ON-Lion Letter

Many are concerned that the violent protest of Professor Charles Murray at Middlebury College last week is further indication of the growing weaponization of political correctness meant to suppress ideas, and the freedom to share them publicly.

After a near riot, and a physical attack on another scholar, consider Professor Charles Murray’s first-hand account of the state of free speech on one college campus.

A few months ago, AEI’s student group at Middlebury College invited me to speak on the themes in Coming Apart and how they relate to the recent presidential election. Professor Allison Stanger of the Political Science Department agreed to serve as moderator of the Q&A and to ask the first three questions herself…

…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.

Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses. 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. That cannot be allowed to stand. A campus where a majority of students are fearful to speak openly because they know a minority will jump on them is no longer an intellectually free campus in any meaningful sense.

Read the rest here.   

Author, editor and social commentator Roger Kimball also shares his thoughts.

…John Stuart Mill once noted that if you know only your own side of an argument, you don’t even know that. It is only through the pressure of alternatives that we come to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of our own position. That hoary liberal idea is obviously completely passé at elite institutions like Middlebury. There what is wanted is the party line and nothing else. Apparently, it has been that way for a while. One news report revealed that some 450 Middlebury alumni were “disappointed, confused and alarmed” to learn Murray had been invited to Middlebury….

…Is there a more distinguished social scientist active in America than Charles Murray? I cannot think of one. The usual epithet applied to Murray is the weasel word “controversial.” A more useful (and more accurate) term would be “distinguished.” His long list of books includes such classics as Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality, and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. Together these strikingly original works have reshaped and improved the way we think about a host of social problems, from welfare policy and education to the prerequisites of human flourishing in affluent but increasingly divided societies like our own.

Charles Murray is a winner of the Bradley Prize, and American Enterprise Institute is a grant recipient of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Roger Kimball is the editor of The New Criterion, and the Publisher of Encounter Books, both grant recipients of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.



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