Matt Yglesias On The Purpose Of Tenure, And What Happened (In The 1970s!) To Richard Herrnstein
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Earlier, by Peter Brimelow: The Purpose of Tenure [Sidebar to For Whom the Bell Tolls] First published in Forbes, October 24, 1994 editor Peter Brimelow interviewed both Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein for his Forbes article on The Bell Curve, which is by Murray and Herrnstein.

Herrnstein died of cancer between the August interview and the October publication of the article, so Murray provided the quote that ended The Purpose of Tenure: 

”But Dick would never have backed off an unpopular idea,” says Charles Murray. ”He thought that was what tenure was for.”

Charles Murray’s October 10, 1994 obituary of Herrnstein says

About four years ago, shortly after Dick and I had begun to collaborate on a new book about intelligence and social policy, we were talking over a late-evening Scotch at his home in Belmont, Mass. We had been musing about the warning shots the prospective book had already drawn and the heavy fire that was sure to come. The conversation began to depress me, and I said, ”Why the hell are we doing this, anyway?”

Dick recalled the day when, as a young man, he had been awarded tenure. It was his dream fulfilled—a place in the university he so loved, the chance to follow his research wherever it took him, economic security. For Dick, being a tenured professor at Harvard was not just the perfect job, but the perfect way to live his life. It was too good to be true; there had to be a catch. What’s my part of the bargain? he had asked himself. ”And I figured it out,” he said, looking at me with that benign, gentle half-smile of his. ”You have to tell the truth.” There was no self-congratulation in his voice, just an answer to my question. 

Not everybody feels that way today—they didn’t then, either: Herrnstein was unusually brave—and Matt Yglesias reports on his Substack that

This week, I’m recommending Steve Teles’ essay “Beyond Academic Sectarianism,” which pleads with America’s professor community to take concerns about ideological homogeneity undermining the purpose of the university seriously.

I would add only that the very gentle way in which his critique is framed underscores how bad the situation is. There was an incident recently where a young left-wing historian named David Austin Walsh complained that being a white man was hurting his odds of getting a tenure-track job. This attracted a lot of public condemnation, and he apologized. In the week or so after he apologized, several different white male historians expressed to me, in private, the view that Walsh was correct about this and that the criticism he received was unfair. I have less than zero information about contemporary hiring practices in academic history departments, so I have no idea whether these guys are right. What I do know is that the whole point of tenure, as a practice, is that scholars who have it are supposed to be able to speak their minds without fear. Yet here we had people who believe that a relatively powerless young scholar is being unfairly maligned for saying things they believe to be true, yet they are afraid to stand up for him because to do so would involve bucking the local left-wing consensus.

This particular incident is not actually a big deal, since absolutely everyone involved agrees that the field of history has much bigger structural challenges. But the casualness with which people would tell me they thought Walsh’s complaints were correct, but of course they could never say so publicly drove home the extent to which the basic truth-seeking function of the university has been compromised.

Can Uncle Sam fix the cost of living?, June 21, 2024 [Emphases added]

Conor Friedersdorf confirms that many tenured professors are afraid:

What are they afraid of? Not just social consequences, such as being shunned by fellow academics, but actual violence.

Here’s how the 1994 article Peter Brimelow wrote about Herrnstein starts:

”There’s a limit to what you can say in a multicultural society.”
Richard J. Herrnstein was cheerfully but mortally ill when FORBES [i.e., then Forbes editor Peter Brimelow] visited him at his home one hot day in August. Still, when we reported that an eminent Harvard colleague had offered the above excuse for ducking the IQ controversy, his eyes widened in perceptible anger. With sudden quiet intensity, he said: ”That’s entirely contrary to everything the Founding Fathers stood for.”

Herrnstein, who died at 64, was the son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, a New Yorker who never forgot his shock at the segregated South he saw when hitchhiking to Florida in the 1940s. He graduated from CCNY and then spent essentially all his career at Harvard, where for several years he served as chairman of the department of psychology. He was even a student of the behaviorist B.F. Skinner, a famous proponent of nurture over nature.

