Middlebury College cancels scheduled lecture by Polish philosopher/politician and planned protest, amid safety concerns

Ryszard Legutko, a conservative Polish philosopher and politician criticized for his homophobic stances, was scheduled to give a public lecture at Middlebury College on April 17, 2019. Fearing planned protests and safety issues, college administrators canceled the event hours before Legutko was scheduled to speak. 

Key Players

Ryszard Legutko is an academic and member of the Polish far-right Law and Justice Party. Currently heading the party’s delegation to the European Parliament, Legutko previously served as Poland’s education minister. His writings focus on classical philosophy and democracy. 

Middlebury College is a private liberal arts college in Vermont. The college has made headlines in recent years for free speech controversies, the most prominent being the 2017 student protests against invited speaker Charles Murray

Further Details

Legutko has long drawn criticism for his sociopolitical positions, particularly on homosexuality. In a 2011 press conference, Legutko said, “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,” according to The Guardian

In 2010, Legutko wrote that gay rights constituted “a tyranny of the minority which has taken over the main institutions and main ideologies in the western world. Now they have entered European institutions and dictate their rules.” 

On April 17, Legutko was scheduled to speak to a policy discussion group at Middlebury hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Forum. The event was titled “The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.” In response to Legutko’s invitation and information they obtained about his background, some students had planned a protest outside of the lecture, according to The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper.


Legutko speaks to a class, invited to return to Middlebury

Fearing safety issues, the Middlebury administration canceled the program. An email addressed to the student body from the provost and the dean of students said, “It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.”

Professor Keegan Callanan, director of the Alexander Hamilton Forum at Middlebury, invited Legutko to return to the college during the 2019-20 academic year. “I have proposed that he speak on totalitarian temptations in free societies. Hundreds of students now wish to hear him speak; their right to open inquiry must be vindicated,” Callanan said in a comment to The Campus.

Though Legutko’s public lecture was canceled, the philosopher still held a private talk with a political science class. The scheduled protest against him never materialized, after the college’s ban. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit organization focused on protecting the rights of students and faculty on campuses, criticized the decision to rescind Legutko’s invitation. FIRE claimed the cancellation “deprived a willing audience from hearing Legutko’s arguments” and “deprived student critics of Legutko from challenging those arguments, either through peaceful protest or pointed questions.”