Two Princeton and Harvard University professors with opposing political views have set aside their differences to release a statement supporting free speech after a mob of angry Middlebury College protesters berated a visiting speaker and assaulted a professor.
Charles Murray, an author of a book discussing racial differences in intelligence, attempted to speak at Middlebury on March 2 but the crowd shouted at him until he retreated to do a live stream instead. When he and professor Allison Stanger left the building, they were mobbed by a large group of people and Stanger wound up with a concussion and a neck brace.
"Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm to shield him and to make sure we stayed together, the crowd turned on me," Stanger wrote for The New York Times on Monday. "Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me. I feared for my life. Once we got into the car, protesters climbed on it, hitting the windows and rocking the vehicle whenever we stopped to avoid harming them. I am still wearing a neck brace, and spent a week in a dark room to recover from a concussion caused by the whiplash."
Now, the two Christian Princeton professors — conservative Robert George and progressive Cornel West — are stepping forward to support freedom of thought and expression.
"The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth," they wrote in a joint statement. "These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.
"That’s why all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses," the two wrote.
The statement is open for anyone to sign.
"Our willingness to listen to and respectfully engage those with whom we disagree (especially about matters of profound importance) contributes vitally to the maintenance of a milieu in which people feel free to speak their minds, consider unpopular positions, and explore lines of argument that may undercut established ways of thinking. Such an ethos protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies," it concludes.
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