ANN ARBOR, MI – Charles Murray made sure to point out at the end of his speech at the University of Michigan that he was appreciative of a student’s willingness to stick up for his right to speak on Wednesday, Oct. 11, even if many in attendance didn’t agree with him.
Murray had engaged in a barrage of accusations from students who picked apart his controversial 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” before remarking that the student’s plea to let Murray speak was a sign that free speech had been protected.
“I really appreciated the push back where some people stood up and wanted to hear me out,” Murray said to close out his talk inside Palmer Commons. “At Middlebury (College) nobody was willing to do that, and that was very depressing to me. I am so grateful to you for sitting through it.”
Murray contrasted his speech Wednesday with the one he delivered in March in which he was shouted down by students from the college. While he faced opposition from numerous student groups protesting his appearance on campus, his appearance did include dialog with students despite the tense atmosphere throughout much of the first half of his speech.
Overall, there were no arrests at the event, nobody was ejected from the venue and Murray was able to finish his speech after many of the protesters left.
The student who came to Murray’s defense, UM senior Farid Alsabeh, said he wasn’t a fan of the author, nor did he know much about his work. Instead, he wanted to exercise his right to listen to Murray in a public setting.
“When I saw these people trying to obstruct this man from speaking – I don’t know who this man is, I haven’t heard anything he’s spoken about on podcasts or written – I just came here to listen to him speak,” he said. “When I saw people’s first instinct was to infringe on my right to listen at a public institution, I felt like I had to say ‘you’re making it too much about yourself.'”
The event, which was sponsored by the university’s chapter of College Republicans and the American Enterprise Institute University of Michigan Executive Council, did face some challenging moments early on when students interrupted Murray trying to make points, while also playing music from their cell phones to be distracting.
One of the more prominent exchanges of the evening came about when UM student Bryan Ransom shared the microphone with Murray for several minutes debating the merits of “The Bell Curve” and whether it said that black people naturally had lesser intelligence than white people.
“As a black person who is working on their fifth degree, what you’ve done with this book is say when I’m going up against other PhD’s, I’m not going to be as qualified,” Ransom said.
I’m disappointed in you, because you use that Harvard degree and your education to talk s— about people,” he added. “That’s dispicable.”
Murray stood by his stance that people shouldn’t be viewed based on the perceived merits of a given “group” or race throughout the evening.
“Over the last half cenutry the country has become cognitively stratified in a number of ways because of large social and economic forces,” Murray argued. “Whereas this has had some good effects it’s had a lot of (bad effects).”
“We’ve got to stop treating people as groups,” he later added. “You deal with people as individuals and not as members of groups. Because insofar as you deal with people as members of groups, as we have increasingly been doing, then everybody gets inflamed for any perceived problem that the group has.”
The rest of Murray’s speech was devoted to speaking about the rise of Trump, whom Murray noted was “not my cup of tea.”
Murray, who describes himself as a Libertarian, has attracted protests at colleges and universities across the country, particularly for his book “The Bell Curve,” which some believe argues that African-Americans have lower intelligence than other races.
He had intended to speak about his 2012 book “Coming Apart” in which he demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship, claiming it predicted the rise of President Donald Trump.
“I think the United States is at an inflection point and I think it’s going in the wrong direction and I am very dismissive (of Trump),” he said.
“He won that election despite all sorts of reasons why he shouldn’t have,” Murray said. “Can you imagine a Donald Trump that had the same kind of connection with all of mainstream America, that was much more attractive as a person but also was an authoritarian? The way is open for a major authoritarianship in this country.”
Despite some moments of contentious dialog and exchanges, Ben Decatur, co-chair of the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council, said he was happy the event was able to be carried out.
“I’m really happy that half way through we were able to have the event and a good amount of people were able to stay and ask Murray questions and let him finish,” he said. “The beginning of the event was disappointing, yes, but some of it was fine.
“Overall, we expected some push back – Murray is a controversial speaker, but I’m glad that the event wasn’t completely shut down and the students who really wanted to hear Murray were able to,” he added.
Murray’s visit to UM came after students have protested incidents of racist vandalism on campus since the start of the fall semester.
On Oct. 3, racist flyers found outside of Stockwell Hall contained the words “Make America White Again” attributed to an alt-right, white supremacist website. It also referenced the percentage of black students on the UM and Michigan State campuses, while alleging the disparity between the IQ’s of black and white people.
Students have also spoken out about the racist painting of the campus Rock directed at the Latinx student population, while three UM students were the target of racist vandalism on their name tags inside the West Quad dormitory.