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Ahead of Speaker Event, FAS Dean Gay Says Charles Murray’s Work Lacks Academic Merit

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Claudine Gay during a 2019 interview.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Claudine Gay during a 2019 interview. By Jocelyn Wang
By Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: Oct. 14, 2020, at 10:08 a.m.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Claudine Gay said in an interview Friday that she does not believe Charles A. Murray's '65 work has academic merit amid controversy surrounding Murray’s upcoming invitation to speak in a course in her former department.

Government preceptor David D. Kane invited Murray to speak in an optional lecture series for his course Government 50: “Data,” which is scheduled for Friday. Murray is best known for his 1994 book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” which advanced widely discredited claims that there are differences in intelligence between classes partially attributable to race and ethnicity. Harvard students and faculty protested Murray’s talk the last time he spoke on campus.

Asked whether she believes Murray’s work has academic merit, Gay said she does not.

“No, I don’t, actually,” Gay said. “I don’t look to Charles Murray as an exemplar of rigorous data science.”

Several other faculty have also said they do not support Murray’s work. Statistics professor Joseph K. Blitzstein wrote to concentrators that he believes “Murray represents racist pseudoscience, not the ideals of data science.” The Computer Science undergraduate advising team wrote to concentrators that they believe Murray is “known not for any contributions to data science, but rather for his and others' use of pseudo-scientific work to justify a racist agenda.”

Murray wrote in an email that he would not respond to unsupported allegations.

“It’s really simple: Ask those who make that charge to give you a direct quote from anything I’ve written or said that backs up the allegation against me,” Murray wrote. “I’ll comment on the record regarding any direct quote. I won’t respond to unsupported allegations. Nor should anyone ever.”

“I’ll respond to anything they say I’ve done that warrants their allegations,” he added.

After The Crimson reported Kane’s speaking invitation to Murray, students alleged Kane made racist posts on his blog under a pseudonym and called for Kane’s removal in a petition that garnered nearly 700 signatures from Harvard students, alumni, and organizations. Government chair Jeffry A. Frieden and divisional Dean of Social Sciences Lawrence D. Bobo announced in an Oct. 2 email that professor Kosuke Imai will take over as the official head of Gov 50, though Kane will also continue teaching.

Kane did not respond to multiple previous requests for comment from The Crimson on the allegations.

Gay said she supports the Government department’s commitment to academic continuity, academic freedom, and mutual respect.

“I’m aware that the chair of the Government department has heard concerns regarding Gov 50 and has implemented a whole series of interventions that are consistent with their academic practices to ensure academic continuity for the students who are in the course and have been impacted by the events of the last couple of weeks,” Gay said. “I fully support the department's commitment to fulfilling its educational obligations to our students, while also upholding core institutional values regarding academic freedom and expectations of mutual respect.”

Asked whether she thinks the Government can do more to help students feel they belong, Gay said she thinks there is work to be done across the board.

“I think we can all, as a community, continue to do better to really live into our values and our commitment to inclusion and inclusive excellence,” Gay said. “I think there is work that can happen across the board.”

Gay added that she is “delighted” Sheree Owen will serve as the FAS’s inaugural Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging to help FAS achieve those goals.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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