Former VT governor sues college over ‘cancel culture’

Jim Douglas says Middlebury College decision to remove Mead name from chapel based on ‘grossly distorted claim

By Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First

MIDDLEBURY — Dr. John Abner Mead, a former Vermont governor, to mark his 50th class reunion from Middlebury College, donated $75,000 in 1914 to build the iconic Mead Memorial Chapel in the middle of campus to honor his ancestors.

James H. Douglas, a former four-term Vermont governor, filed a breach of contract lawsuit on Friday, March 24 against Middlebury College for its “cancel culture” conduct by removing the name of Mead Memorial Chapel from the historic structure.

Douglas filed the lawsuit in Vermont Superior Court in his court-appointed capacity as the special administrator for the Mead estate in Rutland County. The Middlebury College president and its board of fellows, also better known as the college trustees, were named as defendants.

The college quietly removed Mead’s name from the marble building on the morning of Sept. 27, 2021, for what it said was his role “in promoting eugenics policies in the state that led to the involuntary sterilization of an estimated 250,” the lawsuit stated.

Douglas said unfortunately that was a “grossly distorted claim of the type that has become all too common in the current ‘cancel culture’ society in which we live.”

It was “the type of claim that one would not expect from an internationally-renowned liberal arts college,” Douglas said in his 79-page lawsuit.

He noted Middlebury College officials, in trying to justify their actions, got the history of the building and its name wrong.

The building was never named for Mead, a Rutland physician and industrialist, former Vermont governor and Middlebury College trustee, Douglas said. It was for his ancestors.

“Ironically, Middlebury College, while erroneously recounting the history of the Mead Memorial Chapel, claiming it was dedicated to John Abner Mead instead of by him in honor of his family ancestors, has obliterated any memory of the monumental selfless acts and altruistic contributions he made to his nation, state, county, town, church” and his college,” the lawsuit noted.

“The vile accusation conflates historical events that occurred two decades apart declaring Mead responsible for legislation enacted 19 years after his farewell address and more than a decade after his death,” Douglas stated in court papers.

The lawsuit states Middlebury College has unfortunately and erroneously branded Mead “a eugenicist and proclaims that he is responsible for the tragic sterilization of Vermonters and Native peoples.”

The Mead estate seeks to have the college restore the proper name to the library. If the college refuses, the lawsuit seeks to have compensatory and punitive compensation provided to the Mead estate based on the financial benefit the college has received for more than 100 years from the conditional gift.

Douglas, in an interview, said he also was troubled by the lack of full public discussion about possibly removing the Mead name. He noted Middlebury College debated publicly for a decade on whether to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Douglas maintains Middlebury College, through the years, received significant benefit — financial or otherwise — from the construction of the historic chapel, which was fully funded by Mead. It would be unjust for Middlebury to retain ownership without providing commensurate compensation for the broken contract, Douglas said. The lawsuit said the building, which cost $73,373, is worth more than $2.2 million in present value.

Douglas said the college has indicated the Mead money also helped spark others to make donations to the college through the years.

The name change

Attempts to reach Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton, who has served since 2015, for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

Patton recommended the name change to a subcommittee of the full board of trustees during summer 2021. The Prudential Committee voted unanimously to adopt Patton’s recommendation, the college said at the time.

Patton and George C. Lee, the chair of the trustees in 2021, issued a statement to the community explaining their actions the day the sign was taken down.

“We want to stress up front that this was a process involving deep reflection and discussion. No issue like this should be undertaken lightly or often,” it said in part, while retelling its understanding of the gift and Mead.

Middlebury officials waited until about a week after students and faculty were back from summer break to deliver the news on Sept. 27, 2021.

“We are communicating this news to you now that we are back on campus so we can allow these questions the community conversation they deserve, which was not possible over the summer months. While the history of eugenics in Vermont, and Mead’s instigating role, are well documented, they have not been widely discussed or acknowledged,” the message stated.

Mead, in offering to construct the chapel, wrote in his letter to the college that his great-great-grandfather, James Mead, was Rutland’s first settler “who brought the first … Holy Bible into this unbroken wilderness.”

