As I reported the other day, the author and political scientist Charles Murray was attacked at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he was invited to speak by the school’s American Enterprise Institute Club. Not only did the students shout him down, so that the talk had to be moved to a sequestered room and livestreamed (even then the students pulled fire alarms to cause further disruption), but then they mobbed him and his host as they left the venue, injuring the neck of the woman who was accompanying him.
As the Boston Globe and Inside Higher Ed report, it was indeed students who protested, though some “outside agitators” could have been part of the group that mobbed Murray. The 44-minute video below (the College president gives an introduction emphasizing civility and free speech) shows how exercised the students were; Inside Higher Ed reported this:
As soon as Murray took the stage, students stood up, turned their backs to him and started various chants that were loud enough and in unison such that he could not talk over them. Chants included:
- “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away.”
- “Your message is hatred. We cannot tolerate it.”
- “Charles Murray, go away. Middlebury says no way.”
- “Who is the enemy? White supremacy.”
- “Hey hey, ho ho. Charles Murray has got to go.”
The scene was recorded and posted to YouTube. Murray appears around minute 19.
This behavior is reprehensible, and I wonder how many of these students read anything Murray ever wrote before they went wild. I suspect not very many.
I haven’t read The Bell Curve, so I’ll make no pronouncement about Murray’s topic, but I doubt that Murray was even going to talk about that old book. Regardless, I don’t have to know what he said to vehemently defend his right to speak without disruption (or physical attack!) since he was invited. IHE adds this:
Murray has said that critiques of The Bell Curve are incorrect. He issued a letter defending the book last year — at a time when some wanted Virginia Tech to call off an appearance there (it did not).
Via email Friday morning, Murray declined to comment on what took place at Middlebury, but he posted several comments on Twitter, including this one.
The good news is that the students are showing some contrition, and Middlebury’s administration has issued a strong statement in support of free speech. The Globe reports this:
Many on campus, including the college president and leaders of the student organization who invited him, disagree vehemently with Murray’s views on social welfare programs and race, but on Saturday they said the campus failed in its duty to exemplify how to debate unpopular ideas with civility.
Donald Trump’s presidency formed the backdrop for the protest, students said. The election has made people on campus dig their heels in ideologically, said Sabina Haque, a junior from Westford, Mass. They’re less willing to accept conflicting viewpoints, she said.
But you can’t blame this on Trump. Yes, he’s a narcissistic bully and a godawful President, but the students should be conducting themselves honorably, and in accordance with the First Amendment, which undergirds much of the social progress made in America. It is true, though, that Trump’s election is making many Americans not just rightfully upset and prone to activism, but actually unhinged (see HuffPo for an example). That leads to demonstrations, like those at Berkeley and Middlebury, that are counterproductive, further damaging the credibility of the Left.
Kudos for Middlebury, though, for issuing this statement:
In a statement Friday morning, Middlebury said, “We’re deeply disappointed that Charles Murray was not permitted to give his talk in the way it was intended. A large group of students took it upon themselves to disrupt the event, which forced us to move Mr. Murray and Professor Allison Stanger, the moderator of the Q&A, to another location. Thanks to some advance planning, we were able to livestream Mr. Murray’s talk and his conversation with Professor Stanger. We will make a recording of that available as soon as possible so the members of our community who came to the event wanting to hear Mr. Murray will be able to do so.”
The college is investigating the incident, and I think any students involved in the mobbing of Murray should be expelled or suspended. The rest of the College should be given some lectures on freedom of speech.
UPDATE: A group of students have responded, blaming, of course, the College, Murray himself, and the security personnel. They show no contrition, and refused, like the cowards they are, to give their names. You can read their pathetic defense here; an excerpt is below:
The administration’s support of a platform for white nationalist speech was an intense act of aggression towards the most marginalized members of the Middlebury community. Though President Laurie Patton stated her disagreement with many of Murray’s views, by sharing a stage with him and designating his non-peer reviewed work as academically valuable, she effectively legitimized him. Furthermore, 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.
Note that the “peaceful” protest included disrupting Murray’s talk and pulling the fire alarm several times during his subsequent livestreamed presentation.
UPDATE 2: Murray’s account of the scrum is here, and differs from the student account. Even for a man used to protest, Murray was surprised:
Absent an adequate disciplinary response, I fear that the Middlebury episode could become an inflection point. In the twenty-three years since The Bell Curve was published, I have had considerable experience with campus protests. 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. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.