Faculty, students protest Middlebury’s plans for author talk

Charles Murray

Charles Murray, co-author of “The Bell Curve,” is set to speak Thursday at Middlebury College. Photo courtesy of American Enterprise Institute

More than 600 Middlebury College students and faculty have signed a letter to President Laurie Patton condemning the invitation of Charles Murray to speak at the college and the president’s decision to give introductory remarks.

Alumni are also expressing their opposition, and students are planning a rally just before the Thursday talk.

The open letter signed by current students and faculty said the college should not provide the controversial political scientist and author a platform to perpetuate “racist, sexist, classist and ableist structures of power.”

Murray is the author of “Coming Apart,” a book about class divisions in the United States. He is also the co-author of “The Bell Curve,” a controversial work that discussed intelligence and race. He was invited to the college by a student organization — the American Enterprise Institute Club — and his talk is co-sponsored by the college’s Department of Political Science.

Murray is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

In a separate letter to Patton, a group of alumni said Murray’s presence on campus “is not an educational opportunity, but a threat.”

“It is a message to every woman, every person of color, every first-generation student, every working-class person, every disabled person, and every queer person that not only their acceptance to and presence at Middlebury, but also their safety, their agency, their humanity, and even their very right to exist are all up for ‘debate,'” the alumni letter said.

The alumni letter was signed as of Wednesday by more than 150 people, mostly recent graduates.

College spokesperson Bill Burger said Wednesday that Patton did not have a comment on the letters but said she would address the questions raised in her opening remarks at the Murray talk.

Despite moving the event to a larger venue, so many students and faculty are expected that the general public is not invited to attend, according to Stephen Diehl, the college’s news director.

Already, some members of the faculty had raised concerns about the planned talk and criticized the Political Science Department for co-sponsoring the event.

In the letter signed by students and faculty, they said the event and Patton’s decision to give opening remarks “gives validity to an already powerful and threatening voice.”

“White supremacy has historically been entrenched in academia (deeply so in Vermont); racial pseudoscience and eugenics have been legitimized by false scholarship in the past. We believe in learning from those lessons. Therefore, we will not tolerate such ideas on this campus today,” the letter states. The letter was also critical of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

According to student Samantha Takahashi Lamont, a rally opposing the talk is planned at 3:30 p.m. in front of the site where Murray will speak on campus at the McCullough Student Center.

Murray has dismissed claims by the Southern Poverty Law Center that he is a “white nationalist.”

“Among the various accusations about me, the head-scratcher is how I can be a white nationalist. Isn’t marrying an Asian and having Asian-American children considered a no-no? (I was married for 13 years to a Thai-Chinese woman),” Murray told VTDigger.org.

Murray spoke at the college in 2007 without incident or controversy. He has a daughter who graduated from Middlebury.

The letter by the current students and faculty rejects the premise that Murray’s talk will spark an educational discussion.

“We know that the American Enterprise Institute has framed this speaker as a chance to practice rhetorical resilience. We believe that this event being posed as a manifestation of rhetorical resilience is deeply flawed. This current representation allows for white supremacist ideology to be accepted on campus because it is couched in academic language. It fails to recognize that statements like Murray’s are personally and politically violent toward people of marginalized identities, who bear the brunt of this ‘resilience,’” the letter said.

Mark Johnson

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