No one doubts that scholar Charles Murray is controversial. Best known for his book The Bell Curve, Murray ruffled feathers by asserting that some sorts of people are naturally less intelligent than others. Though he denies every accusation of racism, Murray’s reputation has caused the administration of Asuza Pacific University to abruptly cancel Murray’s upcoming campus talk.
Has Murray’s reputation as a racist caused him to be seen as too extreme even by administrators at conservative Christian colleges? The leaders of APU, for example, worried that Murray’s talk might be hurtful to “our faculty and students of color.”
After all, Murray has been labeled as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Murray, the SPCL charged, uses
racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.
For his part, Murray accuses Asuza Pacific of pusillanimity and closed-mindedness. In an open letter to APU’s students, Murray challenged them to think for themselves. Murray invited students to explore his website and read some of his publications. The more you know about me, Murray suggested, the harder it will be for you to take these accusations of extremism seriously. “The task of the scholar,” Murray told APU students,
is to present a case for his or her position based on evidence and logic. Another task of the scholar is to do so in a way that invites everybody into the discussion rather than demonize those who disagree. Try to find anything under my name that is not written in that spirit. Try to find even a paragraph that is written in anger, takes a cheap shot, or attacks women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, or anyone else.
There is no reason, Murray concludes, why students should not listen to talks by “earnest and nerdy old guys” like Murray.
This cancellation of Murray’s talk raises key questions.
First of all, does the goal of intellectual diversity on college campuses include the inclusion of unpopular conservative ideas? We’ve seen recently examples of speakers protested against at Montana Tech for their support of creationism, pro-life student groups at Yale being refused fellowship in a social-justice club, and Steven Hayward’s lonely life as a token conservative campus intellectual at Colorado.
Second, what does it mean that this cancellation comes from a relatively “conservative” campus? APU is one of the oldest evangelical universities in the country. No one could safely accuse the leadership of APU of pandering to the traditional secularist campus leftism run amok. Yet this school’s leadership saw fit to cancel Murray’s speaking appointment due to worries about Murray’s reputation.
Finally, who decides which ideas are extreme? By any measure, Charles Murray’s work has been part of recent mainstream American conversations about race, class, and society. His 2012 book, Coming Apart, for example, was prominently reviewed by such leading publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Review of Books. It does not make sense to suggest that Murray has only some sort of fringe status as a scholar. Yet in this case, even a conservative Christian school saw Murray as too controversial to speak on campus.