On Thursday, Middlebury College in Vermont became engulfed in heated controversy after protesters shut down a speech delivered by the conservative social scientist Charles Murray.
What happened at Middlebury was unlike anything he had experienced before, Murray wrote in a reflection published on the website of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Murray said he knew going into Thursday’s speech that students planned to protest. Over 23 years and dozens of addresses on his work, he said he has gotten used to it.
In every other instance where students have protested, they agreed to stick to an allotted period of time and then allow the speech to continue, said Murray, who was forced to leave an auditorium and deliver the speech from a video studio.
The incident received national attention.
“What happened last Thursday has the potential to be a disaster for American liberal education,” said Murray, while acknowledging he was “potentially the most unqualified person to analyze the larger meanings of last week’s events at Middlebury.”
Murray is best known as the author of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” and “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” His work is controversial because he has theorized that social welfare programs are doomed to hurt those they are intended to help. He has also written about ethnic differences in measures of intelligence.
Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics, interviewed Murray about his book. She said in a Facebook post Saturday that she is a Democrat but her courses are non-partisan.
“This was a chance to demonstrate publicly my commitment to a free and fair exchange of views,” Stanger wrote.
But she was dismayed by the ferocity of the protest.
“I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community,” Stanger wrote. “There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange, but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair-pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen, and they were stranded outside the doors.”
“There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters,” Stanger wrote, and said that many people in the audience refused to even make eye contact with her for participating in the event.
The protest became so loud that Murray and Stanger were forced to continue their conversation via a livestream shot in a studio, which had been set up as a Plan B in anticipation of the protest. Both said in their statements that they could hear the roar of the angry crowd outside.
When the event ended, Stanger said, she felt relieved. That relief quickly dissipated when she and Murray, escorted by security for protection, exited the building.
“What transpired instead felt like a scene from ‘Homeland’ rather than an evening at an institution of higher learning,” she wrote.
Stanger was physically attacked by protesters, her neck was injured and her hair was pulled. She was later taken to the emergency room and released, she said.
“For those of you who marched in Washington the day after the inauguration, imagine being in a crowd like that, only being surrounded by hatred rather than love. I feared for my life,” she wrote.
While Murray called the incident a possible “disaster” for liberal colleges, Stanger said it highlighted the divides in the country.
“To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken,” Stanger wrote. “Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree.”