He added his great-great grandmother, Mercy Holmes Mead “gathered the pioneers of the immediate area for the first Christian service in the Otter Creek Valley and shared fellowship with the local Native American Peoples,” the letter stated.

The original typed letter from Mead to then-college president John Martin Thomas, who served from 1908-21, is included in the lawsuit. The lawsuit includes the acceptance letters from the individual trustees remarking how thrilled they were to accept the gift.

A formal resolution was approved June 22, 1914, thanking Dr. and Mrs. Mead and their family. It was initially a $60,000 gift but increased to cover the construction costs. Mead was involved in the construction during the next two years, meeting with architects, approving project designs, controlling the budget and providing credit and payment for all labor and materials, the lawsuit stated.

He added a $5,000 pipe organ, $1,559 for pews and $7,000 for chimes. All 11 bells were inscribed with Mead’s name, the lawsuit said.

Douglas said the Middlebury president and trustees accepted Mead’s conditional offer for the building with the explicit understanding and intention Mead Memorial Chapel was “to honor and memorialize the Mead Family ancestors, pioneers who exemplified the strength of the Vermont character and religious faith that the Mead Memorial Chapel was designed to symbolize.”

The lawsuit said the removal of the name did a disservice to the Mead family, which had three Civil War veterans fight to free African Americans and preserve the Union. One died and one was wounded twice, it said. Mead was picked as the graduation speaker for his graduation and spoke about “The Moral Effects of the War” based on the horrors he saw while fighting at Gettysburg.

Mead controversy

Mead, during his 1912 farewell address as Vermont governor, did offer support for a proposal to restrict the issuance of marriage licenses and to appoint a commission to study the use of a new operation called a vasectomy, which was a safer and more humane process of sterilization, the lawsuit noted.

“The claim that Mead’s 1912 comments caused sterilizations to happen two or three decades later is factually baseless and legally unjust,” Douglas said. No legislation was approved after the speech until 1931, long after he died.

The bulk of the Vermont discussion occurred from 1931 to 1941, the lawsuit said. It noted Helen Keller, the founder of Planned Parenthood, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Henrik Ibsen, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes supported the movement.

Vermont’s native son and president, Calvin Coolidge, observed, “Education is to teach men not what to think, but how to think,” the lawsuit noted. “That requires hearing different ideas and acknowledging them in context. It means learning from history, not erasing it.”

Douglas said it took time to file the lawsuit because it was important to have just facts presented to the court. He said there was considerable history to research and review about Mead and the gift. The lawsuit has 272 pages of exhibits.

The lead attorney in the case, L. Brooke Dingledine, of the law firm of Valsangiacomo, Detora & McQuesten in Barre, provides in the lawsuit a historic look at Mead, his family, the college and the current trampling by people interested in erasing history by a process now known as “cancel culture.”

Cancel culture has swept across the country and has included the destruction or removal of historic statues, buildings and names, according to Dingledine. She notes Yale Professor Anthony Kronman in his book, “The Assault on American Excellence,” urged against erasing history and instead try to “contextualize” it.

Douglas said in the interview that society is now seeing a rewrite of history and having names of historic figures, including Abraham Lincoln, removed from buildings.

He said Middlebury College has had a series of cancel culture incidents in recent years, including when an angry mob of protesters shouted down Political Scientist Charles Murray when he was invited to speak on campus in 2017. A Middlebury professor was injured by the mob, and she was taken to the hospital for her injuries, officials said.

Douglas said colleges, like Middlebury, are one place where all sides of an issue or current event are supposed to be examined and discussed — not just presenting one point of view for students to accept.

“The ‘culture cancellation’ and the colleges complete erasure of Governor Mead’s good deeds and life-long contributions contradict the very purpose of the College. A higher education institution exists for the pursuit of truth and knowledge, not the erasure of history,” the lawsuit said.

Iconic chapel

The structure, made from Vermont white marble, was built on the highest point on campus, and is the most dominant building. It is an iconic feature of Middlebury’s landscape and is used by the college in its marketing and branding, including trying to attract donors and students to attend. The college makes extensive use of photographs of the chapel from all four seasons for promotional pieces on brochures and Facebook postings. The college also has vintage postcards of the chapel.

