My alma mater in the news (Middlebury) again. Not in a good way.
Updated: May 13
The last time Midd was in the news, it was for shutting down and physically assaulting a professor walking with invited speaker Charles Murray. (Link below to that fun escapade!)
This time Midd's administration has decided to pull someone's name off their chapel. Governor Mead, in 1914, donated the money to build the structure in return for having his name placed upon it.
The issue seems very simple enough. Mead was entitled to believe what he wished at the time, and Middlebury was free to turn down the donation if the college felt he's was an unworthy donor. Ergo Mead's estate and the college have a contract that the Midd administration is apparently violating.
If Middlebury doesn't want his name on the chapel, at the very least, they should return the donation (in current inflation-adjusted dollars) back to the Mead Estate.
What they should really do, is to, as explained below, put up a plaque explaining why Midd doesn't support the donor's draconian views on sterilization. Then this could be a teaching op, not an op for lawyers to throw grenades.
Am I becoming ashamed of my alma mater? Yup. They have become a sanctimonious progressive woke ...blah blah blah.
BTW, a number of year ago I read Murray's latest book Coming Apart (link below). It's not offensive or racist. To the contrary, it's a fascinating fact-based great read. Sadly none of the protestors or over 50 Midd professors that objected to Murray speaking at the college (they signed a petition) had ever read a single word of Murray. Yes, they were polled on that by the college newspaper. Guess I'm better educated...haha.
Middlebury College Sued After Removing Benefactor’s Name From Chapel
Estate of Gov. John Mead, who had supported sterilizing ‘degenerates,’ cites cancel culture in saying the school breached a contract
By Douglas Belkin, WSJ
Updated May 12, 2023 4:32 pm ET
Middlebury College said that having former Gov. John Mead’s name on a prominent campus building ‘is not consistent with what Middlebury stands for in the 21st century.’
A former Vermont governor’s estate is suing Middlebury College for removing his family name from the campus chapel he paid for because he advocated for the sterilization of “degenerates and defectives” a century ago.
A 79-page complaint filed in Vermont Superior Court alleges the school breached its contract with the estate of Gov. John Mead in 2021 when it removed the Mead name, which was a precondition of the money gifted to the school to build the chapel. The building sits atop the highest hill on the centuries-old campus.
James Douglas, a spokesman for the estate of former Gov. John Mead, said the dispute is rooted in the college’s embrace of presentism—the act of judging historical figures by current standards. Mr. Douglas also blames cancel culture, saying it tells students which conclusions to draw instead of how to draw their own conclusions.
“Middlebury has a cultural problem that runs contrary to the very purpose of an institution of higher learning,” said Mr. Douglas, who served four terms as a Republican governor of Vermont until 2011.
In a motion to dismiss the case, Middlebury’s lawyers dispute that the gift was predicated on the chapel being named after the Mead family. The college has a duty to grow with the times, and that includes whom it chooses to honor, the school’s lawyers said in court documents.
“The name of former Governor Mead on an iconic building in the center of campus is not consistent with what Middlebury stands for in the 21st century,” the school wrote on its website.
The private, liberal arts school located in central Vermont has about 2,800 undergraduates and an endowment of $1.5 billion. The total cost of attendance per student is $87,000 a year.
A school spokesman declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.
Last year, descendants of benefactors of at least two other schools made similar complaints.
In California, the descendants of S.C. Hastings sued the state of California for $1.7 billion for changing the name of the UC Hastings College of the Law after the school determined Mr. Hastings was involved in the slaying of hundreds of Native Americans in California in the 19th century.
Mr. Hastings, a past chief justice in the California Supreme Court and state attorney general, gave $100,000 to start the school in 1878.
In Virginia, a descendant of T.C. Williams, for whom the University of Richmond law school was named, demanded the school pay his family $3 billion after the school dropped his name because Mr. Williams owned slaves.
Robert Smith, the great-great-grandson of Mr. Williams, condemned the school for ignoring all the good his ancestors did and for oversimplifying the complexity of history. He is asking for the money back because “if the family name is not good enough for the school, the money should not be either,” he said.
The lawsuits are prompting caution among institutions seeking benefactors, said Terri Helge, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law who specializes in nonprofit law. Some institutions have begun restricting naming rights to a finite period instead of extending them in perpetuity. Others are adding provisions that would allow institutions to rename buildings if facts emerge which “are problematic in terms of reputational harm.”
Born in 1841, Dr. Mead worked his way through Middlebury College, pausing his education in 1860 to join the Union Army. He fought in the battle of Gettysburg, according to the lawsuit filed by his estate.
After graduating from Middlebury, he attended medical school and worked as a doctor in Vermont for more than a decade before leading a manufacturing company. In 1910 he was elected governor of Vermont.
Around that time, lawmakers around the country were debating how to limit the impact on society of criminals and people considered undesirable. Gov. Mead advocated for sterilization as well as a prohibition of marriage licenses. Many other leading politicians, industrialists and intellectuals of that era believed in eugenics, the idea that people should influence reproduction to create a population with desirable traits. That also included sterilizing some people to prevent them from passing on undesirable traits.
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Following his $75,000 donation to the school, Gov. Mead requested that Middlebury name the building the Mead Memorial Chapel in honor of his family, according to the lawsuit. His family included some of the first European settlers in Vermont.
The building has since become central to the school’s landscape and branding.
Nearly two decades after Gov. Mead’s donation, state lawmakers passed a law that targeted various groups, including disabled, poor and indigenous people, leading to the sterilization of about 250 people in Vermont. By that point, more than two dozen states had passed similar legislation.
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Under pressure from a student racial-justice organization, the University of Vermont in 2018 removed the name of a former university president from a library on campus because of his support of the eugenics movement in the state.
In 2021, the Vermont state legislature formally apologized to the victims of state-sanctioned sterilization. Middlebury’s president then set up a committee to look into Gov. Mead’s role. The school removed the Mead name from the chapel that fall, concluding that he played a “central role in advancing eugenics policies that resulted in harm to hundreds of Vermonters,” according to the school.
“Eugenics is a subject that should strike us at our core, requiring that we confront our values, our history, and some difficult choices around legacy and accountability,” the school’s board and president wrote.
Gov. Mead’s descendants asked Mr. Douglas, who teaches a course at Middlebury and is concerned with what he calls the college’s climate of intolerance, to represent their family’s interest.
“There are other, better ways to address this,” Mr. Douglas said of the reassessment of Gov. Mead’s stance on sterilization. “Place a plaque or an explanatory kiosk near the chapel that talks about the less favorable aspects of the governor’s legacy. Provide more information rather than less. I don’t think we learn from our past by erasing it.”
Write to Douglas Belkin at Doug.Belkin@wsj.com