An open letter to the Virginia Tech community from President Tim Sands
March 10, 2016
To the Virginia Tech Community,
An invitation extended by the organizer of a lecture series in the Pamplin College of Business to Dr. Charles Murray has prompted calls by some for a response from university administration. Dr. Murray is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity— a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.
While the topic of Dr. Murray’s talk is expected to fall within the scope of the lecture series on capitalism and freedom, the audience will find it difficult not to relate the context of Dr. Murray’s remarks to his earlier statements on race and intelligence. Yet, there is room in the intellectual life of the university for perspectives that sharpen our critical thinking skills and evoke thought and discussion on topics such as ethics, morality, logic and the scientific method.
Our Principles of Community reinforce the importance of free expression, but in “... a climate of civility, sensitivity and mutual respect.” We also “... reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” and “we affirm the value of human diversity because it enriches our lives and the University.”
However, Virginia Tech is not an intellectual island. Even when views run counter to our Principles of Community, we cannot ignore them. We must engage.
This will not be the last time that a student group, a faculty member or the administration invites a speaker whose views will be regarded by some in our community as repugnant, offensive or even fraudulent. The dichotomies of free speech vs. censorship and civil discourse vs. hostile discourse intersect but are not equivalent. While we cannot prevent others from finding their place on each of these axes, let us set an example for free speech AND civil discourse.
In the spirit of our Principles of Community,
President Virginia Tech