Two weeks have passed since a student mob shouted down visiting lecturer Charles Murray at Middlebury College, injured a professor, and jumped up and down on Murray’s car. But college President Laurie Patton still hasn’t acted to deal with any of the perpetrators. The action necessary was laid out clearly and forcefully by Rod Dreher in the American Conservative: “Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. “
The normal and disappointing college procedure in cases like this is to wait several weeks, issue a vague statement on free speech and a mild and nonspecific penalty that lets the issue slide. The announcement is customarily issued quietly around 5 p.m. Friday of a long holiday weekend. We note that Good Friday and Easter are coming up.
Possible Criminal Charges
In fact, before Murray rose and tried to speak, Bob Burger, a college VP and head of PR for Middlebury, did announce penalties—including suspension–for shouting down a speaker, but video shows he did so in an amused way, as noted by Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, writing in the Federalist. Burger omitted one point from Middlebury’s rules that would soon seem applicable: “Disruption may also result in arrest and criminal charges such as disorderly conduct or trespass.”
By the time Murray arrived on campus, Middlebury was in an explosive state. Disdain rose to hatred. Much of that atmosphere was the work of 450 Middlebury alumni who asked that the speaker be disallowed, and some 70 professors who protested the lecture and called Murray a “discredited ideologue paid by the American Enterprise Institute to promote public policies targeting people of color, women and the poor.”
This was an unusually tawdry account of Murray’s long career, including his 2012 book on the collapse of much white American culture, Coming Apart, which might have explained the rise of Donald Trump to Middlebury students had they read some of the book or listened to Murray’s speech instead of shutting it down.
“Both groups cued the anger of undergrads, few of whom had read Murray or even heard of The Bell Curve. Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury, under pressure to endorse free speech while identifying with the crowd’s anti-Murray emotions, accomplished both goals in much the same way that Lee Bollinger did when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007. Bollinger introduced the leader and excoriated him for “exhibit[ing] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”
Patton said of Murray in her introduction:” I would regret it terribly if my presence here today, which is an expression of support I give to all students who are genuinely seeking to engage in a very tough public sphere, is read to be something which it is not: an endorsement of Mr. Murray’s research and writings. I will state here that I profoundly disagree with many of Mr. Murray’s views.” Though Patton had put out an advance statement on free expression, Peter Wood pointed out that her 6-minute introduction of Murray contained no clear mention of the need for free speech.
As Wood observed, Patton positioned herself almost identically to how Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at UC Berkeley had positioned himself before the Milo Yiannopoulos event and riot, emphasizing his extreme dislike of the speaker’s views and his temperate allegiance to free speech.
The anger and hatred by alumni and some faculty may have affected students who apparently knew little or nothing about Murray, beyond the awareness that liberals in good standing are expected to detest him. Many of the protesters dismissed the speaker as “anti-gay,” perhaps because it fit the rhyme scheme of a popular left-wing chant, though Murray has not written anything anti-gay and has come out for same-sex marriage.
What ‘The Bell Curve’ Said
Peter Wood offered this brief account of the argument in “The Bell Curve”:
*The book has very little to say about race. But it argues that a considerable portion of intelligence—40 to 80 percent—is heritable; and it also argues that intelligence tests are generally reliable. Those ideas irritate people who have a deep investment in three beliefs: extreme human plasticity; the social origins of inequality; and the possibility of engineering our institutions to create complete social justice.
*Murray’s 1994 argument that intelligence is mostly fixed at birth runs afoul of the hope or the belief that children who have significant intellectual deficits can overcome them with the right kinds of teaching.
*Murray’s argument can be interpreted to mean that social and economic inequality are rooted mostly in biological inheritance—though Murray never says this, and to the contrary has often argued for social changes that have nothing to do with biological inheritance.
*Murray is broadly on the side of pragmatic steps to ameliorate social ills and is skeptical of utopian proposals.
*Murray has written many books since “The Bell Curve,” but for many on the left, it is still 1994, and they still have not read the original book, let alone Murray’s more recent work, including his 2012 best-seller “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Any familiarity with that book—a sustained lament for “The Selective Collapse of American Community,” as he titles one chapter—would render it impossible to sustain the cartoon image of Murray as a racist bigot who wants to keep in place the inequities of American life. Murray has ably answered these kinds of attacks before, not that any of his opponents truly care about the accuracy of their accusations.
*It testifies to the shallowness of elite liberal arts education today—and not just Middlebury—that significant numbers of students and faculty members can repeat the old slurs against Murray. And not just repeat them, but intoxicate themselves with hatred towards a man whose ideas they know only third- or fourth-hand through individuals who have a strong ideological motive to distort them.
The welcome-and-disparage maneuver is not enough, President Patton. Uphold standards and deal with the perps.