An Open Letter to the Political Science Department

By Travis Sanderson, Middlebury Student

The American Enterprise Institute has been joined by the Political Science department in co-sponsoring Charles Murray. Murray is most well-known for arguing that societal hierarchy is based on intelligence. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled him a “white nationalist” who misuses statistics to support scientific racism. He belongs to a long American tradition of justifying white supremacy through pseudoscience, a tradition which also includes those who justified the slave trade on the basis of mental illness and those who claimed slavery benefited people of color.

Yet as a department, you chose to sponsor him.

At the time of this writing, the sponsorship had not been rescinded. Even if it has been by the time of publication, your argument remains stated and your existing policy in effect. Your argument in support of such sponsorships seems credible, at first glance. Our campus is an open forum for debate, and should be exposed to different views. You’re not a “partisan” department. You can bring other speakers to campus to refute him, and challenge him through “civic discourse.” You say that bringing controversial and non-credible speakers to campus is a long tradition in Political Science.

Your argument is flawed at every point.

Firstly, while Charles Murray may wield significant influence, he does not deserve to be granted yet another platform to speak from. Scientific racism is not a partisan position, nor a credible minority opinion. It has been the status quo through most of this nation’s history. Voices like Murray’s enabled the oppression and massacre of people of color in plantation fields and working class factories. Those voices not only have been heard in the ivy towers of prestigious institutions like Middlebury but also originate in the intellectual communities of our privileged institutions. Only through active writings and marches that forced the privileged to deny scientific racism the claim of legitimacy was such intellectual bigotry ever defeated. By sponsoring Charles Murray, the political science department has decided to use its privilege to enable scientific racism. More people will hear his voice, and more people will be convinced by his illusion of factual opinion.

Secondly, your concept for “civic discourse” is exceptionally limited. Civic discourse relies on the free exchange of ideas, but ideas cannot be freely exchanged if one side is bound and gagged with the chains and bloody cloths of history. Opinions are not all made equal. Some must shout twice as loud to get the same volume. By providing an equal platform for Murray, you do not take into account the profound inequities that already plague civic discourse. Civic discourse must not only promote a truly free exchange of ideas, by elevating the opinions of those unheard, but also embrace fact. Murray’s opinions have been discredited and thrown into the trash can of alternative facts. The claim that Murray is credible just because he went to Harvard is frankly laughable. An Ivy degree does not make you a credible voice. Donald Trump, for example, is not the image of credible “civic discourse.”

Thirdly, your affirmation of the department’s history in “objectively” sponsoring talks is no excuse. Your claim is indeed correct, however. As Professor Allison Stanger pointed out in one class, the Political Science department did invite Charles Murray after the publication of his book, The Bell Curve, to campus to speak. But tradition is not sacred. By arguing that tradition justifies the talk, the Political Science department has chosen to embrace the same logic that conservatism has employed to prevent the end of slavery, the passage of civil rights and the liberation of women. If anything, tradition illustrates the need for a much wider condemnation of departmental policy. Even if the department rescinds the sponsorship of Charles Murray, that is only one instance of what is apparently many.

So that is exactly what we will move toward. The Political Science department’s history of enabling scientific racism and alternative facts requires a broad-based community movement that forces the department to change its policy in sponsoring talks. As a body, Community Council approved an official recommendation that the Political Science department rescind the co-sponsorship of Charles Murray during our Tuesday meeting. However, we will also move to drafting more long-term recommendations to ensure nothing like this happens again. In  my capacity as a member of our community, I also encourage students to take a stand to force the department towards a new policy. If the Political Science department does not apologize publicly and announce a revised policy wherein no widely-discredited supremacist speakers will be sponsored, members of our community who feel strongly about inclusivity will move to occupy the Political Science department in a sit-in. All students, staff and faculty that stand in solidarity with an effort for real inclusion on campus are invited.

Travis Sanderson ‘19  writes in about Charles Murray’s 3/2 talk.

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