Charles Murray’s Moderate to Liberal Middlebury Speech

by Rob Roper

Charles Murray’s aborted presentation at Middlebury College where he was violently chased from the stage has garnered much national attention. It has become the poster event for liberal intolerance on college campuses and opened up a wide dialogue on how educational institutions, indeed all of us, should deal with controversial points of view.

But two Cornell professors took an interesting approach to the issue in a study, which they discuss in an New York Times article, Charles Murray’s ‘Provocative’ Talk. In their study, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci sent transcripts of the speech Murray gave to a diverse but mostly liberal group of 70 college professors – without identifying Murray as the author – and asked them to rank how partisan and controversial the content was on a scale of 1-9, liberal to conservative. 57 responded and gave Murray’s work an average score of 5.05, or “middle of the road.”

Some professors said that they judged the speech to be liberal or left-leaning because it addressed issues like poverty and incarceration, or because it discussed social change in terms of economic forces rather than morality.

The professors did similar surveys with different populations, and even when Murray was identified as the author the speech received similar results. They concluded:

Our data-gathering exercise suggests that Mr. Murray’s speech was neither offensive nor even particularly conservative. It is not obvious, to put it mildly, that Middlebury students and faculty had a moral obligation to prevent Mr. Murray from airing these views in public.

What this demonstrates is that people on the Left and on the Right really share many if not most common goals and interests, and that this sort of blind opposition is fueled not by intellectual disagreement, but blind hatred. Hatred that is totally unwarranted, unnecessary, and unproductive.

Murray’s book, Coming Apart, is really a plea and a plan for how we can come back together in the face of social and economic challenges. It’s a shame the folks at Middlebury refused to listen. They may have learned something not only about the issues of cultural and economic fragmentation, but also about the character and humanity of the people with whom they disagree. Good lessons both.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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