Middlebury College Bristles Over Planned Forum Featuring Polish Conservative | Off Message

Middlebury College Bristles Over Planned Forum Featuring Polish Conservative


McCardell Bicentennial Hall - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Update: On Wednesday morning, Middlebury College canceled Legutko's talk.

More than 300 students and faculty at Middlebury College have signed a letter protesting a lecture scheduled for Wednesday by conservative Polish politician, philosopher and writer Ryszard Legutko.

Legutko's writings suggest that contemporary liberalism shares a trait with the communist leadership under which he grew up: a tendency to stifle free speech.

It's been two years since angry protestors shut down a lecture on campus by ultraconservative author Charles Murray. A Middlebury professor, Allison Stanger, was injured by protesters as she helped Murray flee to a waiting car.
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  • Ryszard Legutko
This week's dustup has similar themes. 

An online protest letter brands Legutko a racist and a homophobe and asks the Middlebury Political Science Department and Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs not to sponsor the talk, set for 4:30 p.m. at the McCardell Bicentennial Hall.

Legutko has criticized multiculturalism, portrayed gay marriage as a destructive experiment and characterized gay pride as "anti-Christian and shocking," according to the letter. Giving him a platform to speak in a series known as the Alexander Hamilton Forum does not meet the forum's stated goals to foster thoughtful engagement, the letter states.  "There is nothing thoughtful about giving even more space to homophobes, racists and misogynists than they already occupy in the American political sphere," it says.

"Students have voiced again and again that bringing speakers such as Legutko is not productive," it says. "Academic departments should set a standard as to what is debatable, and we firmly believe that homophobia, xenophobia, racism, and misogyny are not, are never debatable."

The letter also refers to the Murray incident, for which dozens of students were disciplined.

"A cornerstone of any kind of 'thoughtful citizenship' should always be listening, and we urge you all to recall the events of March 2, 2017 where the administration, including President Laurie Patton and the PSCI Department, failed to listen to the voices of students," the letter states.

After the Murray talk, students "faced mental, emotional, academic, and personal challenges from having their existence on this campus trivialized. We see this event as coming dangerously close to re-inflicting a similar pain on the student body," the letter stated.

Backers of the speech disagreed. In a letter to students posted online Monday, Keegan Callanan, an assistant professor of political science and director of the Alexander Hamilton Forum, defended the decision to bring Legutko to campus.

After the Murray incident, Callanan joined Stanger on a panel at Princeton University. Callanan criticized the "intellectual homogeneity" at Middlebury, according to the Middlebury Campus, the college newspaper.

This week he insisted the Legutko talk would go forward. He urged students who are critical of Legutko's views, such as on gay rights, to debate him at the event.

"No questions are out of bounds at Hamilton Forum events. Tough and incisive questions are the coin of the realm," Callanan wrote. 

He emphasized Legutko's past as a young man who "defied the dictates of the Soviet-backed tyranny in Poland when he served as editor of an illegal scholarly journal, Arka. He risked much for liberty and has a unique perspective on what it is like living under a tyrannical regime," Callanan wrote.

He also noted that Legutko's most recent book, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, has been hailed as “the indispensable book about the current crisis of liberalism” by Harvard Law School’s Adrian Vermeule, the Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law.

 Legutko is a professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland and a member of the European Parliament representing Poland. He is also a member of the Law and Justice Party, which critics in the protest letter said is known for "homophobic, racist, sexist and xenophobic orientations."

Callanan questioned some of the characterizations in the protest letter.

He wrote:

Perhaps you have already seen a number of quotations from Prof. Legutko being circulated around campus. Some are doctored and others accurate, some in context and others not. For my part, I find in these quotations the words of a man who has been sharply critical of the methods of activists in the EU, and who holds the same position on same-sex marriage once held by President Obama, President Clinton, and Secretary Clinton. Although this is not the subject of his talk, it is up to you to decide whether you would like to pose frank questions of Prof. Legutko on the topic of same-sex marriage and gay rights.
The protest letter was signed by leaders of student groups including the Black Student Union, Queer and Trans People of Color, the Student Government Institutional Diversity Committee and Asian Students in Action.

Here's a copy of the letter of protest; to see signatures as well click here:

Here's Callanan's full letter:

This story was updated on April 17 to include the embedded letter of protest.