Last week, the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council along with College Republicans hosted controversial libertarian social scientist and author Charles Murray in Palmer Commons on campus to give a speech on his new book, Coming Apart. Dr. Murray has consistently been seen as a controversial individual after his publishing of The Bell Curve, which delved into the relationship between I.Q. and class structure, garnering accusations of racism from many. Unsurprisingly, the event received harsh backlash on campus, including threats from several student organizations to shut down the event. This behavior has become commonplace for Murray, who has been shouted down on various campuses, and whose appearance even spurred violence at Middlebury College, leaving a professor in a neck brace.
Unfortunately, fierce protests of controversial speakers have become all too familiar on college campuses, as the rise of progressive leftism sweeps across college campuses. The same held true at U of M last Wednesday, as protesters gathered on the Diag hours before the event, making signs plastered with accusations of “racist” “sexist” and “eugenicist”, in an attempt to disparage Murray. One protester I spoke with labeled Murray a “racist pseudoscientist”, a bold claim considering Murray is a scholar and fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, a popular conservative think tank based in Washington, DC.
When pressed about whether this mentality conflicts with free speech, one protester claimed that although he doesn’t think Murray should be allowed to speak on campus, “it doesn’t conflict with free speech because we’re not the government”.
But herein lies the problem. These blatant lies from protesters only fan the flames of perverse leftism. Without protestors critically evaluating the validity of their claims, it confines them to an echo chamber in which any criticism of Dr. Murray is met with cheers, allowing intellectually baseless statements, such as one protester’s claim that there is “a picture of [Murray] holding a burning cross”, to receive praise in lieu of rigorous fact checking.
On my way into the event, I spoke with several protesters, and asked them if they felt Murray should be even allowed on campus. Their answer was virtually unanimous: a resounding no. When pressed about whether this mentality conflicts with free speech, one protester claimed that although he doesn’t think Murray should be allowed to speak on campus, “it doesn’t conflict with free speech because we’re not the government”.
It’s a sad reflection of American political discourse when shutting down another’s right to speak isn’t considered a disruption of free speech. Although unsuccessful in petitioning the university to end the event, protesters made certain that during the event, Mr. Murray was unable to effectively give any portion of his speech. Through the ringing of cell phone alarms, incessant yelling, and tampering with the lights in the auditorium, protesters ensured that because they didn’t want to hear Murray, no one else could.
Dr. Murray emphasized that “the reason why a university exists is so that you can have (…) logic and reason drive debate and discussion”.
The protesting heightened when a leader of a student group stood up, rushed toward the stage and proclaimed that “anyone that’s a Republican and in a suit is killing us! You, Mr. Murray are killing us!” In response, a student shot up in the back of the audience, countering the protestor by stating that “I have a right to listen… in the United States I have a right to listen!”. This heated exchange is representative of how polarized our political discourse has become. When I spoke with the counter protester after the lecture, he explained that “when I saw that people’s first instinct was to infringe on my right to listen to an intellectual in a public setting, I felt I had to say something”. I think the exasperation experienced by the counter protester reflects what many on both sides of the aisle feel about the rise of radical leftism, where it appears that everybody who diverges from any of its basic tenets is automatically slandered as “racist”, “sexist” or “classist”.
Dr. Murray echoed this viewpoint when I had the opportunity to speak with him after his lecture. Dr. Murray emphasized that “the reason why a university exists is so that you can have (…) logic and reason drive debate and discussion”. Evidently, the mass protests Dr. Murray experiences every time he speaks at a university have fueled his belief that these productive discussions are not allowed to take place. Furthermore, regarding universities, Dr. Murray explained that “when you shout people down (…) you are betraying the very reason that this place exists”. In response to accusations of emboldening white supremacists, Dr. Murray emphatically condemned white supremacy and assured that he has consistently done so throughout his long career, explicitly stating that “white supremacy is evil” and has no place in America or any country. Moreover, Murray stated that it is harmful and counterproductive to judge anyone based on broad based group characteristics and that we must espouse individualism if we strive to rid society of racism.
Dr. Murray’s visit to our campus has once again followed the same pattern of intense leftist opposition, subsequent protests, and yet another unproductive conversation between the right and the left. If we wish to quell this division, we must heed Dr. Murray’s advice, to judge the merits of people solely by their individual qualities rather than in vague aggregate measures such as race, gender, class or I.Q. Furthermore, we must hold those accountable for chilling conservative ideas on campus, and challenge the notion that controversy warrants shutting down an event. We all must uphold the ideals of free expression and free speech in high regard, and not allow conversation to be dominated by those willing to stifle the spread of competing ideas and philosophies.