Charles Murray, labeled by SPLC a White Supremacist, Coming to Campus

The Swarthmore Conservative Society, in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute on campus, has invited controversial academic Charles Murray to speak about the results of the 2016 presidential election in relation to his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010”. As a result, various students and groups on campus have condemned the event.
Murray, who co-authored “The Bell Curve” with Richard Herrnstein, received widespread criticism from both the media and academia for his book discussing the relationship between IQ, class, race, and economic success. In particular, the majority of criticisms stemmed from Murray’s discussion of racial differences in intelligence and subsequent policy implications that involve the government’s severe cutback of welfare expenditures, end of affirmative action, and enactment of more restrictive immigration policies. Advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center classify Murray as a white nationalist.
According to the SPLC’s website, Murray uses “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women, and the poor.”
Various students and groups have condemned Murray’s views while some still see the event as an opportunity to engage with opposing ideologies.
“I find it extremely irresponsible, insensitive, and shameful that Swat Conservatives planned to have such a speaker visit campus after this election. It is crucial at times to have a diverse set of opinions to events, however this man does not represent just a ‘diverse set of opinions’. This man has been echoing the similar hate speech that Donald Trump has been doing this entire election. This will not bring intellectual value, it will only reflect the horror that this election has brought upon us and even worsen it,” said Valeria F. Ochoa, president of Swarthmore Organization for Low Income Students or SOLIS.
Zain Talukdar ’19 shared his concern that Murray’s views empower the continuation of institutional racism and other systems of oppression.
“While I am not aware of the full genetic makeup and biological points that make up his argument, I think that talking about IQ when discussing systems of racism and discrimination is a dangerous red herring that can divert societal attention away from what establishes and normalizes systems of oppression and institutionalized racism through poverty, income gaps, and a trickle-down economic system,” he said.
Talukdar said that such thinking can lead to problematic conclusions.
“It can allow those who are in the more affluent and beneficial side of a system of oppression to justify the circumstances in question as a genetic issue, whether entirely or significantly, and can perpetuate a social Darwin-esque form of racial superiority that will do absolutely nothing to promote equity for colored people.”
Aamia Malik ’18, one of the co-presidents of DESHI, the college’s South Asian identity group, still remained open to Murray’s event in order to create a discussion.
“The idea of scientific racism is indeed an extremely controversial idea, one I personally have trouble believing has any real “scientific” basis. It seems to be nothing more than an attempt to justify racist and xenophobic ideas,” she said. “That being said, I think it is really important to engage in discussions with folks who have opinions other than our own so I think it’s good that he is coming to campus and I hope that those who attend can engage in a constructive conversation.”
In the initial organization of the event, Patrick Holland ‘17, the head of Swarthmore Conservative Society and organizer of the event, explained that he met with a student in Swarthmore Democrats who agreed to co-sponsor the talk. By Tuesday, Swarthmore Democrats had pulled their sponsorship of the event on the Facebook event page. However, according to Maggie Christ ‘17, a current board member of the group and past president of Swarthmore Democrats, the group was never an official co-sponsor or involved in organizing the talk.
Holland explained his reasons for inviting Murray when AEI offered to have the speaker come to campus.
“When I was told he was interested in visiting Swarthmore, of course I jumped on the opportunity because I think it’s important for students to be exposed to the ideas that shaped our nation’s politics and history, even if they disagree with them. Murray is an important contributor to academic discourse, and his voice is necessary to have a robust discussion of life in America today. Murray’s work isn’t some outlier that people can ignore, it’s central to debates that we have in classes even here at Swarthmore,” Holland said.
With regard to whether Holland thinks that Murray’s views accurately represent conservative thought and ideologies, Holland remarked that Murray does not claim to be a conservative. He later went on to acknowledge that, even if Murray identified as a conservative, conservatism is composed of several diverse ideologies.
“Many conservatives would disagree if Murray claimed his ideas were essential to conservatism. There are many well made conservative critiques of Murray that aren’t too hard to find, but let’s be realistic. I highly doubt Murray would ever claim to speak on behalf of the conservative movement in the first place,” he remarked.
However, the American Enterprise Institute is a self-identifying conservative public policy think tank, and Murray has been an AEI scholar since 1990. Murray also authored a book titled “What It Means to Be a Libertarian”, published in 1996.
Dean of Students Liz Braun explained that the college has no explicit policy on what speakers can come to campus, and encourages the community to engage with differing opinions.
“At times, there may be a speaker invited to campus that some members of our community may not agree with, and in some cases, may even find their viewpoint abhorrent or offensive,” said Braun.
“In those instances, we encourage the community to engage in more speech, to bring in differing opinions, and in some cases, community members may choose to engage in peaceful dissent as is outlined in our student handbook.”
As of now, the administration has scheduled a faculty panel after the event. The details of who will be on the panel and what will be discussed have not been determined yet.

