“Well, how did that go?” I asked a friend who was in attendance. This was his reply:
The answer is both better and worse than might have been expected. Better in the sense that the protesters–among them tenured faculty–lived down to the worst parodies of themselves: self-righteous, smug jerks, convinced of their moral superiority.
Better in that many of those in the room were clearly struck by how unfair the treatment accorded to Murray was.
Worse in that the event could not be live-streamed so that those not in the room could see for themselves. Had they, the difference in demeanor between Dr. Murray and the protestors would have been an argument in itself.
Organizers knew there would be protests, and the administration imposed some constraints, limiting the number of people allowed in the room, and requiring a Villanova ID for admission. The decision prevented things from getting hopelessly out of hand. But it did mean that many people who wanted to attend were not able to get in, including TV crews. Since the protesters were outside, this guaranteed that the footage would be of the protesters and not Dr. Murray.
The event began with Dr. Colleen Sheehan speaking about the mission of the Ryan Center, and thanking the various individuals involved, especially the sponsors, Jay and Elizabeth McAndrews. McAndrews is a Villanova alumnus (’60).
Once Dr. Murray himself began speaking the protests began. Four individuals, including one tenured professor of philosophy, dressed in a tight t-shirt, came to the front of the room. They carried a banner with various tear-away sheets naming Dr. Murray’s crimes, and asserting the illegitimacy of giving him a forum. Initially, he continued to speak. They tore the sheets away. They were unwilling to be quiet and shouted him down. He asked them whether there was an agreed time limit for their protest and if they would allow him to speak. They refused to answer. The protesters were approached repeatedly by various individuals, including Dr. Sheehan, who tried to get them to accept that they could ask the first questions in the question period. They refused.
An individual from the audience–an economics professor, who identified himself as “a person of color–whatever that means!” shouted out, decrying that he was not being allowed to hear Dr. Murray speak. A member of the audience protested that hate speech was not free speech. The majority of the audience applauded Dr. Murray’s right to speak.
The signs said a numbers of things, among them “who paid for this?”–the implication being that right-wing money had funded racist hate speech on campus. The question was answered when the 79 year old Jay McAndrews rose, visibly angered, and tore down their signs. Pulled back by his wife, he did it again seconds later. Only when urged by his wife and Dr. Sheehan did McAndrews reluctantly sit down. Later, outside, Professor Rockhill used this as an example of how he had been forcibly silenced.
The protesters moved to block Dr. Murray’s line of sight with the audience and continued to shout over him, refusing to let him speak. After some moments of this, Dr. Murray moved out from behind the podium in order to speak to the audience directly but security was concerned.
After an impasse of several minutes, Dr. Murray was escorted from the room by security. Shortly after, the protesters were escorted out the rear door.
Dr. Murray returned to the podium and resumed his speech, an amalgam of arguments from Coming Apart and By the People. The talk had four major parts in which Murray discussed the tragedy of increasing class stratification in America, the oppression of kleptocracy of the administrative state, the sclerosis of our democracy–meaning the disproportionate influence wielded by influence groups and money–and fourth, the extraordinary effects of the coming revolution in AI which in his view will almost certainly eliminate vast numbers of jobs for working class and white collar people.
Throughout the lecture, protesters found ways to interrupt. The worst offenders were the philosophy professor and his friends who, having been ejected, shouted chants outside the window, attempting to drown out the lecture.”No Murray! No KKK! No fascist USA !”
At a certain point a student was spat on by an individual who subsequently left of his own volition. Said the victim to the Villanovan afterwards, “I think he had ill will toward something else and I was there to focus on.”
About twenty minutes in, one lone protestor, carried a sign to the front of the room to the effect that “racism shames Villanova.” He stood quietly for some time. After a period he was joined by several female students of color and a white student, who also stood quietly.
Dr. Murray concluded his talk by announcing his intention to respond to any questions regarding his work. “I am prepared to answer questions about anything I have ever written.”
Dr. Sheehan made a point of asking the students beside the podium if they wanted to ask the first question. They seemed surprised and struggled to come up with one. Finally, one asked how Dr. Murray thought we could really separate or ignore his earlier work and listen to a talk on his latest work.
Murray spoke at some length and returned to the question several times. “A lot of you in this room think that the topic of The Bell Curve was to prove the genetic inferiority of Blacks,” Murray said. No one who had actually read the book could come to that conclusion. In only one paragraph in one chapter of the book had he and his coauthor even addressed the question. The paragraph reads as follows:
“If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.”
This, Murray stressed, was the sum total of what he and his co-author had said regarding the relation of race and IQ, and it emphasized their agnosticism regarding the question of nature or nurture. These views, he stated, were also the views of the American Psychological Society.
As questions proceeded, one professor emeritus, who made clear that he was on the other side of the spectrum politically, stated his appreciation to Dr. Sheehan for the way in which she had had handled the event. He subsequently asked a question which highlighted his disagreements with Dr. Murray’s argument that the administrative state harms communities and individuals, instead maintaining that they fulfill the constitutional function of securing the general welfare. He cited the Nicaraguan Sandanista constitution as a model.
Most of the questions did not concern The Bell Curve. Many were about the future of work in America if AI eliminates jobs.
One final question elicited from Murray his view that a college degree means very little today. If one does not know the institution and provenance, he suggested, it does not guarantee even that a student can write a grammatically correct sentence–as employers know. Worse, he said it does nothing to help students find meaningful fulfillment while its costs are unjustifiably high. The BA, he suggested, is the devil’s work. The key to fulfillment and human flourishing, he suggested, was comprised of two things: finding a vocation one loves and living in a community. Many young people, he said, are unfortunately under the impression that they have two choices, to go to college or to become a greeter at Walmart. Why do other kinds of work not have dignity? We can do better if we stop holding college up as an “artificial sign of status” and focus on finding vocations that are fulfilling.
This provoked a meltdown on the part of a student who screamed that Murray had been allowed to say her B.A. had no value. She continued to scream as the event was brought to a close. College staff consoled her.
Dr. Sheehan was overheard inviting the protesting students to speak further over coffee.
The Protesters have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/NovaResistance/