Controversial speaker attracts student protesters

Natalie Sullivan

While the Civil Rights Summit kicked off its first day of events, students from University Democrats showed up outside the Tower on Tuesday night to protest a talk given by Charles Murray. Murray, a political scientist and author, is known for his controversial theories on social issues and race. 

The talk was hosted by the student branch of Texas Executive Council of the American Enterprise Institute on campus — a D.C.-based think tank aimed at exposing students to different viewpoints.

Mark Jbeily, Plan II senior and executive council member of AEI, said it was coincidental that the talk occurred on the same day as the Civil Rights Summit. 

“We don’t necessarily support Murray’s views,” Jbeily said. “We’re just here to give students a chance to ask questions and gain exposure to different viewpoints.”

Murray said he thinks people classify him as racist because his personal definition of equality is different from most people’s.

“Equality consists of treating people you encounter as individuals within the context of the different environments they grew up in,” Murray said. 

Michelle Willoughby, membership director of University Democrats, said she protested because she didn’t agree with Murray’s stance on equality and women’s rights.

“We’re out here to show that Murray is not the kind of person we want speaking in our Tower,” Willoughby said. “We believe that all people have rights regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, and Murray says you only have those if you’re a rich white man.”

According to University spokesman Gary Susswein, the Office of the Provost typically handles bookings for the room where Murray spoke — Main 212, where the Faculty Council usually meets — although Susswein said he did not have information on hand about who specifically booked the room Tuesday night. 

Susswein said the University does not support all the viewpoints of student organizations, but it recognizes the value of allowing different speakers on campus.

“UT-Austin values free speech and encourages a diversity of ideas and viewpoints on campus,” Susswein said. “At times, that means students and groups will sponsor talks by those whose views might be considered offensive to others. The University does not endorse the views of all of the speakers on campus, but we recognize the educational value of allowing many differing points of views.”

Protestors of Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott have long stood against Abbott’s citation of Murray in his educational plan, which opponents have claimed devalues pre-K education.

Joe Deshotel, Travis County Democratic Party communications director, attended the protest and questioned the timing of the talk.

“It’s a little ironic that [we’re] at a time when we’re celebrating 50 years of progress in civil rights, yet here, in Texas, women still make 77 cents on the dollar to a man,” Deshotel said.