Charles Murray has been a lightning rod for leftist attacks ever since he wrote the book showing that the supposedly helpful welfare state policies were actually doing great damage to upward mobility for the poor—Losing Ground, published in 1984.
Since then, the mild-mannered American Enterprise Institute scholar has written many other books that question leftist shibboleths, especially The Bell Curve, co-authored with the late Richard Herrnstein. He is in great demand as a speaker.
But when he’s invited to speak at a college campus, there is usually trouble.
Back in April 2014, he was scheduled to talk at Azusa Pacific University, but at the last minute his talk was canceled by the administration, citing vague concerns about “preparation” for the event. (The details and some sharp commentary by FIRE attorney Samantha Harris is available here.)
History has almost repeated itself this spring. Murray accepted an invitation to speak at Virginia Tech about his latest book Coming Apart, which addresses the dissolution of the social and economic bonds that used to hold America together. The prospect of having Murray on campus so alarmed the president of the school, Tim Sands, that he felt the need to pen an open letter to the university community. Instead of disinviting Murray, Sands did something that was arguably worse — denouncing him in inflammatory language.
Referring to The Bell Curve, Sands blared, “Dr. Murray is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity – a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”
That as much as writes the protest signs for students who are looking for an excuse to disrupt Murray’s talk, which wasn’t going to be about any issues raised in his earlier book. But once you get on the enemies list of “liberal” academics, you are persona non grata forever, apparently. By denouncing Murray, Sands may have polished his credentials as a Progressive in Good Standing, but he did not act at all the way an educational leader should act, which would have been to encourage students to listen, learn, then form their opinions and arguments.
To his credit, Murray has written an open letter of his own to the Virginia Tech community. In the letter, he demonstrates that Sands, like so many others, has a poor understanding of his work, writing “President Sands is unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve…or with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.”
Murray proceeds to show that his work was not about race and has not been discredited. “President Sands’s casual accusation that our work has been ‘largely discredited’ was especially exasperating. The president of a distinguished university should take more care.”
Quite so. Unfortunately, taking intellectual care these days is often forgotten in the haste among academics to score cheap ideological points. It is simply venal for a university president to toss around inflammatory rhetoric about “fascism, racism and eugenics” when they’re not only inappropriate, but are likely to foment turmoil on campus.
The decline of civil discourse on our campuses is yet another way America is coming apart.