199: The Trouble With College Kids

Chris Spangle, Creighton Harrington, and Greg Lenz discuss the problem with snowflakes. Sorry about the horrible audio.

Charles Murray at Middlebury College

 

  • Charles Murray: an American libertarian conservative political scientist, sociologist, author, and columnist. Currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC.

 

  • He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in history from Harvard.

 

  • Murray’s articles have appeared in Commentary magazine, The New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

 

 

  • He became well known for his book Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980 (1984), which discussed the American welfare system.

 

 

  • Losing Ground’s conclusion: Social welfare programs are doomed to effect a net harm on society, and actually hurt the very people those programs are trying to help. In the end, he concludes that all social welfare programs cannot be successful and should ultimately be eliminated altogether.

 

 

  • Murray’s Law:

 

 

  • The Law of Imperfect Selection: Any objective rule that defines eligibility for a social transfer program will irrationally exclude some persons.

 

  • The Law of Unintended Rewards: Any social transfer increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer.

 

  • The Law of Net Harm: The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.

 

  • He is best known for his controversial book The Bell Curve (1994), written with Richard Herrnstein, in which he argues that intelligence is a better predictor than parental socio-economic status or education level of many individual outcomes such as: income, job performance, pregnancy out of wedlock, and crime.

 

  • Much of the controversy stemmed from Chapters 13 and 14, where the authors write about the enduring differences in race and intelligence and discuss implications of that difference.

 

  • While the authors were reported throughout the popular press as arguing that these IQ differences are genetic, they write “The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved,” and “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences.”

 

 

  • History of Controversial Positions:

 

 

 

  • In 2000, Murray authored a policy study for AEI on the same subject matter as The Bell Curve in which he wrote: “Try to imagine a GOP presidential candidate saying in front of the cameras, “One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy.” You cannot imagine it because that kind of thing cannot be said.

    And yet this unimaginable statement merely implies that when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.”

 

 

  • In a paper published in 2005 titled “Where Are the Female Einsteins?”, Murray stated, among other things, that “no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions. In the sciences, the most abstract field is mathematics, where the number of great female mathematicians is approximately two (Emmy Noether definitely, Sonya Kovalevskaya maybe). In the other hard sciences, the contributions of great women have usually been empirical rather than theoretical, with leading cases in point being Henrietta Leavitt, Dorothy Hodgkin, Lise Meitner, Irene Joliot-Curie and Marie Curie herself.”

 

  • In 2014, a speech that Murray was scheduled to give at Azusa Pacific University was “postponed” due to Murray’s research on human group differences. Murray responded to the institution by pointing out that it was a disservice to the students and faculty to dismiss research because of its controversial nature rather than the evidence. Murray also urged the university to consider his works as they are and reach conclusions for themselves, rather than relying on sources that “specialize in libeling people.”

 

  • April 2007 issue of Commentary magazine: Murray wrote on the disproportionate representation of Jews in the ranks of outstanding achievers and says that one of the reasons is that they “have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested.” His article concludes with the assertion: “At this point, I take sanctuary in my remaining hypothesis, uniquely parsimonious and happily irrefutable. The Jews are God’s chosen people.”

 

  • July/August 2007 issue of The American: Murray says he has changed his mind about SAT tests and says they should be scrapped: “Perhaps the SAT had made an important independent contribution to predicting college performance in earlier years, but by the time research was conducted in the last half of the 1990s, the test had already been ruined by political correctness.”

 

 

  • In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State

 

 

  • This is the Plan, a radical new approach to social policy that defies any partisan label. Murray suggests eliminating all welfare transfer programs at the federal, state, and local levels and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone age twenty-one or older. In Our Hands describes the financial feasibility of the Plan and its effects on retirement, health care, poverty, marriage and family, work, neighborhoods and civil society.

 

 

  • Allegations of racism:

 

 

  • Evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves described The Bell Curve as an example of racist science, containing all the types of errors in the application of scientific method that have characterized the history of scientific racism:

 

 

  • Claims that are not supported by the data given

 

 

 

  • Errors in calculation that invariably support the hypothesis

  • No mention of data that contradict the hypothesis
  • No mention of theories and data that conflict with core assumptions
  • Bold policy recommendations that are consistent with those advocated by racists.

 

 

 

  • Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Murray as a white nationalist who peddles “racist pseudoscience.”

