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Teachable Moment; Controversial Ideas Spark Discussion

Some students at Virginia Tech are planning to protest Friday afternoon before an on-campus lecture by Libertarian political scientist Charles Murray.  And some faculty members, who disagree with Murray’s writings, but not his right to express them, are planning a ‘teach in’ to counter his controversial views.  

The group of self-selected Virginia Tech Faculty is called, “Still Concerned.” A reference to its opposition to what members call Charles Murray’s racism, sexism, and classism in his books including ‘The Bell Curve’ published in 2012.  Professor Ellington Graves is part of the group looking to add context and counter point to Murray’s remarks.

“I think there are many layers to this. Part of it is the impact on the broader context of the campus. “

Graves is professor sociology and Head of the Africana Studies program.

“Another part of it is, he’s not being brought to discuss his controversial work. He’s being brought ostensibly, to talk about capitalism and freedom but he’s still, for example, talking about things like digenesis, which is this concept of, polluting the gene pool by breeding across racial and class lines. So that stuff is still there it’s still a part of the underpinnings of his work.

The talk is part of the BB&T Distinguished Lecture Series at the Pamplin College of Business.  News of it caught some by surprise and sparked immediate protest on campus. In 2014, Murray was un-invited from a planned talk at a California University after a similar outcry there.  But Graves points out, the faculty is not calling for that.  Instead it’s marshaling scholars from Tech and beyond to present counter points in their ‘Teach In Against Hate’ this week. 

Charles Murray says his message is neither hateful nor racist and that it’s been misunderstood and misinterpreted.

“You know one of the interesting things about the attacks on me, not just this week but the last 20-odd years, is no body ever gives prolonged direct quotes from anything I write.  There’s a reason for that.  You  can not take a direct quote from something I’ve written, that’s more than 20 words long and not realize that I’m not saying anything terrible.”

Murray says it’s a misconception that his thinking is racist. He says his point is that because IQ or Intelligence quotient as measured by the standardized test plays a larger roll than ever before in determining outcomes in life.

“And the result is that we have developed a cognitive elite that is making out like bandits and we also have a new lower class that has gotten the short end of the stick through no fault of their own and are faced with problems that they were not faced (with) before.  So this very long book, “The Bell Curve” is talking about the problems engendered for the American social structure, for people of all races by this change in the value of intelligence.

Ellington Graves says, one of the problems that comes up in talking about diversity is that sometimes, people who are not part of marginalized groups can have a blind spot to the impact that has on their lives.

“You know, people talk about the bigotry that they face or they talk about micro-aggressions or women talk about patriarchy and sexism or the poor talk about feeling marginalized and left out.  The response is, what are you whining about?  Well, we’re whining about the fact that over and over and over again, things happen, which have impacts on our lives and life chances to which so many people in our society and especially people in positions of power are blind.”

At his lecture this Friday. Murray will talk about his more recent book, called ‘Coming Apart’ which came out in 2012.  But he says it draws heavily on his earlier 900 page volume that has gotten so much reaction.

“In ‘The Bell Curve’ (the late) Dick Herrnstein and I were saying ‘Folks we got some very serious problems coming down the road of this country becoming a kind of cast like caste system. In “Coming Apart” I was saying, ‘Folks the problems are here now.’ –I hadn’t thought of it this way, but actually the lecture will be a good opportunity for the audience, ironically, to find out what “The Bell Curve” was all about.

Political Scientist, Charles Murray will speak at 3:30 pm Friday (March 25th) at the Skelton Center on the Virginia Tech Campus.  

Teach-In Against Hate:  WEDNESDAY, March 23 at 6pm in Torgersen 3100
Protest Against Human Inferiority:  FRIDAY, March 25 at 2:30pm at Inn at Virginia Tech
Dr. Jason Glenn's Counter-Lecture:  FRIDAY, March 25 at 5pm in Torgersen 2150