Charles Murray, a famed controversial political scientist, is set to speak Friday, March 25 as part of Pamplin’s College of Business BB&T Distinguished Lecture Series on Capitalism. The event has led to calls for cancellation from Africana Studies faculty members and various local community activists.
Murray, a fellow at the D.C.-based conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, rose to prominence in 1994 after co-authoring the best-selling book "The Bell Curve" — which argues that intelligence is linked to race and class.
The Africana Studies Program issued a statement Sunday, March 13 arguing that the event is contradictory to the mission of the university. The open letter included 42 signatures mainly from Africana Studies faculty members but also from other University faculty members.
“We must strive to build a university that is inclusive, and the faculty of Africana Studies exists to move the University towards that goal. But doing so by including perspectives that visit depredation upon the climate of inclusivity is folly,” wrote Ellington Graves, the director of Africana Studies Program at Virginia Tech. “Similarly, we are unswerving in our commitment to civility in dialogue. Yet, civility in the face of narratives that visit violence upon marginalized populations — recalling the history of forced sterilization, unjust institutionalization and incarceration, and denial of basic human rights and dignity — is contrary to the spirit of that ideal.”
Blacksburg’s Steering Committee of the Coalition for Justice issued an open letter to Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast Monday, March 7 calling for the cancellation of the event.
“At the time when rising racism, misogyny and anti-intellectualism have moved to the forefront of our national consciousness, there is no better place than a college campus from which to focus our efforts against the voices of prejudice and hate. We urge you to cancel this invitation,” the letter read.
Virginia Tech’s NAACP chapter echoed the Coalition of Justice’s statement in an open letter of its own on Thursday, March 10.
“Charles Murray’s writing and commentary promote white supremacy, classism and sexism by presenting ideas that demonstrate that Blacks, Latinos, the poor and women are intellectually inferior to white men,” read the chapter’s statement.
President Timothy Sands responded to the criticism Wednesday, March 10 in an open letter to the community writing, “Dr. Murray is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity — a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”
Though Sands does not support Murray’s message he does support Pamplin’s decision to go ahead with Friday’s lecture.
“The dichotomies of free speech vs. censorship and civil discourse vs. hostile discourse intersect but are not equivalent,” Sands wrote. “While we cannot prevent others from finding their place on each of these axes, let us set an example for free speech AND civil discourse.”
Murray responded to Sands' open letter with one of his own, writing, "...I confess that I was not entirely satisfied with (Sands') characterization of my work."
Pamplin College began the lecture series in 2007 after receiving a $1 million dollar gift from the BB&T Charitable Foundation to sponsor programs on capitalism and freedom. The lecture series aims to bring two speakers to the university every year, and past speakers include CEOs, academics and journalists.
Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast was not able for comment.