 

 

Sequence of Events

 

  • Murray had been invited by Middlebury’s student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank at which Murray is a scholar.

 

  • AEI Club student organizers had planned to have Murray speak for 45 minutes then field questions. That did not happen.

 

  • Murray had been invited to campus by the student American Enterprise Institute Club for a lecture/discussion on his 2014 book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” The book looks at the increasing fragmentation of American society by class (focusing on non-Latino whites) and hypothesizes a moral decline in the American working class. Murray’s ideas were brought up by a number of Republican candidates in the 2016 Presidential race.

 

  • The president of Middlebury, Laurie L. Patton, was set to introduce him, and a political science professor, Allison Stanger, would lead a Q. and A.

 

  • Hundreds of students and alumni signed letters calling Murray’s appearance at the college unacceptable and unethical, and over 55 faculty members requested that President Patton not introduce “a discredited ideologue.”

 

  • Controversy leading up to Murray’s scheduled lecture at 4:30 p.m. Thursday included a student-led protest outside the McCullough Student Center, joined by community members from the Middlebury Chapter of Indivisible, and a letter signed by 450 alumni protesting Murray’s presence on campus. As interest grew, the event was moved from Dana Auditorium to the larger Wilson Hall, which seats over 400. For the same reasons, the administration also decided not to admit the general public, except for the press.

 

  • He was greeted late Thursday afternoon outside McCullough Student Center by hundreds of protesters, and inside Wilson Hall, students turned their backs to him and booed when he got up to speak. He was booed as he approached the podium, and his introductory remarks were peppered with boos, heckling and raucous cheers for comments shouted from the audience.

 

 

  • Around the room students waved signs saying: “Scientific racism = racism,” “Respect existence or expect resistance,” “Resist white supremacy,” “AEI must go,” and “Free speech ≠ hate speech.” Many other signs also used profanity.

 

 

 

  • President Patton introduced Murray and said: “The very premise of free speech on this campus is that the speaker has a right to be heard”. This last comment was greeted with loud applause.

 

 

 

  • However, as Murray was then introduced and strode toward the podium he was booed loudly. Murray uttered fewer than 10 words before all but a handful of the hundreds of students in the hall stood up, turned their backs to him, held up their signs and began chanting a series of prepared remarks, including:

    “This is not respectful discourse or a debate about free speech. These are not ideas that can be fairly debated. It is not ‘representative’ of the other side to give a platform to such dangerous ideologies … We see this talk as hate speech … And you will never have the comfort of our silence again. What is most important must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. Death is the final silencing tool and so many voices and lives have already been taken in the name of eugenics and of white supremacy.”

 

 

 

  • The students then began chanting, in a call and response format: “Who is the enemy?” “White supremacy”; “Hey hey, ho ho, Charles Murray has got to go”; “Charles Murray go away, Racist, sexist, anti-gay”; “Your message is hatred, we will not tolerate it”; and “Charles Murray go away, Middlebury says no way.”

 

 

 

  • Protesters cycled repeatedly through these chants, roaring on for over 20 minutes. With hundreds shouting at the same time in unison, the sound was deafening. No other speaker could possibly be heard.

 

 

 

  • Finally an official returned to the podium and over catcalls of “shut it down,” more boos, and chants of “leave our school” announced a plan B for those who wished to hear the presentation. Stanger and Murray would move to another venue and the remainder of Murray’s remarks, along with Stanger’s questioning of him, would be live-streamed to a giant video screen in Wilson Hall and to personal electronic devices across campus.

 

 

 

  • Professor Stanger got up and was booed and shouted down as she tried to explain how her questioning of Murray would rigorously challenge his ideas. Finally as the boos and shouts grew louder, and as the tone of the protesters grew even uglier, she said: “I think I have the answer. You’re not going to let us speak. I think that’s a terrible shame.”

 

 

 

  • Most attendees then departed from the venue. Those few who remained to hear Stanger and Murray’s interchange, however, were again disappointed. As their discussion was streamed, protesters in the room again made it impossible to hear by tapping their feet, rattling chairs, and shouting obscenities such as, “F••• white supremacy” and “F••• eugenics.”

 

 

 

  • College officials led Murray to another location and a closed circuit broadcast showed him being interviews by Stanger, the Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics.

