Ethics Quiz: Farrakhan, Snooki, Senator Portman, and University Speaker Ethics

Pick your poison!

Your Ethic Quiz question for the weekend: Which of these is the most unethical choice to speak at a University?

Your choices:

A. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, the over-the-top trashy break-out star of the bottom-of-the barrel cable reality show “Jersey Shore,” hired for $32,000 by Rutgers University to address students.

The Jersey Shore star headlined an event Thursday called “Inside the Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi Studio” at the school in Piscataway, N.J., where 1,000 students heard her talk about fist pumping, her signature hair pouf and the “GTL” (that’s “Gym, tan, laundry” for those of you with a brain) lifestyle she lives out weekly on her show.  People Magazine reported that her fee was $2,000 more than what the university will pay Nobel prize-winning Toni Morrison, who is booked be a commencement speaker at Rutgers next month. To students who complained that this was a waste of their tuition money—Gee, ya think?—-Rutgers offered an unsatisfying explanation that the funds to pay her came out of an account that somehow doesn’t contain tuition money. This still did not address the question of what an institution of higher education is doing paying money to have their students addressed by a semi-literate, shameless moron with the moral standards of an alley cat. Her advice to the students? “Study hard, party harder.”

“Check please!”

Dennis O’Reilly put this in perspective nicely, writing,

“Rutgers’ actions constitute an embarrassingly shameful statement regarding values. In dollars and cents, Rutgers has sent a strong message by putting a higher value on Snooki, a reality “star,” than on one of America’s and the world’s greatest novelists….As a person whose aunt teaches fifth grade in a public school not far from Rutgers and is forced to buy, with her own money, notebooks and pencils for many of her students because their parents cannot do so, I have a problem with taxpayer money going to an overpaid and rather useless cause…I mean, they are in Jersey; they can find a Snooki comedy act at any local bar…the situation speaks to the general questions of what is passing for higher education and what is passing for student enrichment programming. In short, how low is the bar in American higher education? And are there any governing standards?…In addition, ethicists advise us to use the following as a simplest litmus test for judging behavior: What if everyone did it? In this case, what if every university used funds and students’ time to lapse into mindless self-indulgence and send distorted messages to students, in the guise of higher education?…David Foster Wallace addressed this issue: “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

B. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who is an outspoken gay marriage opponent (as well as other things, like an expert of trade), has been invited by the University Michigan Law School to address its graduating students on Senior Day

Many Michigan Law students have objected to the choice of Senator Portman, because of his strong anti-gay rhetoric and negative votes on the issue of gay marriage. The website Above the Law asked Law School Dean Evan Caminker for his side of the matter, and he responded in an e-mail:

“…I truly regret that this issue has caused members of our community distress in anticipation of what should be a celebratory day…The Law School has a tradition of inviting commencement speakers with a range of backgrounds and accomplishments, including leaders in government, public service, and private enterprise. We seek speakers who have achieved success and accomplishment in their professional careers, rather than speakers whose views are representative of all or a majority of the students at the Law School. For those in the public sector we invite alumni who represent a broad range of political views in high-level service, in both national and state government. Last year’s speaker was White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, for instance. Above all, the University as an institution is committed to being a place of respectful conversation and debate. We are deeply invested in the principle of diversity where a wide spectrum of perspectives is included. The Law School remains steadfast in its commitment to create a supportive environment for our LGBT community, and also to create an educational environment in which diverse viewpoints can be represented. Anything less would undermine the Law School’s core values.”

Ellie Mystal, Above the Law’s author, rebuts the Dean’s argument thus:

“…But what Dean Caminker really doesn’t get — what scores and scores of moderates and even general liberals don’t always get — is that the similar speaker to the Rob Portmans of the world…[is] David Duke. It’s Louis Farrakhan. Now if Dean Caminker wants to say that Michigan Law is a community where Farrakhan’s virulently Anti-Semitic rhetoric can be discussed with “respectful conversation and debate,” fine. I’m sure that’d be an interesting symposium. But I doubt, I highly doubt, Dean Caminker is going to be putting in a call to Louis Farrakhan with an invite to speak at graduation! This isn’t some kind of lecture series where students are showing up for free pizza, this is part of his students’ graduation celebration — and it’s supposed to be a celebration for gay students too.

