures/Creative Writing

Alexandra Baker, Russian

Mireille Barbaud-McWilliams, French

Stanley Bates, Philosophy

John Berninghausen, Chinese Studies

John Bertolini, English and American Literatures

Mary Ellen Bertolini, Writing

Lorraine Besser, Philosophy

Tom Beyer, Russian

Erik Bleich, Political Science
Amy Briggs, Computer Science

Jeff Buettner, Music

Jim Butler, Studio Art

Jeff Byers, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Sandra Carletti, Italian
Carole Cavanaugh, Japanese Studies
Sunhee Choi, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Nicholas Clifford, History
Robert Cluss, Chemistry and Biochemistry

David Colander, Economics/Interdepartmental

Marcia Collaer, Psychology
Catherine Combelles, Biology

Eric Davis, Political Science

Kyoko Davis, Japanese Studies

Sergei Davydov, Russian
Matthew Dickinson, Political Science
Stephen Donadio, Literary Studies

Murray Dry, Political Science

Hang Du, Chinese/Linguistics

John Elder, English and Environmental Studies

Mark Evancho, Theater and Dance

Diana Fanning, Music

Emory Fanning, Music

Ellie Gebarowski-Shafer, Religion

Eilat Glikman, Physics
Shalom Goldman, Religion

Erick Gong, Economics
Noah Graham, Physics

Leger Grindon, Film and Media Studies
Larry Hamberlin, Music

Maria Hatjigeorgiou, Religion

Jessica Holmes, Economics

Kirsten Hoving, History of Art and Architecture

Jonathan Isham, Jr., Economics and Environmental Studies

Bertram Johnson, Political Science

Damascus Kafumbe, Music

Michael Katz, Russian

Matthew Kimble, Psychology

Edward Knox, French

Michael Kraus, Political Science

Bethany Ladimer, French

Marjorie Lamberti, History

Sara Laursen, History of Art and Architecture

Tom Manley, Geology

Patricia Manley, Geology
Gary Margolis, College Mental Health Services, Emeritus

Bettina Matthias, German

Michelle McCauley, Psychology

John McWilliams, Humanities

Vanessa Mildenberg, Theatre and Dance

Paul Monod, History

Thomas Moran, Chinese Language and Literature

Amy Morsman, History

Stefano Mula, Italian

Jeff Munroe, Geology

Kamakshi Murti, German

Caitlin Knowles Myers, Economics

Peter Nelson, Geography

Paul Nelson, Political Science
Marybeth Nevins, Sociology and Anthropology

Victor Nuovo, Philosophy

Cynthia Packert, History of Art and Architecture

Clarissa Parker, Psychology and Neuroscience

Ted Perry, Film and Media Studies

Will Pyle, Economics

Richard Romagnoli, Theatre

David Rosenberg, Political Science

Pete Ryan, Geology
Theodore Sasson, Jewish Studies

Richard Saunders, History of Art and Architecture

Daniel Scharstein, Computer Science

Robert Schine, Religion and Jewish Studies
John Schmitt, Mathematics
Peter Schumer, Mathematics

Pavlos Sfyroeras, Classics

Christopher Shaw, English and American Literature/Creative Writing

Sallie Sheldon, Biology

Kathleen Skubikowski, English and American Literatures

Tatiana Smorodinska, Russian

Grace Spatafora, Biology

Allison Stanger, Political Science
David Stoll, Sociology and Anthropology

Stephen Sontum, Chemistry
Frank Swenton, Mathematics

Ioana Uricaru, Film and Media Studies

Hector Vila, Writing

William Waldron, Religion

Kristina Walowski, Geology

Christopher Watters, Biology

Frank Winkler, Physics

Marc Witkin, Classics

Richard Wolfson, Physics

Don Wyatt, History

Wei He Xu, Chinese

Amy Yuen, Political Science

Patricia Zupan, Italian



The opinions expressed herein represent only the personal views of the signatories.