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COLUMN: You're dealing with Charles Murray all wrong



Yesterday I received an email from security staff at Franklin Hall, where conservative social scientist and author Charles Murray will be speaking, which informed students that the building will be locked down from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. while he is visiting. Students must be on a list to enter and have a valid reason in addition to showing photo ID from IU.

This is all to prevent violence from breaking out during the speech. IU officials are so concerned that their own students will not be able to control themselves upon hearing thoughts they disagree with that a section of campus must be turned into a miniature police state.

What the hell is going wrong on our campus?

Apparently, it needs reiterating that IU is an institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. Our motto is Lux et Veritas for crying out loud – light and truth. The pursuit of either of those things requires that a student occasionally bump up against ideas they find offensive and disagreeable. It appears the protest is being organized by the English Grad Solidarity Coalition. The group sent a letter to President Michael McRobbie, which claimed, “We are strong believers in academic freedom and free speech. We do not advocate for blanket censorship of controversial views by state institutions.” The letter was posted on the group’s public Facebook page. The group is doing all in its power to effectively censor Murray’s ideas.

Any group that puts qualifying phrases in front of the word censorship is not worthy of the American political tradition. The group also encourages individuals to pick up tickets to the event and not attend in order to deprive those that are actually open to hearing new ideas of that opportunity.

The rational way of dealing with a speaker that you disagree with is to hear them out and challenge them. Bring light – lux – to these ideas. If they are truly so bigoted and hateful, as the protest group’s Facebook posts contend, then have faith in the public’s discursive ability. It is, after all, a group of English scholars. Certainly those dedicated to the study of books and communication believe the public is capable of doing so.

IU’s security services apparently believe the campus is extremely volatile. It is a shame that such an institution becomes a riot risk at the presence of one man with unpopular opinions. If IU were functioning as it should, Murray’s views would be irrelevant. Students would show up to counter his points during a question-and-answer session or protest outside. No one would be talking about violent, destructive riots. Students would not be attempting to shut him out or making sure he “speaks to an empty room” as the English Grad Solidarity Coalition aims to do.

McRobbie should seriously consider the failings of his institution, which were exposed this week. The letter sent to him was signed by a disappointingly large number of faculty and students who added their name to a group working against the very reason the University exists.

Next week he should begin the arduous process of recreating a culture of discourse and sanity on our campus, where unpopular ideas are met with more ideas, not this nonsense.

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