This letter was originally written for the College of LSA's blog "Learn Speak Act: Liberal Arts in the Moment" by Professors Elizabeth Armstrong, Sarah Burgard, Fatma Muge Gocek, Sandra Levitsky, Karin A. Martin, and Alford A. Young, Jr.
Over the past several years, universities have sought to maintain campus environments that support free speech and diverse dialogue while keeping concerns about student safety and safeguarding the welfare of minority students at the forefront. Finding the right balance can be challenging, as we have seen on many college campuses. The upcoming lecture by Charles Murray is a student-organized event that raises these issues at UM. While we support the right of students to invite credible spokespersons for diverse perspectives, we also must point out that the very act of inviting someone like Murray, who has been a prominent proponent of positions suggesting the intellectual inferiority of African Americans, Latinx, and working-class people, has meaning and can seem to be a particular insult to those members of the UM community who represent identities he has disparaged. Murray’s views are well known and have changed little in the last two decades. Inviting him, therefore, reads much more like sanctioning his positions than imagining a vigorous debate over them, and can seem to be yet one more indication that the UM community does not wholeheartedly welcome diversity. We thus stand with students who might voice protest against Murray’s theories of racial difference and object to his presence on the campus.
As faculty who have examined Murray’s work from the perspective of social science, we would like to provide context for understanding some of his ideas and why they are problematic. In this letter we offer scholars’ understandings of Murray’s claims in order to stand with those in our community and around the country whose lives are denigrated by his writings and speech.