“But see, Dean Caminker doesn’t think of Rob Portman like he thinks of Louis Farrakhan. He thinks that the anti-gay-marriage people are just one of many co-equal viewpoints. This guy doesn’t like gay marriage, that guy doesn’t like the New York Yankees. Whatever, we can all talk about this like adults.”

And speaking of the Rev. Farrakhan, he is choice C., having addressed Howard University students on April 2.

Louis Farrakhan did not disappoint his detractors, delivering one of his trademarked rants that included his usual anti-white racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, plus the added bonuses of endorsing “Truther”claims, praising Gaddafi, condemning integration and calling President Obama a “nigger.” Howard is the oldest black university in the nation and the most prestigious.

So, which speaker selection is more unethical, A, B, or C?

They are all bad choices; careless, irresponsible, incompetent. Only two of them rise to the level of unethical, though: C, Rev. Farrakhan at Howard, and A, “Snookie” at Rutgers.

The choice of Farrakhan is indefensible. Unlike Ellie Mystal, I don’t think he is an appropriate speaker at any university, ever, unless there is going to be a strong rebuttal speaker on hand. He is a racist, a bigot and a hate-monger, and no more belongs at a podium at an African-American school than he does at an Ivy League college. Not only does he spread lies, but he works to undermine racial harmony in America by seeding suspicion and paranoia. The fact that he is a gifted orator simply makes exposing  college students to his seductive poison more irresponsible.Howard students who witnessed his speech were effusive in their praise: that isn’t education, it is corruption.

Paying Snookie to speak shows wretched judgment that communicates a general lack of respect for Rutgers’ students, the values of higher education and the financial resources the University is obligated to conserve and spend well. It’s not as bad as inviting Farrakhan, as Snookie can only make students stupid and shallow, and she’s not a good enough speaker to even accomplish that, while listening to Louis can turn a young mind to the Dark Side, and has.

The toughest case is Senator Portman.  If he is going to speak about gay marriage on Senior Day, there is no disputing Mystal’s verdict on any level: gay law students should not be insulted and demeaned by a law school speaker. But I am assuming the Senator will have the sense and respect not to speak on this topic at Michigan,  so the ethics of his speaking are more complex.  He is a poor choice, given the existence of plenty of available speakers who have not endorsed the proposition that gay Americans don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else; but is he an unethical choice, regardless of what he chooses to speak about, because of that one point of view? The same arguments against Sen. Portman speaking could be employed against any pro-abortion rights Senator (“Pro-infanticide!”) or any anti-abortion rights Congressman (“Anti-woman!”) with the all the fervor Mystral expresses against the Senator. As a U.S. Senator and an alumnus of the law school, Portman has inherent legitimacy and appropriate credentials to speak at any university, certainly more than a reality TV star and a hate-spewing demagogue.

I have to conclude that Portman is a poor choice, but not an unethical one. The quiz question boils down to deciding which is worse for a school to expose its students to, the stupidity of one of America’s worst-case celebrities, the bile of a hate-monger, or the reflections of a U.S. Senator who is bigoted against gays. There is at least a chance that if he stays off the topic of gay marriage, Portman might say something valuable, and for that reason, I rank the choice of speakers, inorder ethical offensiveness,

1. Rev. Farrakhan

2. Snookie

3. Senator Portman

24 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Farrakhan, Snooki, Senator Portman, and University Speaker Ethics

  1. I’d agree completely if the occasions were similar, but they aren’t. Snooki and Farrakhan were both hired to speak on campus, but students were apparently free to stay away (perhaps some were required to be there for a class assignment, but that changes their status as spectator). Portman was hired for Senior Day: you can’t attend your own Senior Day without having to hear him. I think that changes the equation. Enough to change your ordering? Probably not, for the reasons you enumerate. But it tightens the field.

