Charles Murray’s visit to Notre Dame
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, March 30, 2017
I will preface this letter by saying my intention in writing this is not to infuse the discussion of Charles Murray’s visit to our campus with ideology and partisanship. I simply wish to present my firsthand experience of the visit. I decided to attend the event primarily to show support for Professor Munoz and his decision to not rescind Dr. Murray’s invitation. This was a timely defense of free speech on college campuses. Professor Munoz has been a mentor to me since I met him last fall, and we share similar interests in studying the Constitution. I have the utmost respect for Professor Munoz. It is worth noting Munoz invited Murray last summer as part of his plan for a constitutional government course, but only recently began to receive criticism and requests to rescind the offer.
In the days leading up to the event, I read a number of articles about Murray and his work, including his summary of “Coming Apart” that was published in the Wall Street Journal and accounts of the violent protest at Middlebury. I got the sense Murray could not entirely be the villainous “pseudo” political scientist that some in the media and academia make him out to be. In fact, he is a self-described libertarian and passionate “Never Trumper,” escaping portraits that some try to paint. As for his more controversial work, I will not pretend to have knowledge about the accuracy of his methodology or statistical analysis, and I do not know enough about his claims about science and genetics to make a judgement about them. The issue at hand is the mere fact of Murray presenting at Notre Dame.
In those terms, I will say that based on his 45-minute speech, I saw a serious intellect who had a calm, commanding presence and was adept at presenting his argument. I did not agree with everything he said, but what resonated with me was the central message that an intellectual and affluent elite comprised of people from both the Left and the Right on either coast, in areas he calls “super zips,” are isolating themselves from the vast majority of Americans. There is an extreme divergence of common experiences as this “new upper class” consistently shows disdain for much of the country. He discussed how these factors are causing our nation to forget its unique, universally-held creed that affirms equality regardless of class. The event also featured a response from Professor Agustin Fuentes, who offered thorough reasoning and cited evidence that challenged many of Murray’s assertions. Overall, the event was a successful academic debate that demonstrated our school’s commitment to the freedom of speech and the pursuit of truth.
This brings me to the media appeal, or the controversy of the event. I am in no way criticizing the protests. The right to protest injustices is as important to the health of our republic as the right to publish and discuss any findings, conclusions, or opinions. The students and faculty involved in the protests outside McKenna Hall were passionate about their cause and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity. They may be right. I would like to explain, however, one particular instance I observed with which I took issue not because of content, but because of conduct. As I exited the conference center, two students were walking in holding signs about Dr. Murray and raising their voices significantly above a level befitting an academic building. The security person nearest the door stepped in front of them and said, “Not inside.” The students responded by explaining they had class in the building and were heading to their class. The security person let them go on their way, only to be affronted with rude snickers and attitudes characteristic of a middle schooler playing a prank, not of Notre Dame students talking to someone charged with maintaining a safe environment for all. The students’ reaction saddened me — they demonstrated an utter lack of respect for a person, a fellow member of the Notre Dame community, trying to do his job in an excellent way. That is not the Notre Dame community I know and love, and it inspired me to write this article in hopes of adding a personal perspective to a discussion that I anticipate will continue into the near future.
As this is part of a larger discussion about how our community should treat controversial guests, I believe Notre Dame should remain unwaveringly committed to its open speaker policy in order to preserve the integrity of our school as an institution that pursues truth above all else. And I believe Notre Dame students have a duty to remain well-informed and respectful in their dissent. In the spirit of common understanding, I welcome any and all comments, questions and criticisms. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know if I never listened to, debated or was taught by someone with views other than my own, I would be less confident in my ability to reason through my own beliefs and adapt them as I discover new perspectives. Whether we think someone is right or wrong, we should listen to everyone we have the privilege of hearing.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.