Charles Murray. Image via YouTube.

A group of University of Michigan students interrupted about half of libertarian scholar Charles Murray’s speech on campus Wednesday, chanting, shouting, holding up signs and at one point turning off the lights in the auditorium.

Protesters chanted “Charles Murray go away; sexist, racist, KKK!,” and “Does it make you feel good that your work is on white supremacist websites?” according to reports in Campus Reform. One protester assaulted a field representative from the Leadership Institute, who was filming the protest, and threw the representative’s phone from the balcony. Campus security staff at the event did little to stop protestors from disrupting Murray.

In an email obtained by Michigan Capitol Confidential that was addressed to the University of Michigan College Republicans on Monday, Oct. 9, The Multicultural Leadership Council and Students of Color of Rackham demanded that the Republicans rescind their invitation to Murray. A Facebook message accused the chapter of being complicit in white supremacy and racism.

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Enrique Zalamea, a student who is the president of the College Republicans group at the university, said that not all the members of his group explicitly support the claims Murray made in his controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve.” That book discusses the factors leading to human intelligence. Zalamea also said members felt apprehensive about attending the event.

Before the speech took place, six sociology professors at the university wrote a blog post titled “Refuting Charles Murray.” The article, published on a university website, cites among other sources, marxists.org.

Zalamea, whose group sponsored the event, said he didn’t believe it was a waste even with frequent protester disruptions because it showed that students need to be able to express a conservative viewpoint without being called bigots.

The unruly protest against Murray was not the first time Michigan has gained national attention after students disrupted a politically charged event. In 2016 an estimated 150 to 350 protesters disrupted a debate over whether Black Lives Matter harms race relations in America.

In an attempt to protect the free speech of speakers in light of the speaker shout-downs at the university, Sen. Patrick Colbeck R-Canton Township introduced a bill earlier this year. The legislation would require state universities and community colleges to “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.”

The bill is based on sample legislation written by the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C., and Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. The Michigan ACLU provided input to the bill, as well.

“What we’ve got is a pattern of people trying to shout down individuals that express viewpoints that they don’t agree with, and that First Amendment, that pesky First Amendment, is not there to protect us from speech that we like to hear, but is there to protect speech we may take offense at,” Colbeck said. “Our legislation would provide some guidelines to universities – which are independent authorities under our constitution – things that we would like to see as a legislature.”

Colbeck added that the legislation would require universities to supply the Legislature with an annual report on incidents involving infringements on free speech, so they wouldn’t be “pushed under the rug.”

Sen. Rick Jones R-Grand Ledge, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill was referred, told Michigan Capitol Confidential he won’t move the bill forward.

“I’ve had second thoughts on it and I certainly don’t support Charles Murray,” Jones said. “It’s the university’s responsibilities to ensure speakers have a safe venue to speak at and I’m sure that if it wasn’t safe, there will be a civil lawsuit and there will be repercussions.”

He said that after conversations with university officials, he believes the legislation will cause more problems than it fixes.

University of Michigan Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Rick Fitzgerald said in an email that the behavior of the protesters at the Murray event as well as those at last year’s Black Lives Matter panel was consistent with a long-established university policy regarding freedom of speech and artistic expression.

“Last night, for example, Charles Murray was able to give his planned talk and address all of the questions posed by his audience,” Fitzgerald said. “I attended the event, which continued until its scheduled end time of 7:30 p.m.”

Fitzgerald declined to answer a question about whether any student had ever been disciplined for participating in a disruptive protest of a scheduled speaker.

According to Zalamea, Michigan’s stated policies allow nonviolent protesters to disrupt a speech for about 40 minutes before they are removed. On Wednesday, about 40 minutes of Murray’s 90-minute speech was interrupted by protesters.

“For the past four years as a college leader I’ve had to take all kinds of seminars on inclusivity and diversity, but apparently when there is anything controversial, they often disregard the fact that those viewpoints are worth listening to,” Zalamea said.

Editor's note: The original headline was revised.


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