    • It does; Mystal did cover that distinction, but I probably should have pointed it up The reverse of your point is that if Sen. Portman was, like other two, a non-graduation speaker, there’s no basis to object to him at even if he DOES speak about gay marriage. The Rev.’s appearance wasn’t a graduation day speech, but it was a major campus-wide event.

  2. I guess this means I’m “bigoted against gays”, too. I should hurry up and call my brother and his partner–they’ll be really interested to hear about this new development.


    P.S. I am in favor of civil unions and individual choice for all manner of things like inheritances, medical visitation, and the like. But I don’t agree that the word “marriage” should be applied to a CU unless it is a union of one man and one woman. Words mean things and this particular one goes back thousands of years. IMO, all marriages are also CU’s. Not all CU’s are marriages.

    • I think that’s a defensible position, Dwayne…Portman’s rhetoric has been on the line of bigotry, though….intentionally appealing to the anti-gay voting bloc. I think the “Defense of Marriage” act has to be regarded as an anti-gay rights measure. There’s a big difference between preferring civil unions and taking the position that a social and legal right has to be “defended” against gays and withheld from them even if a state’s voters decide otherwise. It essentially cuts off the process of evolving public views. It would be like passing a “Defense of Private Business Act” in the early Sixties to head off civil rights legislation.

    • This argument, which seems defensible, is really just bullshit.

      Marriage, as used by the government, is completely a-religious. The “one man one women” argument applies to religious traditions, not to governmental contracts. If you can’t understand how the word has two meanings, then you should be arguing for the removal of the word marriage from all public institutions, as a first amendment cause.

      • Easy there, Tiger . . . I think you’ve got me all wrong. DNZ != SMP, which was the actual reason for my first two sentences.

        I’m pretty sure that the concept of “marriage”, in the context that I’m using it, predates most religions (certainly both Christianity and Islam) and all existing governments–however it is not my intent to go all the way back to “chattel”. And for that matter, “One Man/One Woman” ALSO runs contrary to certain religious traditions that allow the sum of the parties involved to exceed two. Narrower brush, s’il te plait.

        And if government wanted to rename it all to “Civil Unions”, I wouldn’t oppose it. My position has nothing-zer0-nada to do with religion and everything to do with the naked attempt to effect a cultural change through the legal system, rather than by winning over hearts and minds in the arena of ideas.

        . . . none of which is actually on-topic. The part that WAS on-topic was my objection (which I tried to make both subtle and mildly amusing) to the transition from “gay marriage opponent” to “bigoted against gays”.


        • And if government wanted to rename it all to “Civil Unions”, I wouldn’t oppose it.

          Disambiguation is often best. I’d like it, but it seems extremely unlikely.

          My position has nothing-zer0-nada to do with religion and everything to do with the naked attempt to effect a cultural change through the legal system, rather than by winning over hearts and minds in the arena of ideas.

          What? Since when do you need popular opinion to prevent the mistreatment of minorities? Isn’t America great because we treat everyone equally? Or try to?

          . . . none of which is actually on-topic. The part that WAS on-topic was my objection (which I tried to make both subtle and mildly amusing) to the transition from “gay marriage opponent” to “bigoted against gays”.

          There is no transition. If you are for denying civil rights to a specific group, bigot is an accurate term.

          • Law, though many would deny it, is legitimately both a means of influencing society’s standards of right and wrong and a refection of it. In the case of gay marriage, I think both factors—evolving public attitudes (often due to the increasing realization that one’s children, colleagues and friends are gay) AND legal changes are driving cultural change, both supporting and leading the other in complex ways.

            On the bigotry issue (I have written on this point before), I am uncomfortable calling those who are strict moralists on the matter “bigoted.” They believe that a Higher Authority has declared certain conduct to be sinful, and they are pledged to believe and follow was that HA decrees—a pure, unreasoned moral imperative. I don’t call this bigotry, I call it being “wrong”—wrong to adhere to unseen authority, wrong to refuse to challenge supposedly divine pronouncements that are really reflections of archaic fears and ignorance.
            Don’t get me wrong–there are a lot of anti-gay bigots. But opposition to gay marriage arising from a sincere belief that “God says it’s wrong, and who am I to question God?” is not bigotry.