Mead Memorial Chapel has been the site of student performances, guest lecturers, religious services, weddings, baptism, funerals and annual events, including Convocation and Baccalaureate, the lawsuit noted. It has hosted Academy Award winners, Nobel laureates and “pillars of art, business and science for discussions, readings and panels,” the lawsuit said.

“More importantly, Middlebury College has violated the sacred trust that Dr. Mead placed in the Trustees of his beloved alma mater, breaking their promises made and depriving him and his family of the benefit of his bargain, the quid pro quo, and/or the conditions of his gift; that Mead would erect a chapel that would be known forever as the ‘Mead Memorial Chapel.’”

Mead’s history

Mead, a Fair Haven native, was at Middlebury College when he interrupted his studies to enlist in the Union Army with the Vermont Regiment (1862-63) and participated in various battles, including Gettysburg. He returned to graduate in 1864, taught high school briefly, and received a master’s degree at Middlebury in 1867. He began his medical studies at UVM and eventually earned a medical degree at Columbia University in 1868.

Mead practiced medicine in Rutland from 1870 to 1888 and also served as Vermont Surgeon General. He was offered the post as chair of the medical department at the University of Vermont. He was elected to the Vermont Senate, later served as Rutland City’s first mayor and was then elected to the House.

He became lieutenant governor (1908-10) and then governor (1910-12). Mead returned to Rutland to become a bank president and later president of Howe Scale and was a director of the Rutland Railroad. He served on the board of trustees of Middlebury, UVM and Norwich University and received honorary degrees from each.

Mead, a Vermont delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1912, was seriously considered for the vice-presidential nomination for President William Taft, the lawsuit notes. It includes a picture of campaign memorabilia from the possible VP run.

Mead died at age 78 at his Rutland home in 1920. He is buried nearby in a family plot in Evergreen Cemetery.

Douglas’ ties

Douglas, a 1972 Middlebury graduate, is one of its most prominent alums for the liberal arts college, which had more than a $1.5 billion endowment in 2021, the lawsuit stated. The Springfield, Massachusetts, native served as a Vermont legislator representing Middlebury for three terms fresh out of college and became House majority leader. He became an aide to former Republican governor Richard Snelling, and served 12 years as Vermont secretary of state, and eight years as Vermont state treasurer. Douglas was elected Vermont governor, as a Republican, from 2003 to 2011.

When Douglas ended his final term as governor in January 2011, Middlebury College named Douglas as its “Executive in Residence” — a post he has retained. He instructs academic classes and does independent studies with Middlebury students. Asked whether he expected Middlebury to retain him on the payroll, Douglas said he is scheduled to teach again in the fall.

Categories: Education

18 replies »

  1. If the moonbat leadership at Middlebury really has a problem with the founding of the chapel and want to be consistent with the statue removals, then simply renaming it wont do. It should be dismantled, brick by brick and instead a wind turbine painted in rainbow colors be located on that highest point on campus. Mister, we could use a man like Jim Douglas back in a high position of power today. Thank you, Gentleman Jim…freedom-minded Vermonters really miss you.

    • A “rainbow” wind turbine certainly sounds apt for the site… But I suspect Middlebury zoning would disallow it, not to mention Act 250, NEPA and a dozen other regulatory agencies and laws…
      As to the Good Governor, he faced many of the same unresolved problems Phil Scott currently does- stemming from a super-majority legislature, including his veto override of the state budget in 2009. For perspective, Vermont’s lustful legislature is debating a FY 2024 budget almost twice the FY 2010 budget.

  2. In 2018, UVM trustees also removed the name of Guy Bailey from Bailey Howe Library due to ties to the eugenics movement in the 1920s and 1930s.

  3. Completely ridiculous but what would you expect from any college in this day and time.

  4. Given their substantial endowment, Middlebury might just be willing to pay the Mead Foundation the current value of the chapel. Will that satisfy the complaint? I hope not.

