Try our latest crossword
Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword

Editorial: Free expression and the Charles Murray walkout

On Thursday, Dec. 8, political scientist, prominent libertarian, and American Enterprise Institute W.H. Brady Scholar Charles Murray visited the University to lecture on global basic income. This served as a part of the Future of Capitalism talk series sponsored by the Comparative Political Economy Research Initiative at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. Mr. Murray, whose extensive career includes publication of numerous best-selling books and a stint at the Manhattan Institute, is best known in some academic circles for his 1994 book, “The Bell Curve.” The Board encourages those who disagree with the thesis of “The Bell Curve” or any other theses advanced by Dr. Murray to engage with Dr. Murray’s research methods, or to disseminate information engaging with Dr. Murray’s research methods.

In response to Dr. Murray’s invitation to lecture at the University, Department of Anthropology chair Dr. Carolyn Rouse organized a walk-out in which over 75 undergraduates, graduate students, and members of the faculty participated. In an email obtained by the Editorial Board, Dr. Rouse asked to delay the start of a department-wide meeting so anthropology faculty members could “attend the walk-out en masse.” Furthermore, graduate student Serena Stein and Dr. Rouse distributed a half-page handout to attendees entering the lecture, which included an invitation to participate in the protest, a critique of Dr. Murray’s work, and a bolded statement reading, “Murray’s work is unworthy of our attention – and even our anger.” While Stein contributed to writing it, as was reported in The Daily Princetonian, the pamphlet was signed only by “Carolyn Rouse, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Director of the Program in African Studies, Princeton University.” Finally, following these events, the Prince’s headline in the newspaper’s print version said “Anthropology department led walkout organization, mobilization of people.”


The Board is consistently in favor of the ability for all members of the University to engage in the exchange of all ideas freely; accordingly, we believe it was appropriate for PIIRS to invite Dr. Murray to share his scholarship with the University community. Furthermore, the Board affirms that a walk-out is a legitimate form of oppositional speech, and is surely preferable to the anthropology department trying to shout Dr. Murray down or prevent him from speaking. We have no disagreement with the walkout itself; it is entirely the prerogative of individual students and faculty members to protest whatever speech they want. We do, however, object to the framing of the protest as seemingly organized and endorsed by the anthropology department “en masse.”

Primarily, the Board believes that no University department or other University-sponsored entity whose objective is to foster academic discourse should take, or give the impression of taking, official political stances on any guest invited to speak at the University or on any other issue about which thoughtful people of goodwill disagree. Irrespective of whether Dr. Rouse was acting in her official capacity as the chair of a University department or not, her involvement in the walk-out and her choice to sign her name with credentials on the pamphlet provided the protest the semblance of a department-wide initiative. The Board finds these actions deeply troubling, especially in light of the University’s commitment to creating an open space in which students may formulate their own opinions about disputed topics. As outlined in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.1.3, “It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution [and by extension an entire academic department], to make those judgments [about ideas] for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”

In addition, the Board believes any official political advocacy advanced by a University department, or the strong appearance of such, generates a notable chilling effect for students enrolled in or wishing to enroll in classes in the department. Following the protest, one can imagine that a student in the anthropology department who agrees with Dr. Murray’s work might feel unable to express and debate that viewpoint with department peers, or in anthropology classes, for fear of being labeled. As a corollary, students may feel pressure to advance a certain viewpoint or ideology due to fear of penalty for unpopular views vis-à-vis lower grades. Students should not feel as though they may not present certain viewpoints in University classrooms due to the political leanings of departments or professors. Any viewpoint or ideology related to stances on which reasonable people of good will disagree ought be welcome in all academic departments and University classrooms, and faculty should reaffirm their commitment to such academic freedom loudly and often.

Independent of the highly controversial nature of Dr. Murray’s academic research in “The Bell Curve,” the Board contends that Dr. Murray is a scholar with a legitimate contribution to academic discourse. In addition to his position at AEI and his extensive publications, Dr. Murray was invited to the University by a program whose objective is to foster academic discourse in the University community.

In conclusion, the Board reaffirms its position that the University should be a bastion of free speech and free expression. For undergraduates, graduate students, and professors to meaningfully expand their knowledge and associated viewpoints, the University community must be one in which engagement with challenging ideas is the norm. We believe that the Department of Anthropology's response to Dr. Murray’s appearance does not best support the mission of any institution of higher learning, and we strongly urge academic departments to refrain from adopting specific political advocacies in the future.

Megan Armstrong ’19, William Pugh ’20, Ashley Reed ’18, and Cydney Kim ’17 abstained from the writing of this editorial.


The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Co-Chairs, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »