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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Charles Murray, once again: Undoing three years of community healing

Dear colleagues and students,

Once again, members of the college have invited a bigot — a “race scientist” per a description in “Superior: The Return of Race Science” — to campus to share his non-peer-reviewed and long-debunked postulations on racial, gender and class difference. As the college’s hub of expertise on issues pertaining to race and its many intersections with gender, sexuality, class and disability, the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) vehemently and unequivocally condemns and opposes the invitation of Charles Murray to Middlebury College.

Many of us at the CCSRE, as scholars of critical race and ethnic studies, have had the unfortunate experience of reading Murray’s books. His writing represents a continuity of eugenic thought that has codified and legitimized white, masculine supremacy. The pseudo-scientific claims made by Murray invalidate people of color, women, queer and trans people, and the poor and working class while covering up truths of structural oppression.

One has to question why such mediocrity has been accorded such success and acclaim. The answer to that question lies in white supremacy. This also begs the question of why Middlebury College is collaborating with his publicity machine. Are the voices of cynical provocateurs like Murray more important than abiding by the standards of “three pillars of academic freedom, integrity and respect” that have been written into Middlebury College’s very own Open Expression Policy?

Charles Murray is not and has never been an academic. He has never been concerned with meaningfully engaging with critical race scholarship. Therefore, the narrative pushed by him, his supporters and his financial backers — that his work merits serious consideration — is ironic and laughable. Moreover, the specific goal of his work has never been to contribute to rigorous academic thought, but rather to provoke for self-interest, to support revanchist ideologies and to promote ultra-conservative public policies in the United States that disfavor people of color, women, queer-identifying people and the socioeconomically vulnerabilized. 

Murray’s work and entire career have been funded by conservative reactionary policy institutes such as the Manhattan Institute and, for the last 30 years, the American Enterprise Institute (where he is the W.H. Brady Scholar — a misleading academic title from an institute that is not academic, but rather a conservative think tank). The latter is funded and governed by wealthy donors and/or leaders of some of the largest corporations with vested interests in maintaining structural inequality by using money to promote their ideas in politics and the academy.

Charles Murray has been invited here once again not to engage in intellectual dialogue and debate, but to provoke the community into engaging in a zero-sum debate while trying to sell his new book. This provocation is obviously in his personal interest; still, many in our administration seem to feel that it is easier to allow him to speak than to repair our community, while risking further damage.

Many of the faculty, including those affiliated with the CCSRE, have worked in good faith to repair the community after his last visit on March 2, 2017. We sponsored and attended events about free speech and inclusion, including talks held by the Engaged Listening Project. And yet we are certain that those who have invited him are not acting in good faith, nor are they doing the work to treat this topic in the manner we expect from those at an academic institution. When have Murray and his backers expressed interest in deeply engaging in the vast scholarship about the histories and current realities of inequality, racism and sexism?

There are also political interests among Murray's financial backers to bring him to Middlebury; in particular, they seek to provoke a reaction which will be narrated in mainstream conservative and centrist media as a corruption of “American democratic” values. In this way, Murray is effectively a pawn of the political and corporate parties that fund him through the American Enterprise Institute and other right-wing financial channels. This is not a question of free speech, but rather of wealthy corporations and elites protecting their interests in systemic inequality by attempting to hijack academic discourse while redefining freedom of speech as speech free of consequences.

His presence here stands in opposition to the work and mission of the CCSRE and many of its affiliated faculty members across departments and disciplines. For those who are interested in meaningful intellectual work on race, the CCSRE has an array of academic programming from peer-reviewed and respected scholars of critical race and ethnic studies. You can access those at go/ccsre.


Members of the CCSRE Advisory Board

Daniel F. Silva, Associate Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies and Interim Director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity

Tara Affolter, Associate Professor and Director of Education Studies 

Raquel Albarrán, Assistant Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies 

William Hart, Professor of History and Director of Black Studies

Rachael Joo, Associate Professor and Director of American Studies

Trinh Tran, Assistant Professor of Sociology