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Controversial Author Charles Murray Flees Middlebury Campus during Violent Protest

Accepted submission by AthanasiusKircher at 2017-03-06 17:32:01

Charles Murray, controversial author of The Bell Curve [] which promoted links between intelligence and race, was shouted down by protesters at Middlebury College last Thursday. PBS reports []:

Murray had been invited by Middlebury’s student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank at which Murray is a scholar. [...] Prior to the point when Murray was introduced, several Middlebury officials reminded students that they were allowed to protest but not to disrupt the talk. The students ignored those reminders and faced no visible consequences for doing so. [...]

After the students chanted for about 20 minutes, college officials announced that the lecture would not take place but that Murray would go to another location, which the college didn’t name, and have a discussion with a Middlebury faculty member — livestreamed back to the original lecture site.

According to Middlebury officials, after Murray and the professor who interviewed him for the livestream attempted to leave the location in a car, some protesters surrounded the car, jumped on it, pounded on it and tried to prevent the car from leaving campus.

Other sources [] note that political science professor Allison Stanger, who agreed to moderate the discussion, was attacked while accompanying Murray to the car, with protesters pushing her and pulling her hair, ultimately requiring treatment at a hospital for neck injuries.

Murray himself later gave an account of his experience [] on the AEI blog. He emphasized that Middlebury's administration and staff displayed in exemplary ways in encouraging free speech:

Middlebury’s stance has been exemplary. The administration agreed to host the event. President Patton did not cancel it even after a major protest became inevitable. She appeared at the event, further signaling Middlebury’s commitment to academic freedom. The administration arranged an ingenious Plan B that enabled me to present my ideas and discuss them with Professor Stanger even though the crowd had prevented me from speaking in the lecture hall. I wish that every college in the country had the backbone and determination that Middlebury exhibited.

But Murray notes that the outcome was very different from his previous controversial appearances:

Until last Thursday, all of the ones involving me have been as carefully scripted as kabuki: The college administration meets with the organizers of the protest and ground rules are agreed upon. The protesters have so many minutes to do such and such. It is agreed that after the allotted time, they will leave or desist. These negotiated agreements have always worked. At least a couple of dozen times, I have been able to give my lecture to an attentive (or at least quiet) audience despite an organized protest.

Middlebury tried to negotiate such an agreement with the protesters, but, for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. [...] In the mid-1990s, I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, “Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.” That kind of pushback had an effect. It reminded the protesters that they were a minority. I am assured by people at Middlebury that their protesters are a minority as well. But they are a minority that has intimidated the majority. The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed.

The form of the protest has been widely condemned even by those who vehemently disagree with Murray, as in the piece by Peter Beinart [] in The Atlantic that claims "something has gone badly wrong on the campus left." He argues strongly that "Liberals must defend the right of conservative students to invite speakers of their choice, even if they find their views abhorrent."

Meanwhile, student protesters have responded with their own account [], disclaiming the hair-pulling incident as unintentional and "irresponsible" but condemning the Middlebury administration for their "support of a platform for white nationalist speech." They further claimed "peaceful protest was met with escalating levels of violence by the administration and Public Safety, who continually asserted their support of a dangerous racist over the well-being of students."

Personal note: My take on all of this is that the actual subject of Murray's Middlebury talk has been lost in the media coverage, namely his 2012 book Coming Apart [], which (ironically) is a detailed discussion of the problems created by a division of the intellectual elite from the white working class. He explicitly dilutes his previous connections of social problems with a black underclass by noting that many of the same issues plague poor white communities. While his argument is still based on problematic assertions about intelligence and IQ [], the topic of his book seems very relevant given recent political events and issues of class division. There's some sort of profound irony in a bunch of students at an elite school refusing to allow a debate on the causes and results of division between elite intellectuals and the (white) working class. I personally may think Murray's scholarship is shoddy and his use of statistics frequently misleading (or downright wrong), but I don't see how that justifies the kind of threats and intimidation tactics shown at this protest.

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