Middlebury College policy shuts down free speech

In light of the ongoing violence on college campuses across the country, Middlebury College is instituting a “heckler’s veto” or temporary policy to shut down speakers whom they believe might be targets of threats or violence.

A heckler’s veto is a term used when a government or institution of power shuts down someone’s First Amendment right of free speech to prevent or subvert potential violence that might be unleashed by a heckler in response to what they perceive as disagreeable speech. In layman’s terms, Middlebury is temporarily instituting an infringement on First Amendment rights.

Stopping short of a flat-out ban on inviting Republican or right-leaning speakers to step foot on their campus out of fear it would psychologically impact the liberal students, Middlebury promises “measures to maximize safety,” which might entail the cancellation of speaking events if administrators feel there is a “credible threat.”

“Following the tragic events this summer in Charlottesville and other recent threats to the safety of college and university campuses, the administration, in discussion with the Board of Trustees has been reviewing our institutional preparedness for events that may threaten our own campuses,” Provost Susan Baldridge said in a statement Friday.

This new policy, which will be replaced with a permanent directive by the end of the term, requires a three-week window for all event reservation requests so various departments have the opportunity to conduct a risk assessment and “identify any events that are a likely target of disruption, threats, violence, or other acts of intimidation, or are likely to draw unusually large crowds.”

The risk assessment will then be utilized to determine necessary resources or measures to ensure the event can proceed without undue risk.

If after significant analysis it is determined the event poses a “credible threat to the community that cannot be mitigated by revisions to the event plan,” the college reserves the right to cancel the event.

Ari Fleischer

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who is an alumnus of Middlebury College, warned on Twitter that the temporary policy “rewards the heckler’s veto,” calling the effort a First Amendment issue.


“Speakers will not be allowed on campus if groups on campus say they will shut down the speaker,” Fleischer tweeted Friday. “Midd will actually legitimize heckler’s veto.”

Charles Murray

Middlebury came into the public spotlight earlier this year when its students shouted down a lecture featuring libertarian conservative political scientist and author Charles Murray, before turning violent and assaulting the 74-year-old along with Professor Allison Stanger who wound up in the emergency room after a protestor grabbed her by the hair and twisted her neck. Sixty-seven students were disciplined by the school but no official charges were filed with the police for lack of evidence relating a specific individual with a specific act.

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