Controversial libertarian author Charles Murray is scheduled to deliver a speech next week at Harvard University, months after a similar appearance at Middlebury descended into chaos and violence when students interrupted his speech and injured a professor as she escorted him out of the building.
Murray, a political scientist, said Wednesday he is looking forward to speaking at Harvard and hopes the event will be calm. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Murray a white nationalist, a label he vigorously denies.
He said he feels much of the backlash he has experienced recently is actually anger that students feel after the election of Donald Trump as president.
“I think that there is a very large degree of protest that has nothing to do with anything that I’ve written,” he said. “It’s very uninformed.”
Murray, a 1965 Harvard graduate, is set to speak next Wednesday evening for about 45 minutes about libertarian approaches to limited government and his 2015 book, “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.”
The author has drawn controversy for his 1994 book, “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” and his 2012 work “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” He has theorized that social welfare programs are doomed to hurt those they aim to help, and, most controversially, he wrote of ethnic differences in measures of intelligence.
Murray on Wednesday said many have misinterpreted his work on race and intelligence. He said “The Bell Curve” was intended to discuss whether IQ tests mean the same thing for different races but not draw a conclusion.
The location for next Wednesday’s event has not been disclosed by the group organizing it, the Harvard College Open Campus Initiative.
Conor Healy, a junior from Toronto who is president of the club, said the group exists to promote free speech and healthy debate. Healy said he finds Murray’s ideas interesting and believes his work is often misunderstood. He said he hopes students will question him vigorously.
“It’s better to have [controversial speakers] in the open and give students a choice to cross examine someone like Charles Murray,” said Healy, who studies government.
Healy also called the upcoming lecture an opportunity for Harvard students to prove they can behave better than those at Middlebury. He said Harvard is generally a place that encourages free speech, but there is a feeling that the school has an overall liberal bias that makes it taboo to discuss certain ideas.
“When you talk about free speech at Harvard, it is really less about the administration and more about the atmosphere on campus,” Healy said.
Murray has spoken several times at Harvard. When he came in 1995, the standing-room-only audience listened quietly to his speech, the Harvard Crimson reported at the time. The only disruption was at the beginning when about 40 members of Kennedy School minority action groups linked arms, stood up peacefully and walked out, according to the Crimson. Their seats were filled by others waiting at the door of a heavily secured auditorium.
It is unclear what type of protests might be in store for Murray this time. He said he hasn’t heard of any being planned. Some students have advocated for taking the opposite tack of those at Middlebury.
The group that organized the event said it purposely announced his visit shortly before it occurs to minimize opposition that could build. Only students with Harvard College IDs will be allowed into a location to be announced the day before the event. The group said it has reserved the space for two hours.
Murray said he has never before been the subject of the kind of violence that happened at Middlebury.
“It was very scary for about a minute and a half or two minutes, and that was when we were trying to get to the car,” he said.
He said the speech next week will be technical and academic, and he said he hopes for engaging questions. Murray said the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank where he is the W.H. Brady scholar, is covering his expenses, and neither Harvard nor the student group will pay him.
Murray was recently invited by faculty to speak at Assumption College in Worcester, but he said the school recently rescinded the offer. He said other speaking engagements were re-scheduled after Middlebury but none were canceled.
Murray called it “very sad” when schools shut down unpopular speakers. He said universities should pursue truth and cannot do so if they are also trying to further a social justice agenda.
“It’s bad to cut back speech of any sort,” he said.Laura Krantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.