Protestors Denounce Professorship Honoring Former Chief Justice | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Protestors Denounce Professorship Honoring Former Chief Justice 

Local Matters

Published November 15, 2006 at 3:51 p.m.

MIDDLEBURY - "What's the reaction? People taking action!" "What's the solution? A campus revolution!"

Last Friday's demonstration outside Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz's office didn't quite constitute the campus revolution urged by 40 chanting students and half a dozen faculty members. But the protest against the establishment of a Justice William H. Rehnquist Professorship of American History and Culture did highlight the ongoing makeover of the elite college's student body.

"Middlebury has traditionally been a very civil place where people don't like to get on one another," Liebowitz observed after the outdoor rally had ended. In the past few years, however, students have become more outspoken, he noted, and despite being a prime target of this and several other recent protests, he says he's "delighted" by the change.

Liebowitz, the college's first Jewish president, attributes the surging activism partly to the growing diversity among those attending the 206-year-old institution. As recently as a few years ago, only 5 percent of students were members of American minority groups, Liebowitz pointed out. With the figure now at 32 percent, "different perspectives are being brought to the campus," he said.

Alexandra Garcia, a senior psychology major from Southern California, offered a dissenting perspective on the Rehnquist professorship. "Rehnquist supported school segregation. He was against women's rights and gay rights," she declared. "That's not consistent with the values contained in the college's mission statement." Garcia pumped her fists and stamped her feet as she led the protest's call-and-response.

Liebowitz announced on the occasion of a campus speech last month by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts that the college had received an anonymous donation to create a professorship honoring Roberts' predecessor. Rehnquist, who served on the nation's highest court for 33 years, was a strict conservative who died last year at age 80.

"When a man fights against desegregating schools, that isn't a conservative viewpoint - it's immoral," senior Louis Lobel shouted as he stood beside a bed sheet painted with the words "Rehnquist Does Not Represent Us." Lobel added, "When a man prohibits anyone of 'the Hebrew race' from buying his house, that's not conservative - it's immoral."

The first reference is to Rehnquist's 1952 defense of the separate-but-equal doctrine long used to justify racial inequality in U.S. public schooling. Lobel was also referring to Rehnquist's 1974 purchase of a summer home in Greensboro, Vermont, which had a deed prohibiting its sale or lease to "any member of the Hebrew race."

"Rehnquist voted against gay rights in every case that came before him," added professor Kevin Moss, chairman of Middlebury's Russian department. Moss said he had joined the protest because "as a member of the gay and lesbian community at the college, I felt that naming a professorship for Rehnquist was not a good signal for the college to be sending."

Middlebury trumpeted that move, Moss continued, "but whenever we do something for gay rights as an institution, it's done quietly. Nobody tells."

In addition to denouncing their school's formal association with Rehnquist, the demonstrators were calling for creation of a professorship in the name of some figure who, they said, would be more emblematic of Middlebury's stated commitment to diversity and critical analysis.

Noting that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., had been among those suggested as an apt honoree, Liebowitz said he would solicit donations for such a professorship. "One of our goals is to add posts to the faculty, so of course I'd be willing to do that," the president said.

Liebowitz also challenged the claim that naming a professorship for Rehnquist contradicts the college's values, saying, "I question whether on a campus of 250 faculty members and 2450 students it's possible to speak of a single set of values." While noting, "I myself don't share Mr. Rehnquist's politics," Liebowitz insisted that the late justice is worthy of the honor the school has conferred on him. The president cited Rehnquist's standing as a scholar of the U.S. Constitution as well as his importance in American culture and politics.

Others suggest that the donation establishing the professorship has a personal dimension. Tim Spears, dean of the college, is Rehnquist's son-in-law.

It's not clear what impact, if any, the name attached to the professorship will have on the college's academic life. Some faculty members see irony in the decision to appoint Middlebury history professor James Ralph as the first holder of a Rehnquist professorship. Ralph's research is focused on the civil-rights movement.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

About The Author

Kevin J. Kelley

Kevin J. Kelley

Kevin J. Kelley is a contributing writer for Seven Days, Vermont Business Magazine and the daily Nation of Kenya.


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Latest in Politics

  • How Vermonters Are Helping Ukrainians Fight for Democracy
  • How Vermonters Are Helping Ukrainians Fight for Democracy

    In the U.S., the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are filled with gatherings of friends and family, and shopping — for gifts, for food and drink. Many Ukrainians are doing these things, too. Only sometimes the stores or apartment buildings they're headed to are destroyed by Russian missiles. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, more than 6,500 Ukrainian civilians have died, according to a November 14 report from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights; another 15 million people have left the country. But there are still many citizens living in Ukraine and fighting to keep it free.(Paid Post)
    • Nov 30, 2022
  • Burlington Beauty Company Ogee Plans Expansion
  • Burlington Beauty Company Ogee Plans Expansion

    • Nov 22, 2022
  • More »

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation