If you are unfamiliar with current events, let me bring you up to speed. On March 2, Charles Murray was to give a lecture at Middlebury College. A group of students and “outside agitators” prevented Murray from speaking at the arranged venue and attacked his car as he left, and injuring a professor who was accompanying Murray, Allison Stranger. Apparently the election of Donald Trump has upset the “veteran critics” as Osita Nwanevu refers to them, to the extent that they are unable to comment on incidents such as a mob preventing free speech at a university. President Trump was only elected five months ago, so I am sure we all understand the trauma that the liberal pundits have faced. The coronation of Ms. Clinton was destroyed by that fiendish Electoral College and, of course, the Russians hacking and conspiring with the Trump campaign, to hear them tell it, has permanently scarred the “veteran critics,” and delayed their ability to write about things like the Middlebury incident.
We certainly appreciate Osita Nwanevu stepping in and encouraging more campus mobs to stop published authors and recognized social scientists from speaking at colleges. You never can be too careful of what a social scientist might see in data, and if they draw any conclusion that you disagree with, then you have the right to stop them from publicly speaking. This forcing speakers with whom you disagree from speaking on college campuses sets a precedent that will not reflect well in the long run for the students involved, or at least, it shouldn’t.
The mob that disrupted Murray’s lecture claimed that Murray was a racist, and that his speaking at Middlebury would be counterproductive. Murray is a political scientist who has written books that some people claim are racist. I cannot and will not pass judgment on Murray’s books here, but I can say that he certainly uses scientific methods and considerable data to support his conclusions. Murray has, of late, arrived at the conclusion that people such as myself and my ethnic persuasion are coddled, lazy, and not interested in hard work. I have read most of The Bell Curve, the book that the Middlebury Mob claims is racist, and I saw facts, not racist conclusions, based on unreasonable hatred, but then, I was not looking for hatred when I read the book; I was interested in facts and research by a credentialed social scientist, and that was what I saw in The Bell Curve.
To quote Osita Nwanevu from the sixth paragraph on his article in Slate: “Those students have also warned that granting people like Charles Murray prominent platforms on our campuses in the spirit of open discourse may be counterproductive.” A warning from students, stating that “people like,” as in a group with a certain mentality, are “counterproductive.” The conclusion that “open discourse” is now counterproductive has, of course, been arrived at by college students, who apparently know what is best for colleges in terms of guest speakers. The students are right, (supposedly) and if they have to use force to quell counterproductive behavior, then so be it. Of course, people that support Murray probably don’t operate in mobs, and it appears that Murray didn’t have any “outside agitators” to forcibly insist that he be allowed to talk.
When last I heard, students didn’t decide who was allowed to give lectures at a university, or at least none of the universities I have attended asked me to approve of who gave lectures there. It is not as if Charles Murray is some whack job off the street; his credentials are too long to list, but suffice to say a Ph.D. from M.I.T. might qualify him to be worthy of a few minutes of a student’s time. If you object, don’t attend the lecture. Even better, an intellectual idea that I am sure I learned in college, would be to listen to the lecture and then, raise your hand, wait until you are called on, and state a logical, well-reasoned argument against whatever point Murray was making. I would suggest that the students’ inability to present a convincing argument is evidence that they do not have any convincing argument, only the ability to assemble a mob to force people into retreating from an arranged venue. This is not an admirable trait for people who are supposed to be college material, no matter how admirable Slate or Osita Nwanevu consider mobs forcing speakers from their venues to be.
If you object to Charles Murray, do the research, write a book and refute his conclusions. A message to the Middlebury Mob: The writings of Charles Murray are still in the libraries and the halls of academia, and his ideas and conclusions are still being discussed. In the meantime, your mob is now gone. The news reports concerning your opposition to Murray would look much better if you had engaged in a spirited debate, and your lack of willingness to do so reflects poorly on your academic abilities, not to mention your personal integrity. Charles Murray could have given a lecture to a nearly-empty hall, or one of your mob could have presented a convincing counterargument; the fact that you didn’t speaks volumes more than Charles Murray’s writings ever could.
Forcing the person you disagree with off the campus is not the solution, and Osita Nwanevu’s encouraging that behavior is so far off the charts of decency and decorum that publishing such encouragement is disgusting, unprofessional, and unethical journalism. Pardon me for accusing Slate of journalism, something that they only occasionally practice, mostly by accident. If Slate wishes to offer the opinions of Osita Nwanevu, more power to them, but they must realize that by doing so, they are advocating the use of force (in this case a mob, which are never very well-organized) to opposed ideas with which they disagree. I understand that Charles Murray is accused (accused, not convicted) of racism, but I would bet that less than 3% of the protesters had any of Murray’s books on their bookshelf. For the record, Charles Murray has said bad things about my demographic, and yet I still read things that he has written, even when he disparaged members of my ethnic persuasion.
