VT college faces 'cancel culture' accusations for historic chapel’s name-change

Former Governor of Vermont Jim Douglas has taken legal action against Middlebury College for removing the surname of the original donor from the school’s famous chapel.

The lawsuit claims 'cancel culture' exists at Middlebury.

Former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas recently filed suit against Middlebury College in Vermont.

Douglas, acting in his role as special administrator of the estate of John Abner Mead, brought the case in response to the college changing the chapel’s name from the “Mead Memorial Chapel” to “Middlebury Chapel.” 

In a September 2021 statement, the school announced the name change, claiming that Mead played a “central role in advancing eugenics policies that resulted in harm to hundreds of Vermonters.”

The lawsuit, however, calls the allegation a mischaracterization, noting the prevalence of the study and promotion of eugenics at the time. 

It also charges Middlebury administrators with not taking into account the character and contributions of Mead, including his dedicated pursuit of education, service in the Union Army at Gettysburg and as Governor, and his significant medical, industrial, and philanthropic contributions to the Vermont community.

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The college administration gladly accepted Mead’s donation in 1914, understanding that a stipulation of that gift was to name the chapel “Mead Memorial Chapel,” the lawsuit also states.  

“The Chapel was not named for John Mead, nor was it built to honor or memorialize John Mead,” but was rather “in memory of the Mead family ancestors who embodied the values that were symbolized by the Chapel itself,” the lawsuit reads.

Douglas told Campus Reform, “[W]e regard the removal of his name as a clear breach of contract: he gave the Chapel to the College, specifying its name; Middlebury officials received it gratefully on that basis & then, without warning, more than a century later, reneged.”

“This language makes a grossly distorted claim of the type that has become all too common in the current ‘cancel culture’ in which we live. Such a claim is not what one would expect from an internationally renowned liberal arts college,” the lawsuit also states.

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This is not the first time Middlebury College has been accused of participating in cancel culture. 

protest took place on the campus in 2017 when students disrupted an event featuring author and scholar Charles Murray, whose book “The Bell Curve” the Southern Poverty Law Center deemed racist. 

In an article published by the American Enterprise Institute, Murray stood up to the accusations, stating that “in all the critiques of The Bell Curve in particular and my work more generally, no one ever accompanies their charges with direct quotes of what I’ve actually said. There’s a reason for that.”

As of April 28, Middlebury College has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit over the chapel’s name change, but the case remains active. 

Middlebury College media relations did not respond to a request for comment in time for the publication of this article.