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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  • rosemariejackowski

    The First Amendment is under attack in Vermont. In Bennington there are ‘no-free-speech’ zones on Main Street. The tax supported public library bans certain political and religious books.
    Support free speech. Allow ALL voices to be heard. Do not be afraid of ideas just because you don’t agree with them.

  • Ken McPherson

    Please, Middlebury faculty, if you are not competent to explain the fallacies in Murray’s arguments, step aside. AEI is a major, right of center, think tank with strong government connections. Progressives must learn to counter AEI’s positions on many issues using real facts. Murray’s work is an excellent opportunity to explain the difference between a “significant” difference and a large difference. My urban studies class asked me to deal with Murray’s findings in the early 1970s. I had my white students line up on the classroom stage, with the tallest student in the middle. I had my black students line up in front of them, again by size with the tallest in the middle. I asked them to equate height with IQ. I then asked the black students to take one step to the left. This is the intelligence difference that Murray found – more or less. I then asked the class to explain what difference it made.. Incredibly revealing. My folk learned the difference between significant and large in statistical analysis. Suddenly my folk understood a critical part of statistical analysis – significant doesn’t mean large. It’s extremely painful to learn that Middlebury faculty doesn’t understand the basic concept.

    To be clear, I believe that Murray’s findings are not policy-defining. I just wish that Middlebury faculty could explain he issue to their very intelligent students.

  • SnoCamo

    Lets hope the 600 people that signed the letter is made public. It would be useful to potential employers when making hiring decisions.

  • Skyler Bailey

    And the first African-American to graduate college (in 1823) was an alumnus of which academic institution so “deeply entrenched” with “white supremacy?”

  • Steve Baker

    Hey here’s a suggestion for those students and faculty feeling marginalized by this author, stay in your dorm and study.

  • Don Dalton

    Censorship is everywhere. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid our views will be proved false? Do we prefer to hide behind ad hominem and consensus arguments? If Murray, or anyone else, is wrong, then say so, give your reasons in a public forum: convince with reason and facts. Our universities should be showing us the way, not taking us backwards.

  • JohnGreenberg

    Please post the letter. Thanks.

  • J Scott Cameron

    The Academy is supposed to be a place for the free flow of competing ideas. If you decide to boycott the presentation because you disagree with the speaker that is your right. If you choose to peacefully protest the presentation because you disagree with the speaker that is your right. If you act ins such a way as to prevent others from attending the presentation because you disagree with the speaker you are infringing on their rights to freely hear and consider his opinions and ideas, and acting like a fascist.

    • James Rude

      “The Academy is supposed to be a place for the free flow of competing ideas.” I would agree, but apparently not any more.

  • Bradleigh Stockwell

    It’s one thing to say there should be open discussion, no censorship, that there’s no harm in hearing things you disagree with, the First Amendment blah blah blah. Fine, but what about inviting a speaker who, for instance, says women are intellectually inferior beings and have no place in a world which requires the ability to think? Has anyone here even READ what this man has said on the subject? Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you are encouraged to yell “Fire!” in a movie theater – or tell daughters and mothers they have no business considering a career in science or mathematics when the odds are against them because, you know, they’re female. Does the First Amendment mean I should be encouraged to tell Middlebury that women should stick to baby makin’ because thinking is man’s work? If you agree with that, then Charles Murray is your kind of lecturer – and you can have him.

    • Don Dalton

      The college environment should be where there’s an exchange of ideas and a consideration of different viewpoints, to encourage citizens to look at both sides of any issue and to look as objectively as possible at evidence, even if that evidence conflicts with what they assume to be true. It should also be an environment where those who agree, or disagree, with Murray are allowed to speak their minds.

      Just because Murray is allowed to speak doesn’t mean that Murray is going to convince anyone, especially since, from the sounds of it, so many are so against his views. When we start censoring the expression of ideas– a far cry from yelling “fire” in a theater– then this is a slippery slope toward control by propaganda that can’t be questioned. I would argue that we as a society are in greater danger if Middlebury refuses to let Murray speak than we are if they allow him to speak.

  • Robert Roper

    I have not read the Bell Curve (Coming Apart was an excellent read), but am now curious. Here’s some clips from Wikipedia…

    The Bell Curve argues that:

    Intelligence exists and is accurately measurable across racial, language, and national boundaries.

    Intelligence is one of the most important factors, if not the single most important factor correlated to economic, social, and overall success in the United States; and its importance is increasing.

    Intelligence is largely (40% to 80%) heritable.

    No one has so far been able to manipulate IQ to a significant degree through changes in environmental factors—except for child adoption—and in the light of these failures, future successful manipulations are unlikely….

    A better public understanding of the nature of intelligence and its social correlates is necessary to guide future policy decisions.

    … the authors stated that they “fear that a new kind of conservatism is becoming the dominant ideology of the affluent – not in the social tradition of an Edmund Burke or in the economic tradition of an Adam Smith but … doing whatever is necessary to preserve the mansions on the hills from the menace of the slums below.”[1]… They also predict increasing totalitarianism: “It is difficult to imagine the United States preserving its heritage of individualism, equal rights before the law, free people running their own lives, once it is accepted that a significant part of the population must be made permanent wards of the states.”

    Murray and his partner wrote this what? Thirty years ago? It appears they had some prescience. Why wouldn’t intelligent people want to listen to this man, even if you disagree with him? Anyway, looks like I’ve got my Spring Break reading settled!

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