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Middlebury College’s Cancellation of Conservative Polish Speaker Prompts Calls for Investigation – of Inviters

April 22, 2019

Middlebury College canceled a forum last week that was going to feature a conservative Polish politician in part because of a planned protest called “Ryszard Legutko is a f——- homophobe.”

College officials said they couldn’t guarantee the speaker’s safety.

Legutko, 69, a member of the conservative Law and Justice Party in Poland, is a current member of the European Parliament and a former deputy speaker of the Polish Senate. He has expressed disagreement in the past with pro-homosexuality parades, including the costumes and sentiments seen there.

“I don’t understand why anyone should want to be proud of being a homosexual. Be proud of what you do, not of being a homosexual,” Legutko told The Guardian, a left-of-center newspaper in England, in 2011.

The Facebook page that protesters used to organized was not publicly accessible as of Monday, April 22.

Although his public speech was cancelled, Legutko discussed political philosophy during a class on the Middlebury campus last week, part of which was broadcast on the Facebook page of the student newspaper.

A political science professor invited Legutko to his class on Wednesday, April 17 after asking his students if they wanted him to appear. The professor took a secret ballot of his students, and they all voted for including him in the class, according to the student newspaper, The Middlebury Campus.

The student newspaper recorded video of a portion of the appearance. Not included in the video was his answer to a question about same-sex marriage:

“I am very reluctant to tamper with the meaning of words. Once you change the meaning, you are in for trouble. Marriage as we understood was between a man and a woman. What has happened recently is a radical change. I don’t think that we should be allowed to go as far as changing one of the most fundamental institutions of the world,” Legutko said, according to The Middlebury Campus.

During his presentation there, he took issue with characterization in American media and elsewhere of World War II concentration camps as “Polish.”

“Poland was a victim. It was not the aggressor. We did not build the concentration camps, or death camps. … There were no Polish concentration camps. They were German concentration camps. Poles were people who were killed in the concentration camps. The argument was, ‘Well, it’s not about who set up these camps but where they were. They were in Poland.’ Yeah, but there were also concentration camps set up in France. And nobody calls them French concentration camps,” Legutko said, according to video published by The Middlebury Campus.

Legutko also said the Catholic Church in Poland is “very important” as “a vehicle of nationalism,” and that it provided “a shelter” during times of Communist totalitarianism.

A student asked him if he believes Poland should be a homogeneous society as 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested was optimal.

Legutko said he is not a follower of Rousseau, who was anti-religion, but that he admires him more than other French philosophers of the period. He said he appreciates Rousseau’s musings on small republics and the social contract.

“Which I find extremely interesting, intellectually. … Rousseau seems to be more interesting and profound. He’s always worth reading, even if you disagree with him,” Legutko said.

While some observers blamed protesters for the cancellation, the Middlebury Faculty Caucus for an Inclusive Community praised the protesters and blamed the faculty members who invited Legutko.

“We ask that those who wish to bring speakers carefully consider the effect of such speakers and the format in which they are presented, on the campus climate and our student, faculty, and staff colleagues. While we all should learn to engage productively with hurtful rhetoric, we question whether this can be accomplished by giving divisive speakers an unchallenged platform without proper contextualization or framing,” the pro-inclusiveness faculty caucus said in a written statement, according to The Middlebury Campus.

The faculty caucus called for “a public accounting” of how the organizers of the event acted.

The pro-inclusiveness caucus claims more than 50 members, but lists 23 on a web site, saying that not all of its members wish to be publicly identified.

Seven Days, a Vermont newspaper, has tracked the funding source for Legutko’s canceled talk at Middlebury to Republican billionaire donor Charles Koch, who funds the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, which helps fund the Alexander Hamilton Forum, which was to host the talk at Middlebury that was subsequently cancelled.

A professor at Catholic University in Washington D.C. had a different reaction after hearing Legutko almost two years ago.

That appearance at Catholic University occurred a little less than two months after sociologist Charles Murray and a Middlebury professor who was accompanying him were attacked by a mob on March 2, 2017, after leaving a building on campus after Murray’s public speech was cancelled because of a wild protest by students and others.

Would-be student protesters this time said they had no intention of shutting down Legutko’s speech at Middlebury, and college officials said after the fact that their safety concerns were not triggered by Middlebury students but rather by the possible behavior of others who might show up for the event.



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