Among our favorite Harley Vermont back road rides has been traveling north on Rt. 30 from the Dorset Inn, where we have stayed countless times through the years (going back to when Sissy Hicks was the chef/owner), to the unparalleled setting of Middlebury, Vermont. Riding over the crest of the hill, the first impressive building greeting travelers to the village is the college’s field house on the right, as surprising in its design as is the juxtaposition from farmland to the idyllic campus setting. Charles Murray, the libertarian conservative political scientist and author, was asked to speak at Middlebury College this past weekend. Here’s what happened.
From Middlebury College President Cotton:
As many of you are aware by now, a large group of student protestors 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.
Charles Murray is the author of “The Bell Curve,” in which he argues, among other things, the biological differences in intelligence between various racial groups, (although apparently not the topic of his speech at Middlebury). In a piece written for the NYT, Katharine Q. Seelye reports on the event:
… several masked protesters, who were believed to be outside agitators, began pushing and shoving Mr. Murray and Ms. Stanger (professor of international politics and economics), Mr. Burger said. “Someone grabbed Allison’s hair and twisted her neck,” he said.
After the two got into a car, Mr. Burger said, protesters pounded on it, rocked it back and forth, and jumped onto the hood. Ms. Stanger later went to a hospital, where she was put in a neck brace.
The Washington Post weighs in:
He might have been right or he might have been wrong in that book, or in whatever else he was going to speak about; I don’t know enough about those questions to speak confidently about that. But the point of universities, of public debate more broadly, and especially of debate about science is to discuss whether these sorts of scientific assertions are right and wrong, not to assume that one view is right and then shout down or physically attack those who disagree with it.
Indeed, if arguments about racial differences in intelligence are factually mistaken, the only way we laypeople can know that they are mistaken is if we know that the arguments have been considered — indeed, are constantly being considered, as new evidence constantly arises — and have been found inaccurate. That’s how science works: An assertion only deserves to be believed as truth (to be precise, tentative, likely truth) if we know that it can always be challenged, and has so far withstood those challenges.