Poll of Professors: Charles Murray’s Protested Speech at Middlebury was Middle of the Road

Two researchers asked left-leaning Americans and college professors how offensive Murray's speech was.

By Rachel Alexander Published on April 27, 2017

So what was so offensive about Charles Murray’s speech? Last month, the conservative scholar tried to give a talk at Middlebury College in Vermont. Over 400 students and faculty members shouted him down. They chanted, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!”

Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve suggested that differences in IQ tests between blacks and whites were mostly genetic and so couldn’t be changed by social policies.

Later, after Murray and faculty member Alison Stanger had livestreamed the debate from somewhere else on campus, they were attacked as they went to their car. Masked protesters twisted the moderator’s neck, giving her a concussion and sending her to the hospital. The irony? Political scientist Alison Stanger does not even share Murray’s views. She just wanted an open discussion.

So what was so controversial about his speech? It couldn’t have been his recent book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. That made only a few people mad. The New York Times included it on its list of 100 Notable Books of 2012. Not that book, then.

So what were the students protesting? What did they think justified violently shutting down the talk?

What Was There to Protest?

Maybe it was just Murray’s reputation. He’s a libertarian who supports gay marriage and wants to help the poor escape poverty, but he’s become a leftist bogey-man. The criticism started in 1984 in reaction to his book Losing Ground, a book arguing that welfare policies kept people poor.

He really upset liberals with his 1994 book The Bell Curve. Written with Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein, the book examined intelligence, social class and race. The authors suggested that differences in IQ tests between groups (such as between blacks and whites) were due in part to heredity, and so couldn’t be changed by social policies.

Whatever the reason, leftists hate Charles Murray. The Southern Poverty Law Center aligns him with white supremacism, a view he has condemned over and over. The Bell Curve, it says, is “based on the work of explicitly racist scientists.” He favors “social apartheid” and the “custodial state” to protect the white elites from the black “underclass.”

He’s not only a racist, the group says, he’s a sexist. He “holds poor women and women of color in more contempt than he does elite white women; however, in Murray’s mind, even elite women are substantially inferior to men.”

Is Murray Really a Bad Guy?

The protesters reacted to the mere fact that Murray was speaking. But what did he say when he finally got to speak? Is he really a dangerous right-wing racist, sexist, anti-gay? Were the liberal Middlebury professors who invited him wrong to think he’s a worthy voice to engage?

Two professors at Cornell University decided to investigate. Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci sent Murray’s speech to 70 college professors, who were likely mostly liberal. They also sent it to 200 Americans who lean slightly liberal. They did not identify the author. They asked the recipients to rate the speech from 1 to 9, with 1 being very liberal and 9 being very conservative.

The 200 regular Americans and 57 professors who responded scored it around a 5. The professors also sent the speech to a second group of professors who were told the speech was by Murray. Even they only gave it a 6.

Williams and Ceci concluded, “Mr. Murray’s speech was neither offensive nor even particularly conservative.” The leftist doesn’t care. Don’t confuse them with facts. Charles Murray must be stopped from speaking — even if what he wants to say isn’t even particularly conservative.

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