But simple impulse of scientific curiosity seems to have led Herrnstein to his final, perhaps unstereotypical, conclusions. While coauthoring a history of psychology, he became aware, he told FORBES, ”that the reach of psychometrics in psychology is largely unappreciated.” The study of measurement in turn led him to recognize that ”the genetic component has to be acknowledged.... It’s no accident that cats don’t play the cello.”

And in 1966 Herrnstein experienced a ”flashbulb moment”—the term for key points in mental development invented by his Harvard colleague Roger Brown—when he saw a television news item about the Coleman Report. (Mandated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Coleman study found that variation in school quality explained surprisingly little of the variation in educational achievement.) ”We had all assumed we just needed to follow Brown [the 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation decision] with amelioration [of school conditions],” he recalled. Now it was clear that more was involved.

Which was why one day in the early 1970s found himself hidden under a sink in the University of Iowa faculty lounge (”having a very pleasant chat with a graduate student”) while radical demonstrators bayed for his blood. He was eventually rescued by armed guards. This was the flower-child generation’s response to Herrnstein’s September 1971 cover story in Atlantic Magazine discussing intelligence and its social implications. For a year every class he gave at Harvard was disrupted. The Harvard administration waffled.

It’s the whole radical demonstrators baying for your blood thing that worries people. When Robby Soave of Reason called demonstrators bursting into a Sexuality and Gender Law class at Columbia to protest the professor ”something of a new low for the campus anti-speech movement” I said:

”New low”? New low? Many of psychologists and other people who research IQ have been suffering this kind of thing so long that I can’t call them to witness because they’ve died of old age.

Classroom Disruption ”New Low” In Free Speech Wars? It’s Been Going [On] In IQ Researchers’ Classrooms For 50 Years!  September 10, 2017

Toby Young attended a 2017 conference on IQ at University College London (UCL) which had to be held in secret to avoid Antifa violence, which has been a threat since  Hans Eysenck was physically assaulted by Maoists at the London School of Economics in 1973. He said

Attendees were only told the venue at the last minute—an anonymous antechamber at the end of a long corridor called ‘Lecture Room 22’—and asked not to share the information with anyone else. One of those present, on discovering I was a journalist, pleaded with me not to write about the fact that he was there—he didn’t want his colleagues to find out. It was like a meeting of Charter 77 in Václav Havel’s flat in Prague in the 1970s. But these precautions were not unreasonable, considering the reaction that any reference to between-group differences in IQ provokes.

As you can read here J. Philippe Rushton had his classes disrupted by thugs, and was physically assaulted at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Berkeley’s Arthur Jensen received so many death threats that ”he always filed his movements in advance with the campus police so two officers could to with him wherever he went and protect him” and had his mail routed through the campus police in case of letter bombs.

You remember the conference that had to be held in secret because of Antifa violence? Steve Sailer’s multi-city book tour was also held in secret, on an invitation only basis, because he deals with the same truths Herrnstein and the others did.

The only exception to ”held in secret” was when he spoke behind the walls of’s Berkeley Springs Castle.

And Herrnstein’s Bell Curve coauthor Charles Murray (not a tenured professor, but a fellow of AEI because no university would give him tenure in the first place) was still getting, during a 2017 visit to Middlebury College, the same kind of ”radical demonstrators baying for his blood” treatment that Herrnstein received in the 1970s.

See Reflections on the Revolution in Middlebury, by Charles Murray, AEIdeas, March 5, 2017:

Do you know how Matt Yglesias reacted to that? By approving of it, and comparing Murray to Hitler, in a now deleted Tweet:

See Yglesias: Charles Murray Is Like Hitler, by Steve Sailer, March 4, 2017. (The Tweet wasn’t deleted because Yglesias was ashamed of it, but because he’s a serial Tweet deleter.)

So Yglesias is right ”that the whole point of tenure, as a practice, is that scholars who have it are supposed to be able to speak their minds without fear. ”

But if he wants to know what they’re afraid of, it’s him and his Leftist friends.

James Fulford [Email him] is a writer and editor for

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