Case Study

Middlebury College student government requests a way to vet speakers

Photo credit: Will DiGravio/The Middlebury Campus


In April 2019, the Middlebury College Student Government Association sent out a formal request to the administration calling for more student and community input in university decision making. The students’ letter, titled “Thirteen Proposals for Community Healing,” notably requested a vetting process for invited speakers that included students’ views. The process would require any organization or academic department that invites speakers to first fill out “due diligence forms” created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. An additional provision asked that student advisory boards be added to faculty councils and that those boards be given access to speaker lists at least a month in advance of a visit. Another called for the university to release a list of names of faculty who had opted out of bias training.

PEN America Analysis

Students and the larger campus community should absolutely have a voice in a campus community, and proposals calling for increased transparency and communication between administration and students should be applauded. But the specific demand that students be allowed to vet speakers works against the spirit of free expression and risks becoming a mechanism for censorship. While the desire to protect individuals from hateful ideas is understandable, PEN America believes that this goal is attainable without resorting to censorship or other chilling mechanisms. PEN America also believes that creating a public list of faculty who haven’t participated in bias training could become an ideological litmus test and stifle open inquiry. Efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are most effective if they are done voluntarily. Instituting them through public shaming or other punitive measures is more likely to lead to animosity and backlash than social change.

Further Reading

Photo credit: The Middlebury Campus