We had Charles Murray on campus a week ago with predictable results. People marched, protested, tried to drown him out. I was opposed to his visit because I think Murray is an intellectual flake (different from a snowflake) and a racist and sexist to boot and I was concerned about the sponsorship of the speech. It was fuzzy at first and it seemed like a poor use of University funds to me and I wanted to be sure that students knew that we in political science were not involved (since Murray is a political scientist and a colleague of ours had sponsored him.) Had we been involved, Murray would not have had an open platform to speak — he would have been on a panel with other social scientists prepared to critique his work. And believe me, from a social science perspective, there is plenty to critique.
Of course, those weren’t Murray’s terms and it turns out that his employer, the American Enterprise Institute, seems to have paid for the talk as best as I can discover (although I am sure it was not cost free to us in terms of police protection and security) so I guess he got to call the shots. I am still confused by our role there.
My primary concern was that the talk be held in a way that made it clear to students that we did not endorse his views. We live in a time when some pretty ugly ideas have been crawling out of the darkness and getting normalized. If Murray was going to speak, I wanted it to be a teachable moment. AEI dictating the terms did not seem like a likely way to make that happen.
But in general, I am all for free speech and the notion that college campuses are thought to be liberal havens of political correctness (and the fact that sometimes they actually are) drives me nuts. I am with John Stuart Mill — suppress speech you think is wrong and your ability to defend your truth gets rusty. As a child of the sixties, we were all about arguing and we had a lot to argue about. It was an exhilarating time and we are darn good defenders of our truths.
So Murray spoke and of course, there were protesters outside and they made a lot of noise and Murray had a hard time speaking over it. That is free speech too, of course. There is nothing easy about sorting out the good guys and the bad guys in these situations, though there has been plenty of finger pointing going around.
This Washington Post article makes some excellent points about why we should get over our liberal university snow flakiness and listen to the speakers we despise. That, after all, is our job. I am not sure how or why Murray got invited to speak here, but once invited, he needed to be allowed to speak.
But so did we all.