Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist, will speak at Rice University Monday, April 7, as part of his national tour to present his book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. The talk, hosted by the Rice Federalist Society and the Baker Institute Student Forum, has prompted a protest organized primarily by Black Student Association President Jackie Mutai.
Murray is best known for his 1994 book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which argues that class and race are linked with intelligence.
“I know [Murray] as a racist,” Mutai, a McMurtry College junior, said. “His view are repellent and very, very ignorant, and so the fact that his name and Rice University were in the same line – I was just kind of really surprised.”
Rice Fed-Soc President Blake Delaplane said the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank where Murray is a fellow, reached out to him about hosting Murray as part of a book tour. Delaplane said he was aware of Murray’s controversial past upon accepting the offer.
“The Rice Federalist Society was aware that some of Murray's views had been controversial in the past, but our focus in inviting him was his latest book, ‘Coming Apart,’ which steers clear of the controversy of Murray's past works,” Delaplane, a Duncan College junior, said. “Murray's studies have been the center of engaging intellectual discussion among many leading scholars in political science and sociology. As such, Rice Fed-Soc hoped to continue these sorts of stimulating and challenging conversations on campus.”
Mutai said although she is an advocate for free speech, she doesn’t agree with the decision to host Murray.
“Everyone’s entitled to free speech,” Mutai said. “You’re allowed to bring on campus anyone that you can find [who] can intellectually stimulate convocation and grow the community. I was kind of surprised [they] would bring someone to campus whose views are not really going to enhance much. I would not bring someone [to] campus whose views are repellent and bogus. He’s not someone who’s helping the community; he’s hurting the community.”
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said in an email that, because Murray had been given an invitation by Rice Fed-Soc and BISF, he should be entitled to speak at Rice, but that he hopes students will challenge Murray’s views.
“I am a strong advocate of unbridled free speech,” Hutchinson said. “The free exchange of ideas is how we learn and how we progress. Rice students can invite to the campus those whose ideas they wish to hear, to learn from, or to challenge. Members of the audience during [Murray’s] discussion have equal right to point out what they consider to be his ignorance and, if they are so inclined, his apparent prejudice. Indeed, I would be disappointed if they did not do so.”
Mutai said she questioned whether Murray would be able to stimulate a constructive conversation.
“The fact that [BISF and Rice Fed-Soc] willingly just took this invitation just because he’s such a controversial speaker just seems kind of – It didn’t seem like the right decision,” Mutai said.
Delaplane said that just as Murray was invited by Rice faculty in 1995 to speak about The Bell Curve, Rice Fed-Soc hopes to do the same with Murray’s new book. He said he expects many to disagree with the work and that Rice Fed-Soc doesn’t endorses Murray’s views just because they invited him.
“We hoped [those who disagree] would dispute Murray's claims in the context of a professional intellectual discussion,” Delaplane said. “We never anticipated being pressured to shut down the event or being accused of endorsing Murray's views. Murray's views do not represent the views of the Rice Federalist Society. Rice Fed-Soc is here to provide a civil forum for challenging intellectual discussion among students and scholars.”
Mutai said she disagreed with Delaplane and felt that by inviting Murray, Rice Fed-Soc invited and endorsed his views.
“By bringing a person here, you are indirectly endorsing his views,” Mutai said. “Indirectly, having him here means that you are okay with him speaking about whatever he wants to speak about. We’re not attempting to cancel the event or to stop him from speaking, because you’re allowed to speak about whatever you want. We are never allowed to take away someone else’s free speech, but if someone’s views are bogus and repellent then we are going to speak back.”
Delaplane said that inviting controversial figures like Murray to campus isn’t new and that his club is doing the same thing Rice has done in the past.
“In the past, Rice University has hosted a wide variety of influential and potentially controversial speakers,” Delaplane said. “I sincerely hope that does not mean Rice has endorsed all their views. It is better to hear from these speakers firsthand and discern their arguments through discussion than to ignore their reasoning and pretend it does not exist. Shouldn't this be at least one major priority of the university?”
BISF President Nathan Joo said the mission of his club is to facilitate dialogue from all perspectives and to provide a forum for students, faculty and scholars to engage in discussion about today’s policy making.
“The co-sponsorship of any event should never be construed as an endorsement of a particular speaker's views or ideological affiliations,” Joo, a Will Rice College junior, said. “[BISF] fully embraces the power of debate and in that vein encourages the critical participation of all undergraduates in all events.”
Mutai said her protest aims to create a dialogue that Murray believes impossible.
“[Murray] believes that we, being minorities, are not intellectual beings,” Mutai said. “We’re going to show him how intellectual we are. I can’t control anyone yelling out or screaming anything, but in the protest I’ve planned, people will create a dialogue. I want you to ask intellectual questions. I want you to raise your concerns. I want people to have signs. I want, before the actual talk, for people to meet outside, talk to each other and get to know what’s going on. I want you to use your voice. I want you to speak up or speak out.”
Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice President Fernanda Pierre, who is helping organize the protest along with co-President and Will Rice senior Alexandra Zambrano, said she and Mutai specifically designed the protest to not be disruptive.
“We met with Dean Hutchinson to make sure how we went about the protest was going to be [the] best approach for all parties involved,” Pierre, a Jones College senior, said. “We came to the conclusion that disruptive protests to try and shut down Murray from speaking wouldn’t be the best approach. So we’re going to make posters with statements, sit in the front section and raise those posters if something questionable is said. One example might be a poster simply stating ‘wrong’ in red ink.”
Mutai said the protest is an opportunity for Rice to recognize that minorities have a voice on campus.
“I want us to start a dialogue on campus to let students know and understand that these kinds of actions aren’t okay and that a lot of students don’t find them okay, especially minority students and minority groups on campus,” Mutai said. “Sometimes, comments are said or situations happen on campus that it’s hard for us to react to. Time and time again, our voices are left forgotten. We are a voice on campus.”
Mutai said the protest has become a combined effort of many cultural clubs at Rice.
“We have many organizations coming together like the Chinese Student Association, Queers & Allies and Multiracial Students at Rice,” Mutai said. “It makes me proud that Rice students can react in this short amount of time to a man a majority of us aren’t agreeing with.”
Lovett College senior Daniel Cohen said he agrees with Rice Fed-Soc’s decision to invite Murray. Cohen was BISF President until he stepped down last December. He said the Murray event was proposed while he was president and that he replied that BISF would explore the possibility, but that the event solidified after he stepped down.
“I believe in the power of debate to push the best ideas to the forefront of society and to debunk baseless theories,” Cohen, a Lovett College senior, said. “We should not be afraid to hear offensive or controversial ideas; we should challenge them with earnest listening and critical thinking through open dialogue. There is no setting more appropriate for such debate than universities because they are the places where ideas are articulated, debated, refined or discredited.”
Pierre said by inviting Murray, BISF and Rice Fed-Soc are providing him a platform.
“Most of his ideas are harmful to students, alienate students and are bad for public policy,” Pierre said. “This person doesn’t represent Rice’s values. There’s a difference between endorsing someone and allowing free speech.”