Professors Rebuke Dartmouth President Over Statement on Scholar’s Comments on Antifa

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    Mark Bray is the author of the book "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook" and is a lecturer at Dartmouth College. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/29/2017 12:12:38 AM
Modified: 8/29/2017 11:08:27 AM

Hanover — More than 100 active faculty at Dartmouth College are condemning a statement issued last week by college President Phil Hanlon that sought to distance the school from comments by a visiting scholar who specializes in the anti-fascism movement.

In a letter dated Aug. 23, supporters of Mark Bray cast Hanlon’s statement as an attack on academic freedom, signaling to future professors that they might not have the college’s support during times of crisis.

They also said Hanlon appeared to be reacting to right-wing websites that the professors said “distorted” Bray’s comments and characterized him as supporting violent tactics used by “antifa” protestors against white supremacists.

Shorthand for anti-fascists, antifa is used to describe far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

“There is nothing that professor Bray has said that is in violation of Dartmouth’s stated free speech and academic freedom policies,” the letter from the professors, including history professors Bethany Moreton, Annelise Orleck and Margaret Darrow, said.

The faculty letter calls for Dartmouth to remove the statement, apologize to Bray and initiate a review to recommend procedures on how to best handle similar situations in the future.

College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence declined to comment on the matter on Monday and referred to Hanlon’s initial statement, which remained unchanged.

Bray, a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth, began to make news this month during a handful of interviews after the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va.

Bray studies human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe, and was promoting his new book on the history of anti-fascism, Antifa: the Anti-Fascist Handbook, on several national outlets in the wake of the violence.

“I think that a lot of people recognize that, when pushed, self-defense is a legitimate response to white supremacy and neo-Nazi violence,” Bray told Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, during the program on Aug. 20.

Bray then went on to compare modern neo-Nazis with those rising to power in the ’20s and ’30s, saying “the lesson of history is you need to take it with the utmost seriousness before it’s too late.”

White supremacy and neo-Naziism grows by becoming more legitimate in society, Bray said.

“And the way to stop that is what people did in Boston, what people did in Charlottesville. Pull the emergency brake and say, ‘You can’t make this normal,’ ” he said.

Hanlon responded the next day, issuing a statement on the college’s website saying Bray’s comments “do not represent the views of Dartmouth.”

“As an institution, we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas,” Hanlon said. “Dartmouth embraces free speech and open inquiry in all matters, and all on our campus enjoy the freedom to speak, write, listen and debate in pursuit of better learning and understanding; however, the endorsement of violence in any form is contrary to Dartmouth values.”

But Bray and fellow faculty members contend Hanlon took his comments out of context and played into right-wing criticism. Instead of advocating for violent protest, Bray said, he instead advocates for “community self defense.”

“I come at this historically. I look at what happened and what went right and what went wrong in the ’20s, and ’30s, and ’40s,” Bray said on Vermont Public Radio last week. “As a Jewish descendent of some people who were murdered in the Holocaust, it’s vitally important for me to get the history straight and understand the fact that many Europeans and people around the world did not take fascism and Nazism seriously enough from the beginning.

“And so to me, the importance of being able to organize for self defense if necessary as a last resort has to be on the table when we think of how to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists.”

Bray said in an interview on Monday that he appreciates the faculty letter, and professors’ concern that Hanlon did not contact him before issuing the statement.

“It really raises important questions about academic freedom,” Bray said.

Any center for higher education should have a process for addressing faculty concerns, Bray said, but it also has to live up to the principle that a diversity of views are needed in the classroom.

“To me, it points to the need to have more democracy in colleges,” he said, adding the faculty has to be involved and promote its rights to research “unorthodox and unusual perspectives.”

Orleck, a professor of history at Dartmouth who helped organize the letter, said she cannot remember the college issuing a “similar disavowal” of faculty in the past.

“I just thought that we needed to make a statement about scholar’s rights to research what they choose,” she said on Monday.

Orleck said she worries the letter could have a chilling effect on the faculty, especially as professors across the country come under fire for speech. At Dartmouth, she said, some are still recovering from Bruce Duthu turning down his appointment as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences earlier this year.

Duthu, a Native American studies professor, came under fire for his participation in a letter advocating for boycotts of Israeli academics.

“I would have expected Dartmouth to stand behind the work of Bray and others who go out there and engage in the serious problems facing our world, and those who use their expertise to make informed commentary about what’s happening all around us,” Orleck said.

“Dartmouth normally claims that’s what they want us faculty to do,” she said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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