            • I agree with the first part. I can’t agree with the second part. Why is following religion any different than following your parents or your friends? While religion is a reason people are bigotted, it doesn’t excuse bigotry, just like it doesn’t excuse any other kind of hatred or immorality.

              A secondary issue is that God doesn’t say gay marriage is wrong. A lot of people choose to believe that their God says it is wrong. The control on the beliefs of God are in the believer, no matter how much they want to place it on their outside power.

              • I would have sent the fire department to your house if you HADN’T disagreed with the second part.
                It’s different because people who believe in God believe that he is infallible and all-knowing, and nobody believe that about their parents and friends. You have to admit, that’s a material distinction. It’s not fun having your father or pals mad at you, but nobody who isn’t aspiring to a career as a pillar of salt or whale food wants The Creator of The Universe mad at them. One can question the wisdom of the belief, but assuming the belief, how can you question the logic?

                • One can question the wisdom of the belief, but assuming the belief, how can you question the logic?

                  One can’t. God is designed in such a way that if you agree he exists and imparts knowledge on people, you can’t argue with any possible position anyone takes. If someone believes it’s a sin to not curse at old ladies, they’re going to curse at old ladies. If someone believes God wants homosexuals to be stoned, watch out.

                  Where the belief comes from (or where they tell you the belief comes from) does not change what the belief is. Bigotry is still bigotry. That bigotry might be considered good by a specific religious believer, but it is still bigotry.

                  • According to Merriam-Webster, a bigot is “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”. Using that definition, Mr. Zechman is not a bigot, if only because he apparently feels little to no actual animus against gays; it’s certainly a discriminatory viewpoint, but not a bigoted one in that there’s nothing there that suggests that he believes gays are evil perverts out to destroy
                    America or that he would refuse to treat a gay person with respect and dignity. At most, it’s similar to the man who believes that blacks are on average “inferior” to whites, but still thinks his black co-worker is a smart man and believes that ending Jim Crow and apartheid was a good thing, or the street preacher I met recently who tried to get me to convert, but who nevertheless acknowledged that I was a decent enough human being.

                    • Using that definition, Mr. Zechman is not a bigot, if only because he apparently feels little to no actual animus against gays

                      Where is there anything in the definition that requires a bigot to feel actual animus? Intolerance is not animus.

                      there’s nothing there that suggests…that he would refuse to treat a gay person with respect and dignity.

                      …except for the denial of marriage thing.

                      At most, it’s similar to the man who believes that blacks are on average “inferior” to whites, but still thinks his black co-worker is a smart man and believes that ending Jim Crow and apartheid was a good thing,…

                      Pretend this white guy claims to think that blacks are equal, but that ending Jim Crow would be a bad thing. Then you have the current case.

  3. I remember when Farrakhan and/or his cronies were invited to speak when I was an undergraduate. They were often invited for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. One year, Rev. Farrakhan’s chief deputy went into one of the computer labs, saw a student wearing a star of David, and proceeded to scream at her for “infecting black babies with AIDS”. I really doubt that Sen. Portman would do something that insulting and outrageous, no matter how big a jerk he might be.

  4. “If I misrepresented either your positions or DNZ’s, please correct me.”

    “If” . . . ?!? I have trouble being sure that you even READ what I wrote.

    What I’ve already written is complete enough to discern my position correctly if you read it critically and leave that which is unsaid “undefined” and off-the-table. You appear instead to have filled in the blanks from your own speculation. That’s a straw man tactic. Foul.

    But no, I’m not going to correct you or argue with you. I will not write a 50+ page position paper on a blog post just to satisfy someone who demands the rigorousness of a mathematical proof, particularly when the whole discussion thread isn’t even directly related to the original article, which itself is now more than a week old.* In fact, I shouldn’t have even had to reveal private details about my family in a public online forum (and under my real name, no less), but I expected–and was proven correct–that someone would jump to the “homophobe” conclusion without really listening. (I suppose I’m also a racist because I didn’t vote for President Obama, too.)

