Charles Murray was not met with riots when he showed up to speak at NYU last Friday, as he had been at Middlebury College a few weeks before. Still, his reception hardly served as a model for campus discourse. Security was beefed up, and his hosts, a student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, had to restrict access to the event. A small crowd showed up to protest Murray’s presence — and to hurl insults at attendees and the university itself.
In response to what occurred at Middlebury, the speech’s venue was moved to an underground room in NYU’s Torch Club, and tickets had to be reserved ahead of time, angering many who had hoped to gain admission in order to protest.
The protest was an unimpressive showing. Demonstrators numbered about 20 and brandished signs with such inane slogans as “No Eugenics on Campus — Fight Fascism.” They chanted about Murray but also directed opprobrium at NYU for permitting his visit. Pairing Murray’s alleged prejudice with that of the university, a chant of “How do you spell ‘classist’? N-Y-U!” rang out as I stood waiting to get through security, and many signs accused Murray of racism. Indeed, NYU’s Faculty of Color Caucus wrote a letter indicting Murray’s talk as “hate and fear under the guise of scholarship and free speech.”
The strongest condemnation of Murray focused on his supposed view of the poor as an underclass deserving of their situation. One student, Shirish Sarkar, told me: “Charles Murray is the latest in a long line of people that have been pushing this sort of eugenics-based poverty myth, where there’s a correlation between intelligence and poverty.” The Faculty of Color Caucus summarized Murray’s book Coming Apart, on which the talk was based, as “[blaming] poor whites for their own poverty.” Those of us who listened to what Murray had to say in his talk in fact heard him sharply reprove the out-of-touch elite that had smugly abandoned the working class and poor to their fate.
As Murray entered the Torch Club through a side door, flanked by security, his talk began with shouts of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” faintly echoing from above ground, outside of the restaurant. He referred to the hullabaloo only with an opening joke that it was all wasted on a talk that will make listeners think, “That’s it?”