Murray is of course known for having co-written “The Bell Curve,” which argued, among other things, that there are biological differences in intelligence between various racial groups (though that was apparently not the topic of his speech at Middlebury). 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.
Once it turns out that arguments such as the ones in “The Bell Curve” can’t even be made without fear of suppression or even violent attack, then we lose any real basis for rejecting those arguments. Enshrining a scientific assertion as unchallengeable orthodoxy makes it less credible, not more credible.
Let me close with the statement from the Middlebury College president:
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.We will be responding in the very near future to the clear violations of Middlebury College policy that occurred inside and outside Wilson Hall.Today our community begins the process of addressing the deep and troubling divisions that were on display last night. I am grateful to those who share this goal and have offered to help. We must find a path to establishing a climate of open discourse as a core Middlebury value, while also recognizing critical matters of race, inclusion, class, sexual and gender identity, and the other factors that too often divide us. That work will take time, and I will have more to say about that in the days ahead.Last night we failed to live up to our core values. But I remain hopeful. Last evening, several students, faculty, and staff representing a large spectrum of political perspectives remained in Wilson Hall to discuss the events and to talk about building bridges. Their ability to reach across differences in a rigorous but respectful way was a stark contrast to the events that preceded it. I firmly believe these are the Middlebury values that we have lived so long and that we must strive to embody in the future.I extend my sincerest apologies to everyone who came in good faith to participate in a serious discussion, and particularly to Mr. Murray and Prof. Stanger for the way they were treated during the event and, especially, afterward.