    But I will expand on one thing that I admit didn’t say what I intended: “effect a cultural change through the legal system”. The cultural change in this case is using the law to try to change the well-known, accepted meaning of a word. Words do change meaning, and that is part of culture. Thus, a cultural change. Imagine that a black person who wants to end Jim Crow is lobbying to have people with dark skin legally referred to as “White People”. Right goal, wrong way to get there. Opposing the method is not the same as opposing the goal.

    So how about this: If four HETEROSEXUAL people, two men and two women, wanted to form a family and create a Civil Union, I think they should be allowed to. I’m not denying them anything. I just don’t think such an arrangement should be called a “Marriage”.

    So I’m done here–I think it’s off-topic and I need to act like it.
    So barring Jack saying that it’s okay to continue,
    “That’s all I got to say about that.” [Forrest Gump]


    P.S. Julian: Thank you for your kind words.

    * A side note: Jack, since the “Alarms” format evidently allows you write SO much more often that you did on the “Scoreboard”, I must say I’m delighted with the change. A week-old article on the Scoreboard would never have been considered “old”. Bravo.

    • Dwayne: Your position above is reasonable, I think, from an ethical perspective. As I have written before, there is no question that “marriage” has had a clear, cultural meaning that does not require an anti-gay subtext, and while I think the case has been made the concept needs to be expanded, branding people as bigots because they don’t instantly embrace a significant change in the definition of a centuries old cultural term is nether fair nor reasonable.

      Thanks for the kind words. The Scoreboard format was made obsolete by the blog explosion and 24 hour news cycle, and it could no longer serve the mission. But three essays a week sure was easier to maintain than three a day.

      • The centuries old cultural meaning of marriage has varied considerably over the centuries. Why is this any different? Because it involves homosexual love instead of heterosexual love. Nothing else. The position is bigotted on its face.

        • I think that’s unfair and unreasonable. Has the concept of marriage ever varied from a man and a woman? Not that I know of. The issue is materiality—is marriage defined by the union, or the components, or both? I agree that it is the union, but the other options are not per se unreasonable, and don’t require bigotry. just resistance to change.

          But what I REALLY want to know is, what did you think of Steven’s “Comment of the Day”?

          • Since both this comment and the below one are essentially the same point, I’ll let my response below cover this one as well. with one addendum. Resistance to change away from discrimination is bigotry. You don’t need ill will to be a bigot. As you may note, I have not accuses DNZ of hating or having other intentionally negative feelings towards homosexuals.

            As for Steven’s comment of the day…I’m behind on the Alarms. I haven’t had the usual down time, so I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m somewhat worried now though. For my own sanity, maybe I should avoid all comment of the days and all comments on all posts that have comment of the day posts built on them.

    • Your position is clear. I didn’t add anything to your position. I just pointed out the stupidity of your position and what it necessarily entails. Your position is pro-discrimination. That you don’t understand that exposes the bigotry.

      You somehow attack me for your oversharing. Very impressive. Also pointless, as your sharing boils down to “Despite what I believe, I’m not a bigot because my brother is gay.” Ugh.

      I don’t see the parallel you are making with Jim Crow either. For those of us that are nonreligious, marriage is the bonding of people for life (in theory). I don’t see how the sex of the people bonding matters. Gays already do get unofficially marriaged all over the U.S., so it’s not as if the term isn’t applied to them. It’s applying the term with the legal standing, and not creating a “separate but equal” position for them.

      • I agree–the sex doesn’t matter, but you can’t just say “Marriage isn’t exclusively for different sex couples” when in fact it ALWAYS has been, and this is a significant change that is going to take a while to sink in, for many non-bigots as well as the rest.

        • What you mean is Marriage has only been for heterosexuals…just like voting had only been for whites. Yes, it might take awhile for people to catch up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not discrimination and bigotry. It’s just socially acceptable discrimination and bigotry.

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