Several months ago Charles Murray, of Coming Apart fame, was asked to speak to the students of Azusa Pacific University about his new book “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead.” At the last minute, the college decided to postpone the event, apparently because Murray has said or written some controversial things over the course of his career. In response, Murray penned an open letter to the students, challenging them not to accept nebulous, second-hand charges. Here’s an excerpt:
You’re at college, right? Being at college is supposed to mean thinking for yourselves, right? Okay, then do it. Don’t be satisfied with links to websites that specialize in libeling people. Lose the secondary sources. Explore for yourself the “full range” of my scholarship and find out what it is that I’ve written or said that would hurt your faculty or students of color. It’s not hard. In fact, you can do it without moving from your chair if you’re in front of your computer.You don’t have to buy my books. Instead, go to my web page at AEI. There you will find the full texts of dozens of articles I’ve written for the last quarter-century. Browse through them. Will you find anything that is controversial? That people disagree with? Yes, because (hang on to your hats) scholarship usually means writing about things on which people disagree.
The treatment of Charles Murray is due to the increasing “illiberalism” of campus liberals, who are working to keep unfashionable speech and perspectives out of their institutions (if not quash them entirely). An article in the Harvard Crimson that recently made national news epitomizes the twisted thinking behind these decisions. Undergraduate Sandra Y. L. Korn argued that “academic justice” was of greater value than academic freedom. Progressive ideas and research should be promoted, and conservative ideas shunned. Some on the Left are noticing and pushing back against this trend. Michelle Goldberg of The Nation, for example, has been writing excellent pieces on the return of the “anti-liberal” left.Here’s a shocking idea: liberals should be liberal, especially on college campuses. To be truly liberal, you must endorse the free exchange of ideas. The university doesn’t exist to swaddle students in a protective cocoon, safe from any possible offense, insult, or challenge to their beliefs. It exists, in part, to prepare students for the rough-and-tumble of real life. It cannot do so by coddling students and warding off any possible “triggers” that could upset them. By practicing illiberal liberalism, colleges are failing in yet another way to prepare students adequately for real life.