Charles Murray gave a couple of talks in North Carolina yesterday, with notably different reactions from the audience in each case. At the University of North Carolina, Murray–a sometimes controversial sociologist attached to the conservative American Enterprise Institute–gave his talk seemingly without incident.
On the other hand, at an event that same day at Duke University, members of Students for a Democratic Society staged a walk out at the beginning of Murray’s talk.
This from the Duke Chronicle this morning:
For activists, walking out is a statement. If we sit and listen, it means that we think what Murray is saying is valuable enough to share. We are saying that his claims may perpetuate, as some opponents maintain, the exploitation of human beings, but also that we may gain something from them. We are saying that we trust in the assumed legitimacy of his empirical data and methodology, and we will legitimize it further by listening to him. If we choose to walk out, however, it means that we refuse to consider Murray’s conclusions a matter of debate, and choose instead to protest…
Murray is best known as co-author of the book The Bell Curve, which argued, essentially, that intelligence is more a product of genetics than a consequence of one’s environment/education/social circumstance.
Particularly controversial were some of Murray’s conclusions that certain ethic groups have, on average, lower innate intelligence.
I haven’t read The Bell Curve and therefore can’t say anything about the validity of Murray’s research or methods. As I understand it though, Murray’s argument isn’t that certain racial groups are inferior, in terms of their worth, value, humanity, but that members of some groups are, on average, born with fewer intellectual advantages. Anyway, Murray’s arguments aren’t what interests me about the Duke walkout. Rather, what interests me is what the walkout says about the state of intellectual discourse in our present academic culture.
As the editors of the Duke Chronicle put it, “Most acknowledge that yes, the American Enterprise Institute has a right to bring Murray to campus. Yes, students have a right to listen. And lastly, yes, students have the right to walk out. But what does it mean to walk out?”
That’s the question. What does it mean to walk out?
Were those students engaging in an informed act of protest? Did they know what Murray has written? Did they understand his arguments? Or were they simply reacting against a man whose work they hadn’t even really taken the time to understand? Because an SDS ringleader labeled him “a straight, white, libertarian” who wants to enslave the “poor, brown and female”?
Maybe walking out reveals the same kind of close-mindedness that these students believed they were protesting.
Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.