NEW YORK—PEN America condemned a violent attack on author Charles Murray and Middlebury College Professor Allison Stanger that took place on the evening of Thursday, March 2, 2017, when Murray was invited to speak on campus. 

According to reports, Murray—who wrote the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve, which has been widely criticized for advancing racist arguments linking social inequality to genetic predispositions—was invited to speak on campus.  His attempt to give a lecture was disrupted by a jeering crowd of students that shouted over him and prevented him from being heard.  Administrators then moved Murray to a private room and streamed online his speech and questions posed by Stanger. After the event ended, Murray and Stranger, accompanied by campus administrators and safety officers, attempted to leave the building and enter a car. They were then swarmed by students and what the Seven Days Vermont, a local news outlet, described as “outside agitators.” The protesters, wearing masks, assaulted Stanger, injuring her neck while they pulled her hair as she attempted to shield Murray.  Once the pair was inside a car, the crowd jumped on the hood, banged on the windows, and threw a sign with a heavy base in front of the car to prevent it from moving.  The driver finally found a route to drive off campus.

“No matter how offensive a campus speaker may be considered, there can be no justification or excuse for violence,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel.  “Students and off-campus activists who assaulted a professor and endangered the well-being of an outside speaker, faculty members, and administrators have violated the fundamental tenets of academic freedom, which requires tolerating even ideas with which you disagree fundamentally. While there is nothing wrong with vociferous protests, virtually silencing an invited speaker and depriving the audience a chance to engage with him crosses a line. The lawless and criminal attack that followed marks a new low in this challenged era for campus speech.”

PEN America detailed a set of guidelines relating to questions of free speech on campus, including invitations to controversial campus speakers and protests, in “The PEN America Principles on Campus Speech” which form part of part of PEN America’s 2016 report And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Free Speech at American Universities.   


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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