Ganesh Setty

Ganesh studies economics & art history, and hopes to be a financial journalist one day. He enjoys reading non-fiction, running, tennis, and collecting gray shirts. Seriously. He has a lot.


  1. “Advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center classify Murray as a white nationalist.”
    It’s always ironic to hear the SPLC talking about “white nationalists” as the company is currently celebrating its 45th consecutive year with no minorities in positions of authority.
    With 300 employees and more than $300 million dollars in cash on hand, the Executive Suite of the SPLC is as lily-white today as when the company opened for business in 1971.
    Even the “Teaching Tolerance” wing of the company, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom, has been led by “whites only” since its inception in 1991.
    These are your “experts” on white supremacy?
    Not to get too academic on the subject, but maybe students should actually read Murray’s 20-year-old book, or at least the three oft-quoted-but-seldom-read pages, to see just exactly what he did say for themselves. The whole point of college is to teach you how to think, not what to think.
    Advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NRA tend to have specific points of view that they are “advocating” and therefore are not the most unbiased sources of information. Trust, but verify.
    It looks like the McCabe Library has three copies of the book available.

    • Can’t trust those advocacy groups! Pls read the book by the massive racist for an unbiased perspective instead

  2. “This man has been echoing the similar hate speech that Donald Trump has been doing this entire election. This will not bring intellectual value, it will only reflect the horror that this election has brought upon us and even worsen it.”
    While many people on campus and across the country are understandably sad, afraid, and nervous about the fallout from the election we cannot simply lump Murray in with Trump because they both technically fall on the right of the political spectrum.
    Here’s a quote directly from a piece he wrote for the National Review:
    “In my view, Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history.” Murray’s point does not absolve him of views we might find repugnant before and even after thorough philosophical rumination and investigation of his statistical assertions. But I think it is critically important to note that he subscribes to a very different form of conservatism than whatever it is that Trump stands for.
    I would also add that Murray is here to speak about the fallout from the election and what the GOP is thinking and doing; to provide general commentary from a perspective we rarely get on campus. I genuinely believe that everyone at Swarthmore would benefit from listening to an but controversial individual like Murray whether they agree with his views or not.
    We’ve welcomed controversial figures before but without protest. Noam Chomsky, for example was greeted here with open arms, and yet, he has in the past/at times defended Pol Pot and Hezbollah. Whatever one might think about his work, he is undoubtedly as provocative as Murray. I nonetheless believe he was as entitled to speak at Swarthmore as anyone, and I know that many students enjoyed hearing from him and learned a great deal.
    At the end of the day, many Swarthmore students will continue to disagree with Charles Murray on a number of issues as I certainly do. But intellectual growth requires vulnerability and wrestling with ideas that we might disagree with or even loathe. If we assume what we know to be true and do not engage with others and challenge ourselves against those who think differently, how can we ever discover if our beliefs and ideology hold up?
    Murray claims that he can show statistically significant data of dinstinctions in IQ between racial groups. In my gut I am disgusted by the idea and want to immediately dismiss it as much as the next person. But if one finds these views deeply upsetting or concerning I can say confidently that wishing them away solves nothing. Instead, One can engage with the speaker and come out perhaps feeling stronger about their initial assertions than before.
    I also don’t think many people have had the opportunity to engage with his broad array of work, much of which is unrelated to The Bell Curve (though, of course, I understand why this point is highlighted and discussed ad naseum). I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to read, dissect, and be examined on Charles Murray’s seminal work “Losing Ground” in Keith Reeves’ Urban Underclass and Public Policy seminar, and while many students disagreed with the author’s views on welfare and poverty (the book was written during the Reagan administration) we recognized the importance of engaging with his viewpoints. In fact, for many students in the class, his work challenged us to think deeply – even for some students – reconsider what we knew and believed to be true about safety nets and social policy in America.
    I truly believe that all we gain by disrupting rather than listening is an article in a local Fox satellite or in the WSJ detailing the pettiness (whether true or not) of liberal arts students and their profound unwillingness to tolerate free speech. A great deal of abhorrent speech is still (rightly) free speech, and we decided long ago as a society that in order to protect everyone’s ability to say and think as they please, we must do exactly that.
    Argue with Murray; push him to justify his beliefs; bring statistics and scholarly articles with you. Even protest him before and after the event if you feel the need. But do not clap him down and silence him. To inhibit his right to speak is to jeopardize the same opportunities for yourself and your own views in hostile ideological environments. Is a single, temporary moment of mobocracy “seeming” empowerment worth the confidence we gain in our beliefs by testing them and ascertaining their validity or lack there of?
    A quote worth contemplating from journalist Lionel Shriver who wrote an excellent op-ed in the NYT in Sept:
    “Protecting freedom of speech involves protecting the voices of people with whom you may violently disagree. In my youth, liberals would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. I cannot imagine anyone on the left making that case today.”

    • Gee, maybe recent events might give the impression that neo-Nazis are more of a danger today than they were in the 1970s. I wonder what those events might be?

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