At Notre Dame, Standing Firm For Liberal Education
Notre Dame professor Vincent Philip Muñoz explains why he invited Charles Murray to speak at his university next week, and why he will not rescind the invitation, despite some faculty and student requests. Excerpts:
My class, “Constitutional Government & Public Policy,” addresses some of the most important and divisive issues in American politics: abortion, gay marriage, religious freedom, inequality, freedom of speech, death penalty, race and the meaning of constitutional equality, immigration, euthanasia, and pornography.
The class is designed to prompt students to think more deeply and thoughtfully about contemporary moral and political issues. I don’t assign a textbook or “neutral” readings that summarize the issues; I require students to read principled thinkers who advocate vigorously for their respective position. I want my conservative students to read smart, persuasive liberal thinkers, and I want my liberal students to read thoughtful conservatives. Educated citizens can give reasons for their beliefs and can defend intellectually the positions they hold. That requires that we understand and articulate the positions with which we disagree.
This week and next, the class is discussing inequality. Even the New York Times, which is certainly not sympathetic to Murray’s point of view, recognized that on this subject Murray makes an important argument that should be heard. And we are not reading just him. I have also assigned selections from Robert Putnam’s Our Kids. Putnam leans left; Murray is a conservative libertarian. Putnam spoke at Notre Dame last year. So this year, I invited Murray.
I have no desire to inflict unwanted stress or anxiety on any member of the Notre Dame community, especially our minority students. I appreciate the concern for student wellbeing that motivates some of the opposition to Murray’s visit. But I believe what is most harmful to students—and, to speak candidly, most patronizing—is to “protect” our students from hearing arguments and ideas they supposedly cannot handle.
To study politics today requires handling controversial, difficult, and divisive topics. After discussing Princeton professor Peter Singer’s defense of abortion, one of my students told me she left class “deeply disturbed.” If you are genuinely pro-life, you probably should be disturbed by Singer’s arguments. But should I, therefore, not teach them?
Given what happened at Middlebury, it would be cowardly to disinvite Murray now. Rescinding his invitation would communicate that violence works; that if you want to influence academia, sharpen your elbows, not your mind. It would tell those who engaged in violence—and those who might engage in or threaten violence—that universities will cower if you just appear intimidating. Rescinding Murray’s invitation would teach exactly the wrong lesson.
And it would teach it at exactly the wrong time.
Notre Dame is one of Charles Murray’s first post-Middlebury campus lectures. It makes our event a referendum on free speech and how universities handle controversial speakers. I didn’t intend for his visit to address these issues, but it now does. Given the trends of cancelled lectures, ever-increasing calls to disinvite speakers, and ideological bullying on college campuses, we must take a stand for civil discourse and reasoned engagement. We must show that universities can host respectful conversations among people who disagree. If we can’t accomplish that minimal academic exercise, the university has lost its purpose.
Amen. A-men! Bravo, Prof. Muñoz. This is exactly the kind of principled courage we need to be seeing on every single university campus, in defense of liberal education — a cornerstone of our civilization — against the Social Justice Warrior barbarians. More, please.
By the way, has anybody heard if a single student or other person who participated in the violent anti-Murray event at Middlebury has been disciplined over it? Seriously, anybody?