Students and faculty members of NYU protested an appearance by controversial sociologist Charles Murray today, accusing him of racism and junk science. But the demonstration didn’t approach the fervor of one in Vermont earlier this month that left one professor with a concussion.
A group of roughly 15 people, hosted by NYU Against Fascism, gathered on the sidewalk in front of NYU’s Torch Club to speak out against Murray’s presentation, arranged by the NYU branch of the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council.
Murray’s work has been foundational for contemporary white supremacists and white nationalists. The Bell Curve, which he co-authored, put forward the theory that differences of IQ between races (and women of all races versus their male counterparts) are due to innate biological traits rather than socioeconomic or historical conditions.
Protesters chanted slogans such as “We want real biology, not white supremacy,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, eugenicists have got to go.” One NYU student, Stewart Carrier, argued with protesters that they were not engaging in academic debate appropriate for a university. “I feel it’s ignorant, if they really want to learn about this man, they’ll go in there and engage him in debate and discussion. They are here as part of the academy,” he said. He claimed that he had no affiliation or affinity for Murray, and said that he knew nothing about him.
Also at the protest was Marion Kaplan, Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History. “I think [Charles Murray] is doing tremendous damage to our society,” she said. “He is a eugenicist, he has propounded that immigrants and black people and poor people are inferior. He uses junk science. He is supported by the Pioneer Fund, which is a racist organization, The American Enterprise Institute, which is a right wing organization. This is the moment in Trumpland where these ideas are coming out again and he is coming out and supporting them.”
On Thursday at noon, NYU’s Faculty of Color Caucus published an open letter to the university denouncing Murray’s presence on NYU campus. The letter, published on NYU Sanctuary’s website, is addressed to NYU president Andrew Hamilton and provost Katherine Fleming, and criticizes the event’s secrecy: “The hidden nature of the event forecloses any opportunity to discuss and challenge the validity of Murray’s claims and the legitimacy of the arguments. The fact that no topic for debate is even identified suggests that the draw of the event is controversy and personality, rather than the kind of informed intellectual engagement and debate that the university holds as a key value.” The letter was signed by 140 faculty members.
Murray is on a speaking tour of US academic institutions. He recently spoke at Middlebury College and Duke University, and Thursday evening at Columbia University, where he was supported by nearly 150 faculty members in an open letter defending his right to speak. His talk at Middlebury College was disrupted by activists and his co-speaker Allison Stanger received a concussion when the protest turned violent.
According to the New York Times, Murray is newly in demand as a public speaker because his 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, spoke to the white, working-class resentment that bolstered Donald Trump (whom Murray has opposed).
Today’s incident follows others around the country, namely the protests against disgraced provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at UC-Berkeley, and against VICE co-founder and Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes, also at NYU. (In October, NYU canceled an appearance by Yiannopoulos due to “concerns…about the safety and well-being of our community.”)
Murray denies that he supports white supremacy on his Twitter page. The Bell Curve has been criticized by many academics who argue that the book suffers from a confirmation bias and a “biased treatment of data.” Others have pointed to the nature of Murray’s sources, many of whom critics have argued were explicitly racist scientists of the 1930s. The book and its research also were never submitted for peer review, which critics argue is misleading to readers as it is presented as authoritative scholarly work.
The American Enterprise Institute, which invited Murray, describes itself as a nonpartisan think tank. Its Executive Council Program targets universities to “ensure the best arguments on every side of pressing public policy issues are heard by students at their campuses,” according to its website.
“New York University has reaped many benefits and enrolled many students by feigning a dedication to education, social justice, and diversity,” said NYU Against Fascism’s Facebook page for the protest event. “When it comes down to it— in the case of declaring itself a ‘sanctuary campus,’ in adequately responding to on-campus injustice— it time and time again proves woefully incompetent.”