Under a Cloud of Intolerance and Cowardice

March 24, 2011

Yesterday we had Charles Murray on campus as a speaker.  I had been the one to extend the invitation.  He has a son enrolled at the college, and I frequently assign things he has written in my National Public Policy course.  It was a stimulating visit, with many memorable, interesting exchanges between Murray and members of the Earlham community.

But the visit was also marred by a disturbing effort to silence Murray by person or persons unknown.  This morning I sent the following e-mail to the college community:

Last evening, Earlham fell under a cloud of intolerance and cowardice.

Shortly after Charles Murray began speaking on “Taking Happiness Seriously,” someone pulled the fire alarm in Carpenter.  There was no fire.  The sole and clear intent was to silence the speaker.  Murray was silenced for a few minutes.  Carpenter was evacuated.  We continued the lecture in Loose Lecture Hall twenty minutes later.  (Later, while a reception after the lecture was taking place in the Richmond Room, someone pulled a second fire alarm, this time in LBC.  Again we had to clear a building, interrupting an event.

This is an unacceptable act in any academic community.  It is doubly unacceptable in a community committed to respect for all individuals and to unfettered truth-seeking.  These are fundamental understandings to which we are all pledged in unity at Earlham through our adherence to “Principles and Practices.”

There is only one way we can escape from this cloud of intolerance and cowardice.  We need as a community to be clear that we will not tolerate such behavior.  And those who committed this act should take upon themselves alone the responsibility for violating the community’s deepest principles.

We might say that this was the act of a single person or perhaps just a few, and almost certainly this is true.  But so long as those responsible remain hidden among us, the whole community falls under this condemnation.  Each of us is forced to bear a portion of the wider world’s suspicion that Earlham will not allow someone to speak with whom we disagree.  We all fall together under the stigma that Earlham is not a place for genuine dialogue and education.

Join me in calling upon those responsible to identify themselves and to accept the judgment appropriate to those who would silence others.

I have also written Charles Murray thanking him for his visit and apologizing on behalf of Earlham.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Academic Freedom. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Under a Cloud of Intolerance and Cowardice

  1. Pingback: On Academic Freedom — A Response | The Observatory

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