These students, and the “outside agitators” (how they got there is anyone’s guess, and again, I would suspect that people not on staff or not enrolled in the university weren’t welcome to disrupt university sanctioned activities, but who knows) have taken it upon themselves to decide who can speak at the university. According to Osita Nwanevu, this is the correct (or is it politically correct?) course of action. If there was a mob of students and “outside agitators” who protested a speech by someone who spoke favorably of the agenda of the mob, would they then claim it was an acceptable practice? Mobs do not rule universities or the public domain.
While groups have the right to protest, the guarantee is in public places. Middlebury College is a private school, and as such, I am puzzled as to how “outside agitators” were given the green light to protest. Taken from the article “The Kids Are Right” from the Slate website, by Osita Nwanevu, where Nwanevu quotes a Middlebury College student: “For too long, a flawed notion of ‘free speech’ has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions, dehumanizing and subjugating people of color and gender minorities,” Middlebury student Elizabeth Siyuan told the New York Times on Tuesday. “While I defend Murray’s right to speak his mind, the fact that the college provided an elevated platform for him did more harm than good.” I am sorry, but a lecture at a small university in Vermont (2,526 students in 2014) is not like going on “Meet the Press” or a nationally-broadcast venue. Elizabeth Siyuan became the de-facto representative when she was quoted by the New York Times, and participating in a mob, forcing Murray to leave the venue and injuring a professor could hardly be construed as defending Murray’s right to speak. The "I will defend Murray's right" rings hollow in the light of the events that unfolded.
Let’s take a look at Elizabeth Siyuan’s statement. “For too long, a flawed notion of ‘free speech’ has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions,” I guess free speech has just been around too long, according to Elizabeth Siyuan. I would be interested in whatever option she might suggest to replace free speech, as it seems to have worked for some two-hundred years, but since free speech allows ideas that Elizabeth Siyuan finds disagreeable, it is time to end it. First, I don’t think so, and secondly, Elizabeth Siyuan is coming off as selfish, biased, and unfair, not to mention downright un-American. The idea that there is a “flawed notion of free speech” is frightening, and coming from a college student is deeply troubling. Free speech is the foundation of our democracy, but apparently not for much longer if people like at Elizabeth Siyuan and Osita Nwanevu get their way.
Next, we have “individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions,” as if Charles Murray was just another Aryan Nation whack job inventing questionable theories and speculating without reason. Like his ideas or not, Charles Murray has a lot of research and evidence to support his conclusions; he doesn’t just dream them up, nor am I familiar with Murray making outright racially discriminatory statements, although I only have one of his books, the most famous one, The Bell Curve. I can tell you that Murray called members of my ethnic group lazy and pampered. I didn’t agree with Murray’s scientific conclusions, but I haven’t protested any of his speeches, nor have I joined a mob and forced him to leave a lecture venue.
What has gotten out of hand is college students who are convinced that they are the bearers of truth and anyone who disagrees with their exclusive truth is a liar that has no right to be heard. Encouraging such behavior, as Osita Nwanevu is doing, is doubly irresponsible, and journalistically unethical. Unless Osita Nwanevu wishes to be identified as something other than a journalist, in which case, let Osita Nwanevu encourage mobs to force unwanted speakers from institutions at will and offer up unconstitutional solutions to students too young or too “indoctrinated” to comprehend that the free exchange of ideas is the foundation of American democracy. If the students have their way, not for much longer.
In a more ghastly interpretation of this trend, we have a generation of young people who are convinced that they are right and no one who disagrees with them has the right to speak. These college students, having been coddled and never challenged to defend their ideas intellectually, insist that they have the right to force anyone who takes a different stand than them to be forced into silence, and that their use of force to silence those that disagree is justified. Charles Murray is, without much doubt, and elitist. The Middlebury Mob that chased Murray was not storming the Bastille. They weren’t taking a stand worthy of college-educated people, and neither is Osita Nwanevu. Let’s stop open discussion by force, and let’s label careful scientific work racist pseudoscience. If that is the scenario college students desire, then we might as well not have colleges; we have descended into an abyss that will consume our freedom and enslave us in lies, because the free exchange of ideas, even intellectual conclusions based on solid research and evidence, can no longer be considered. The Middlebury Mob may have may have accomplished its task, but symbolically, it has failed in more ways than can be listed.