Vermont's Middlebury College quashed a lecture by right-wing Polish politician Ryszard Legutko, worried about a repeat of the infamous Charles Murray incident from 2017.
Right-wing Polish politician and professor Ryszard Legutko planned to lecture students and faculty at Vermont’s Middlebury College on April 17 regarding the topic of his recent book, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, but college administrators pulled the plug after students declared their intent to protest Legutko’s speech.
Talk about proving the guy’s point. A notice advertising the lecture said that Legutko, who opposed communism in Poland and now serves as a Member of the European Parliament, would be discussing “uncomfortable similarities between communist totalitarianism and contemporary western democracy.”
Students opposed to Legutko’s antediluvian views of LGBT rights and his membership in Poland’s far-right Law and Justice Party mobilized to protest Legutko’s appearance at the college’s Alexander Hamilton Forum, an organization devoted to fostering, “thoughtful engagement with the ideas that have informed the creation and development of the American polity,” per the group’s website.
According to the college’s student paper, The Middlebury Campus, those organizing the anti-Legutko demonstrations were adamant that they did not want to disrupt Legutko’s speech. The paper quoted Taite Shomo, an organizer of the protest, on this point.
“It is absolutely, unequivocally not the intent of this protest and those participating in this protest to prevent Legutko from speaking,” Shomo wrote on the Facebook page for the event. “Disruptive behavior of this nature will not be tolerated.”
In an interview with the paper, Shomo explained his purpose in demonstrating.
“As someone who cares about making this campus a better, more thoughtful place, I think it would be irresponsible not to protest against such a person’s presence,” he said. “I intend on exercising my own right to free speech and protest by refusing to allow Legutko to speak here without informing the community of his harmful ideas.”
But college administrators put the kibosh on Legutko’s lecture, announcing via email that their “decision was not taken lightly,” but that 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.”
No doubt administrators were worried about a repeat of the ugliness of two years ago, when a mob of activists literally ran controversial social scientist Charles Murray off campus during an appearance he made at Middlebury in March 2017. In the process, moderator Allison Stanger, a professor of politics and economics and a Democrat, was assaulted by the crowd.
The incident was a black eye for the small, private liberal arts college in central Vermont, and it became an oft-cited example of liberal intolerance of opposing viewpoints at colleges and universities across the United States.
Robby Soave, an associate editor at Reason magazine, lamented the college’s failure to uphold free speech values in regards to Legutko’s appearance.
He noted that the college was “again permitting censorship to rule the day.” However, in this case, “[It] is the administration, rather than the students, shutting down the debate.”
That said, Legutko reportedly holds some particularly obnoxious opinions about gays. In 2011, The Guardian quoted Legutko as saying that he opposes Gay Pride celebrations as “anti-Christian and offensive.” He also denounced gay rights as the “tyranny of the minority” in the western world.
“I don’t understand why anyone should want to be proud of being a homosexual,” Legutko said, according to The Guardian. “Be proud of what you do, not of being a homosexual.”
Legutko’s membership in Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party has been the target of ire by progressives here and in Europe. A fellow Pole and Middlebury alum, Thomas Gawel, gave a run-down of why he despises the nationalist party in a letter to The Middlebury Campus:
This party has fired virtually all journalists from public media, placed its former MP as the president of the largest Polish TV network, and daily feeds ruthless propaganda to millions of unaware Poles. They have illegally taken over the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court, for which there are procedures pending against the country at the European Commission. They did so to bypass the Constitution and transform young Polish democracy into a very dangerous hybrid of economic socialism and nationalism/xenophobia.
Interestingly, after the administration halted his lecture, Legutko ended up speaking at a political science class on campus at the invitation of the students. There were no protests, nor did the college’s bureaucrats intervene, mainly because they didn’t know about it.
The Middlebury Campus has reported that the professor who runs the Hamilton Forum has already invited Legutko back next year. Will be interesting to see if they screw it up again, given that long lead time.
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