 

 

 

  • As Stanger, Murray and a college administrator left McCullough following the event, they were “physically and violently confronted by a group of protestors,” according to college spokesman Bill Burger. Burger said the protestors were masked.

 

 

 

  • Burger said college public safety officers managed to get Stanger and Murray into the administrator’s car:

 

 

  • “The protesters then violently set upon the car, rocking it, pounding on it, jumping on and trying to prevent it from leaving campus,” he said. “At one point a large traffic sign was thrown in front of the car. Public Safety officers were able, finally, to clear the way to allow the vehicle to leave campus. “During this confrontation outside McCullough, one of the demonstrators pulled Prof. Stanger’s hair and twisted her neck,” Burger continued. “She was attended to at Porter Hospital later and (on Friday) is wearing a neck brace.”

 

  • Middlebury College President Patton’s Statement the day after: “As many of you are aware by now, a large group of student protesters disrupted Charles Murray’s talk yesterday afternoon in Wilson Hall in McCullough Student Center. I am deeply disappointed by the events that I witnessed and it was painful for many people in our community to experience. I know that many students, faculty, and staff who were in attendance or waiting outside to participate were upset by the events, and the lost opportunity for those in our community who wanted to listen to and engage with Mr. Murray.

    With some effort, we were able to move Mr. Murray to another location where he and Prof. Allison Stanger, who was scheduled to moderate the Q&A following his talk, were able — though with challenges — to go ahead with the talk and a probing conversation afterward.

    Following the event, protests continued outside of McCullough as well. Unfortunately, one group of demonstrators aggressively confronted Mr. Murray and Prof. Allison Stanger as they left McCullough Student Center. That confrontation turned into a violent incident with a lot of pushing and shoving, and an attack on the car in which they were leaving campus. We believe that many of these protestors were outside agitators, but there are indications that Middlebury College students were involved as well.

    We will be responding in the very near future to the clear violations of Middlebury College policy that occurred inside and outside Wilson Hall.

    Today our community begins the process of addressing the deep and troubling divisions that were on display last night. I am grateful to those who share this goal and have offered to help. We must find a path to establishing a climate of open discourse as a core Middlebury value, while also recognizing critical matters of race, inclusion, class, sexual and gender identity, and the other factors that too often divide us. That work will take time, and I will have more to say about that in the days ahead.

    Last night we failed to live up to our core values. But I remain hopeful. Last evening, several students, faculty, and staff representing a large spectrum of political perspectives remained in Wilson Hall to discuss the events and to talk about building bridges. Their ability to reach across differences in a rigorous but respectful way was a stark contrast to the events that preceded it. I firmly believe these are the Middlebury values that we have lived so long and that we must strive to embody in the future.

    I extend my sincerest apologies to everyone who came in good faith to participate in a serious discussion, and particularly to Mr. Murray and Prof. Stanger for the way they were treated during the event and, especially, afterward.”

 

  • Murray’s Response: I stood at the podium. I didn’t make any attempt to speak—no point in it—but I did make eye contact with students. I remember one in particular, from whom I couldn’t look away for a long time. She reminded me of my daughter Anna (Middlebury ’07)  partly physically, but also in her sweet earnestness. She looked at me reproachfully and a little defiantly, her mouth moving in whatever the current chant was. I’m probably projecting, but I imagined her to be a student who wasn’t particularly political but had learned that this guy Murray was truly evil. So she found herself in the unfamiliar position of activist, not really enjoying it, but doing her civic duty.

    The others…. Wow. Some were just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants. But many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like.

    This went on for about twenty minutes. My mindset at that point was to wait them out if it took until midnight (which, I was later to realize, probably wouldn’t have been long enough). But finally Bill Burger came on stage and decided, correctly, that the people who had come to hear the lecture deserved a chance to do so. Professor Stanger and I were led out of the hall to the improvised studio.

    I started to give an abbreviated version of my standard Coming Apart lecture, speaking into the camera. Then there was the sound of shouting outside, followed by loud banging on the wall of the building. Professor Stanger and I were equipped with lavalier microphones, which are highly directional. The cameraman-cum-sound-technician indicated that we could continue to speak and the noise from outside would not drown us out. Then a fire alarm went off, which was harder to compete with. And so it went through the lecture and during my back and forth conversation with Professor Stanger—a conversation so interesting that minutes sometimes went by while I debated some point with her and completely forgot about the din. But the din never stopped.