    This case should go full throttle against the ‘cancel culture’ and not be settled only with $. It seems that Jim Douglas and the Mead Foundation lawyers have done their homework! Let’s hope that Middlebury loses this case very publicly.

  5. It is truly amazing how simplistic these others children are and remain.

    Their culture is derived from the internet while never looking beyond their self and more than willing to pass their flawed judgement of

    Enough is enough and the press back needed to have stared some time back.

    Take away the children’s toys and don’t feed the monster any more. This cultural revolution is not too much different than China under Mao in the 1960s. With any luck it will be self consumptive. Unfortunately, the current climate in VT will allow the frenzy to continue for some time.

    Their parents never told them no ,- now is the time for the other adults in the room to use the no word. This could be u settling.

  6. Thank you so much Mr. Douglas for setting this right! For too long these liberal colleges have made a mockery of Vermont and it’s native people they have come here for an education and have completely ruined what once was a beautiful state. I think it’s about time all this cancel culture crap was stopped because when the state goes bankrupt the advocates will leave it to the rest of us to clean up, idiots that they are!

  7. How do you suppose that the people pushing reparation for eugenics in the SOV stand on sterilization of children with “gender dysphoria” ? Thank you Governor Douglas !

  8. Thank you, Mr. Douglas, for bringing up this suit. It seem students not just in Middlebury but in colleges around the country are giving a one sided view for all students to accept. Cancel Culture is doing more harm than good. I know that if I don’t like something, I either deal with it or see if it can’t be worked out. If it can’t be worked out, I move on. Kids these days need to understand that not everything is going to go there way.

  9. There is backlash to Middlebury College’s actions. Employers can not tolerate brainwashed, woke ideology and parents are increasingly opposed to professional futures being compromised. I sure wont be hiring any of their graduates.

  10. Thank you so much Guv for standing up against these monstrous people and their agendas to destroy our state in every way. Maybe it will help other people do the same. We are being destroyed day by day, and the upcoming generations will never know what a wonderful state we once had. I am speaking as a 5th generation So. Hero Vermonter and mother of your gemini twin!!

  11. $75,000 in 1914, equal to $2.2 million in 2023. Maybe Middlebury College wants to just give $2.2 million back to the Mead family. Last I remember eugenics took place in the 1930’s at UVM, targeting Abenaki native Americans. (I think Middlebury should get their facts straight) Margaret Sanger (of Planned Parenthood) was very interested in eugenics too because she wanted to eliminate Blacks. {Sound racist, that is the origin and spirit behind Planned Parenthood}

  12. Thank you Governor Douglass. I read the entire law suit and was impressed with your breadth of research and the outlining of cogent thought regarding the matter. It seems that the history deniers and the eugenics haters have a battle ahead of them. Facts matter.

  13. These cancel cultural edicts instituted by these Progressive Marxists are your modern day book burnings practices by National Socialists in the 20th century. These so-called educational bureaucrats serve as their own politburo and act without impunity. Time for citizens to call out these red book carrying Marxists for who they really are. Starting with the Middlebury President who, apparently, doesn’t return phone calls (shocking!).

  14. If the eugenicist bears the last name Rockefeller, Rothschild, Gates, Fauci, or follow the satanic ramblings of Yuval Noah Harari, it’s perfectly fine. If the money is disguised in a trust fund, LLC, or blessed by a three-letter agency or NGO, it is perfectly fine as well. Perhaps the difference is cancel the dead eugenist, but the living ones can continue their business. The academics will gleefully take their money and carry out their genocidal culling plans, no questions asked. Trust the science!

  15. There is an excellent article by Gerry Baker in the WSJ last Tuesday regarding this issue. He nicely points out the solution to this madness lies with employers, not such much with voters. Employers are realizing that there are a lot of potential employees out there.

    Those that wish to succeed and prosper need to stop hiring the “wokies”. Already this is beginning to be the reaction to the toddlers at Stanford Law School. Judges are saying that they will not hire Stanford graduates, period. One the corps wake up that employing this crowd is dangerous to their success, they will quietly tell such applicants to look elsewhere for employment.