Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

ACTA Condemns Flagrant Violation of Free Speech and Academic Freedom at Middlebury College

Students’ use of “heckler’s veto” and physical violence against a professor demands disciplinary action
March 6, 2017 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) condemned today the actions of students and outside protesters at Middlebury College who disrupted an invited lecture by social scientist and American Enterprise Institute W.H. Brady Scholar Charles Murray.

Students and outside protesters chanted and shouted continuously with the goal of preventing Dr. Murray from delivering his lecture. In addition to depriving their fellow students of the opportunity to listen to Dr. Murray’s remarks, protesters pulled fire alarms and continued to disrupt the event so that no one could hear the discussion as it was being broadcast from an improvised studio. Most unsettling of all, after the event, unidentified protesters menaced Dr. Murray and Middlebury’s Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics, Allison Stanger, en route to their car. Professor Stanger was physically assaulted in the process and had to be treated at a local hospital.

Michael B. Poliakoff, president of ACTA, said of the incident:

“Free speech and open campus discourse are essential for learning. What happened at Middlebury is an obscene and disgraceful corruption of higher education. There are few offenses against academic ethics more outrageous than silencing a speaker. The appropriate response to speech or research that faculty or students dislike is more speech and research. Instead, Middlebury presented the spectacle of mob thuggery, including assault of a professor, triumphing in the one place where the free exchange of ideas should be most welcome.”

“Middlebury must act upon its stated commitment to academic freedom by taking appropriate steps to punish the students who disrupted the event and assaulted a faculty member. Sanctions and consequences for such behavior must be swift and severe, or such tactics will continue to chill the free exchange of ideas on college campuses. Middlebury’s board of trustees should implement a clear First Amendment policy and take steps to ensure that its commitment to free speech exists not only in word, but also in deed. Anything less is to give into mob censorship and to erode the foundations of liberal education and the principles of a free society.”


CONTACT: Christine Ravold,

UPDATE (4/13/17): A spokesperson for Middlebury College contacted ACTA to provide several updates:

  • The College’s investigation has identified several dozen individuals it believes may be subject to disciplinary procedures under the student handbook policies. More than 20 students have received and accepted sanctions for their actions on March 2. The investigation and disciplinary process continues and the College hopes to complete the work by end of the academic year in May. 
  • The College acknowledged receipt of a letter from ACTA delivered to the Middlebury College Board of Trustees urging them to adopt the Chicago Principles of Free Expression.
  • More than 100 Middlebury faculty have signed a Statement of Principles in support of free inquiry.

ACTA will continue to monitor these developments.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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