    We finished around 6:45 and prepared to leave the building to attend a campus dinner with a dozen students and some faculty members. Allison, Bill, and I (by this point I saw both of them as dear friends and still do) were accompanied by two large and capable security guards. (As I write, I still don’t have their names. My gratitude to them is profound.) We walked out the door and into the middle of a mob. I have read that they numbered about twenty. It seemed like a lot more than that to me, maybe fifty or so, but I was not in a position to get a good count. I registered that several of them were wearing ski masks. That was disquieting.

 

I had expected that they would shout expletives at us but no more. So I was nonplussed when I realized that a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass. I instinctively thought, we’ll go around him. But that wasn’t possible. We’d just get blocked by the others who were joining him. So we walked straight into him, one of our security guys pushed him aside, and that’s the way it went from then on: Allison and Bill each holding one of my elbows, the three of us plowing ahead, the security guys clearing our way, and lots of pushing and shoving from all sides.

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

The three of us got to the car, with the security guards keeping protesters away while we closed and locked the doors. Then we found that the evening wasn’t over. So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that Bill had to inch forward lest he run over them. At the time, I wouldn’t have objected. Bill must have a longer time horizon than I do. Extricating ourselves took a few blocks and several minutes.

 

When we had done so and were finally satisfied that no cars were tailing us, we drove to the dinner venue. Allison and I went in and started chatting with the gathered students and faculty members. Suddenly Bill reappeared and said abruptly, “We’re leaving. Now.” The protesters had discovered where the dinner was being held and were on their way. So it was the three of us in the car again.

Long story short, we ended up at a lovely restaurant several miles out of Middlebury, where our dinner companions eventually rejoined us. I had many interesting conversations with students and faculty over the course of the pleasant evening that followed. In the silver-lining category, the original venue was on campus and would have provided us with all the iced tea we could drink. The lovely restaurant had a full bar.

 

A college’s faculty is the obvious resource for keeping the bubble translucent and the intellectual thugs from taking over. A faculty that is overwhelmingly on the side of free intellectual exchange, stipulating only that it be conducted with logic, evidence, and civility, can easily lead each new freshman class to understand that’s how academia operates. If faculty members routinely condemn intellectual thuggery, the majority of students who also oppose it will feel entitled to say “sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say” when protesters try to shut down intellectual exchange.

That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly?

 

I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.

 

A Defense of The Protesters

 

Written by: John Patrick Leary, assistant professor of English at Wayne State University.

 

How can we hold simultaneously to a view of free speech as the circulation of disagreement while denouncing communication whose tone is disagreeable? Why are freedom of speech and academic freedom so absolute for Charles Murray yet so conditional for Middlebury students — who surely have the academic freedom not to not be told they are genetically deficient at their own college? Finally, why are higher education institutions so regularly churned through this dull meat grinder of journalistic free-speech sanctimony?


One simple answer may be the alma mater nostalgia of middle-aged journalists and academics who graduated from such institutions and, like many elders in every generation, scorn the passions of the next. The bigger issue, though, has to do with how we think about education — or more to the point, how we fantasize about it. As Corey Robin has written, in American politics, educational institutions are often treated as laboratories for social transformations we are reluctant to pursue in society at large. “In the United States,” he writes, “we often try to solve political and economic questions through our schools rather than in society.”


College campuses, especially elite ones like Middlebury, are an interesting example of this thesis: they are treated both as laboratories for transforming society, and as leafy sanctuaries from it. Colleges are asked to model a fantasy version of society in which profound social cleavages — racial, partisan, economic — exist only as abstract issues that we can have a “conversation” about, rather than material conflicts that may need to be confronted. And most educational leaders and administrators, Robin writes, are basically conflict averse — they want to “want to change words, not worlds.” Isn’t politics really just the contest of the best ideas, they seem to ask, rather than a conflict of resources and power?

 

If presidential politics tells us anything, the answer is clearly no. But on campuses, this persistent fantasy — of social change in which no one raises their voice — is what critics often misidentify as academic freedom.


But what if black or Latino Middlebury students don’t want to have a conversation about their human dignity? What if they prefer to assert it? If they did so, they’d be participating in a long tradition of campus free-speech defense that many critics overlook. They’d only be doing what Mario Savio, leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, famously advised in 1964: putting their “bodies on the gears” of an apparatus they call unjust.


“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part,” Savio said. “And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

 

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