The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
As fall term comes to an end, we have much to celebrate in the accomplishments of Dartmouth students—a new crop of Phi Beta Kappa scholars, inspired productions in the arts, and championship athletic teams. We also salute the achievements of our faculty—recognized for innovative teaching and distinguished programs, new memberships in scholarly societies, and important contributions in the full range of disciplines, from the humanities to the sciences.
These accomplishments should not be overshadowed by the intensity of feelings around the events of the last two weeks, which include social unrest at colleges and universities across the country, including at Dartmouth. As we think about these events and reflect on what has happened on our campus, let me emphasize several bedrock principles that guide our work:
- Each Dartmouth student is a full-fledged citizen of this community, with all the rights and responsibilities that citizenship entails.
- We strive to balance freedom of speech with strong community values of civil discourse—though we recognize that at times these principles conflict.
- At their core, institutions of higher education are places where open inquiry and the free debate about difficult and sometimes uncomfortable ideas must thrive.
On Thursday evening, Nov. 12, a large demonstration by members of the Dartmouth and Upper Valley communities culminated in a moment of silence in front of Dartmouth Hall. This demonstration was a powerful expression of unity in support of social justice—Dartmouth at its strongest.
I cannot say the same about events that transpired in Baker Library immediately afterward. I have heard reports of vulgar epithets, personal insults, and intimidating actions used both by students who entered the library and students who were already in the library. We are actively investigating all reports of violations of College policy, and will enforce appropriate sanctions. Such behavior is antithetical to our values and goals as an institution. As one of the great institutions of higher learning, we are committed to the open and energetic exchange of ideas. And as Dartmouth's citizenship pledge reminds us, we must treat each person with dignity and respect. Abusive language aimed at community members—by any group, at any time, in any place—is not acceptable.
As the exam period draws to a close, we are all looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday and time with our loved ones. I hope we use the December break as a time to reflect on the fall term and return invigorated and committed more than ever to making our community strong and unified in purpose—even when we disagree—and rededicate ourselves to take on academic challenges and continue to tackle the world's most vexing problems.
For more on the story, see this post.
My take: I'm not wild about universities punishing "abusive language," but I certainly think the university should punish people for taking over the library as a place for their demonstration, and interfering with others' use of that space for actual studying. To the extent that some of the speech involved physical intimidation, as has been alleged, that too should be punished. And I also think the university would be right to denounce the anti-white racist insults, as it would for anti-black racist insults.
By the way, if anyone has any more details on the "reports of vulgar epithets, personal insults, and intimidating actions" by "students who were already in the library," please let me know.