Middlebury College Cancels Conservative Philosopher's Lecture on Totalitarianism

April 17, 2019

Middlebury College has canceled a campus speech by conservative Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko in response to planned protests by liberal activists.

A professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University and a member of the European Parliament, Legutko was scheduled to speak Wednesday at the Vermont college's Alexander Hamilton Forum, delivering a lecture entitled "The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies." A member of the anti-Communist Polish resistance during the Cold War, Legutko warns that western democracy is also susceptible to creep towards totalitarianism.

But in the days leading up to the speech, some Middlebury students and professors wrote an open letter demanding the university rescind its sponsorship. The liberal activists took issue with Legutko's pointed critiques of multiculturalism, feminism, and homosexuality, calling them "homophobic, racist, xenophobic, [and] misogynistic."

"Inquiry, equity, and agency cannot be fostered in the same space that accepts and even elevates homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic discourse," they demand. "Bigotry of any kind should not be considered a form of inquiry."

The chairmen of both departments denied the activists requests, defending the event on grounds of academic freedom. But hours before the event was scheduled, Middlebury Provost Jeff Cason and Vice President for Student Affairs Baishakhi Taylor sent a campus-wide email indicating the lecture was canceled.

"In the interest of ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff, and community members, the lecture by Ryszard Legutko scheduled for later today will not take place," the email read. "This decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response."

Originally, the university tried to move the event to a different space. "However, it became clear with the increased number of participants that we didn't have the staff capacity to adequately ensure everyone's safety," the email read.

"We appreciate the thoughtful work of faculty and student organizers, their contributions to the planning process, and their desire to prevent disruption. We made our decision based on Middlebury's policy on scheduling events, and we will meet with organizers of both events moving forward."

The cancelation comes two years after a Middlebury lecture by conservative academic Charles Murray was disrupted by protesters, who later attacked Murray as he walked to his car and sent another professor to the hospital. None of the dozens of students who participated were suspended or expelled, with most receiving "a permanent record in the student's file."