Hanlon Responds To Faculty Rebuke

  • Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, September 01, 2017

Hanover — Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon this week addressed criticism that the school unfairly distanced itself from comments made by a visiting scholar who studies the anti-fascism movement.

The statement he issued last week was necessary to clarify that Mark Bray doesn’t speak for the Dartmouth community, Hanlon and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Elizabeth Smith said in an email to faculty on Wednesday.

After Bray’s Aug. 20 appearance on Meet the Press, the college “experienced a tremendous surge of phone, email and social media” inquiries from Dartmouth alumni and others “without a clear connection to Dartmouth,” Hanlon and Smith wrote. Many of those people believed Bray was supporting violent protest and also speaking for Dartmouth, they said.

Besides clarifying that Bray did not speak for the college as a whole, Hanlon and Smith said on Wednesday that the earlier Hanlon statement was intended to affirm “Dartmouth’s commitment to academic freedom, including Mark Bray’s right to pursue and disseminate his research,” and to articulate Dartmouth’s position of “opposing violence and intimidation and supporting free expression.”

Bray, who studies human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe, was criticized by several conservative websites for comments some contended promoted violence against white supremacists.

Bray was on the NBC show promoting his new book on the history of anti-fascism, Antifa: the Anti-Fascist Handbook. He did several interviews with national outlets in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“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 host Chuck Todd during his appearance.

He then compared modern neo-Nazis with the fascists that rose to power in Europe during the ’20s and ’30s, saying people need to take fascism seriously before it becomes more legitimate in society.

“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.

Bray’s appearance was followed the next day by a statement on the college’s website in which Hanlon condemned “anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas,”

That in turn was criticized by more than 100 active faculty members, who rebutted Hanlon in a letter last week. They accused the college president of playing into the narrative of critical right-wing media while also posing a threat to the academic freedom of Dartmouth’s professors.

Both Bray and fellow faculty members said Hanlon took the lecturer’s comments out of context.

Bray said last week he advocates for “community self-defense” rather than violent protest.

Hanlon and Smith this week also condemned violent threats made against Bray, and said the school will continue to allow him to use its studios to conduct media interviews.

However, Bray and faculty said on Thursday that Hanlon and Smith’s emailed letter does little to ease their worries.

“I’m concerned that the Dartmouth president based his comments on email, phone calls and social media without checking in with me or my department to contextualize or get the full sense of what my arguments are based on in my historical research,” Bray, a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth, said on Thursday afternoon. “To me, that seems unprofessional.”

Bray said neither he nor any other professor makes attempts to speak for Dartmouth, and so it makes little sense why Hanlon would feel the need to make that clear.

“Considering the threats that I’ve received and the damage to my professional reputation his initial statement caused, I find this response to be unsatisfactory,” Bray said.

At least three faculty members on Thursday also issued a rebuttal, saying Hanlon and Smith’s response “effectively chills research and public engagement.”

“Making academic policy in response to outside pressure undermines the core mission of colleges and universities and emboldens those with a stake in quashing original research,” history professors Pamela Voekel, Annelise Orleck and Bethany Moreton said in a statement on Thursday. The three authored the initial letter criticizing Hanlon that was signed by roughly 120 faculty members last week.

“Dartmouth and other institutions of higher learning must redouble efforts to establish governance procedures that prevent unilateral administrative action against faculty in response to external pressure,” they said in Thursday’s statement. “We look forward to that task.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.