The headline in the New York Times last month read, “Indiana University Admits That Professor’s Views Are Vile, And That It Can’t Fire Him.” Nice. First, another party can’t “admit” someone else’s opinions are vile, as if there is a universal standard for “vile.” Second, the headline assumes that the professor is the villain in this controversy, but then, that’s the Times for you: taking sides instead of reporting the facts.
I apologize for missing this chapter in the ongoing effort to intimidate and persecute anyone whose views do not align neatly with the mandated progressive orthodoxy. The Times piece in question is dated November 23; not only was that my wedding anniversary, but I was also on an ethics training road trip without a functioning laptop. (I have one now.) I’m pretty sure I would have perceived the need for Ethics Alarms to bring some fairness to the assault on Professor Eric Rasmusen, though, as you will see, he is very capable of defending himself, if he could get a fair hearing (or reading).
The reason he can’t is because the news media has already decided that he should be shunned, as students try to run him out of academia and the marketplace of ideas.
To be clear, Professor Rasmusen is the victim of unethical conduct here, not the perpetrator of it. His “crime,” and it is not supposed to be a crime in the United States or academia, is asserting non-conforming views on his personal blog. The news media framed the story to undermine Rasmusen by stating as fact that he “used his social media accounts to denigrate women, people of color and gay men.” That is a false and unfair characterization, Rasmusen uses his blog and social media accounts to cover a wide range of topics, often brilliantly, from the perspective of a Christian conservative.
He became a target after what the media keeps calling “a popular Twitter account”–it is something called SheRatesDogs, and it is virtually unreadable— posted a screenshot of a tweet from Rasmusen in which he linked to an article titled, “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.” He didn’t write the article, and I seriously doubt that he would endorse all or even most of it. His tweet quoted a single line , but as that line suggested that there are differences between men and women, mentioning a theory of one area where men may have an advantage, this signaled to the woke that there was a monster on campus. (If, like Barack Obama, he had opined that women were “better” with no substantive argument at all, that would have presumably been fine.)
More scrutiny of his blog followed, and soon students and progressive organizations were calling for Rasmusen to be fired. No complaints about his classroom conduct had ever been made, and his fields, economics, game theory and public policy, did not present obvious opportunities for his views on other matters to come up. Nonetheless, Lauren Robel ,Executive Vice President and Provost, presumably with approval, felt she had to post a blazing letter to the University’s website, affirming that, damn it, the First Amendment prohibits a state university from firing an employee based on his opinions and stated views as a private citizen, but boy, would they ever like to, saying that Rasmusen
“…has, for many years, used his private social media accounts to disseminate his racist, sexist, and homophobic views. When I label his views in this way, let me note that the labels are not a close call, nor do his posts require careful parsing to reach these conclusions. He has posted, among many other things, the following pernicious and false stereotypes:
- That he believes that women do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia, and that he believes most women would prefer to have a boss than be one; he has used slurs in his posts about women;
- That gay men should not be permitted in academia either, because he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students;
- That he believes that black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions, and are generally inferior academically to white students.
… His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st. Sometimes Professor Rasmusen explains his views as animated by his Christian faith, although Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs; indeed, he counseled avoiding judgments. Rhetorically speaking, Professor Rasmusen has demonstrated no difficulty in casting the first, or the lethal, stone.
…and so on, in that vein. The letter goes on to outline special steps it is taking to ensure that Rasmusen’s views don’t “harm” anyone, though his record is impeccable and no one is harmed by having to work with or associate with people who think differently from them. Indeed, a supposed benefit of higher education is that one benefits from being exposed to different points of view.
Well, once that was considered a benefit, before we allowed universities to function as indoctrination camps.
Incredibly (although I don’t know why I would expect anything else), Robel’s sliming of a long-time faculty member was widely praised. “This is a masterpiece, and exactly the kind of statement I said countless times that a university can and should make,” Ari Cohn, a First Amendment lawyer, wrote on Twitter.
Really, Mr, Cohn? Accusing a professor of being vile and a bigot in an official communication to an entire campus, and, eventually the country, is what you consider model handling of diverse social and political opinions on a university campus?
I might have been convinced, based on the slanted accounts in the Times and USA Today, that Rasmusen was indeed a rogue prof who had abused his right to opine on the web by making statements that undermined his ability to teach. Then I decided to read the professor’s rebuttal of the university’s slurs against him. “He also said the provost had attributed beliefs to him that he does not hold,” said the Times, as if Rasmusen was bobbing and weaving. No, Professor Rasmusen proved, in a meticulous fisking of the Provost’s attack, that she deliberately misrepresented his views.
He does a masterful job in his own defense, and I wish I could post the whole piece here without going wildly over my word limit. (Rasmusen’s acuity was featured in an 2011 Ethics Alarms post, coincidentally enough, when he defended another professor being mistreated for politically incorrect views.) You should read all of it, but to summarize:
- What was called “racist” by the university’s spokesperson was a critique of affirmative action, nothing more. “The whole idea of affirmative action is that too few black students [would] get in without racial preferences, so we need to lower the standard for them and accept that they will do worse academically. Affirmative action may be right; it maybe wrong; but that’s what it is.”
Yes, that’s what it is, but it is taboo to say so. It is not “racist,” however.
- His “slur” on women consisted of referring to Lisa Page—the Justice Department lawyer who had an adulterous affair with Peter Strzok, leading to the text messages that, among other things, led the Inspector General to believe that the investigation of President Trump was probably politically biased—as a “slut” in a single exchange with a progressive pundit who was praising her.
“I do not think it misogynistic to speak strongly against women who steal other women’s husbands. And the guy, Strzok, is even worse,” he wrote.
Calling one woman a slut for a specific reason may be bad manners, but it is not “slurs about women.”
- He did not say, nor does he believe, that women “do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia.” “My wife, who has degrees from the Royal College of Music and Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music, taught college students at Eastern Illinois University for a year back around 1995. I did not object. Nor did I object when she decided she liked being a housewife better, a very reasonable decision. If my daughter decides to become a philosophy professor, that is okay too. Academia is a vocation more compatible with motherhood than most jobs.”
That is also true, and why my wife decided to give up her job as a high-level fundraiser when our son arrived. Rasmusen dared to question current feminist cant, which holds that children are perfectly served by being raised by nannies in two-income households. Stone him.
- He did not say that gay men should teach in academia, as the Provost’s letter asserted. (Rasmusen could sue for this.) “I am on record as saying that homosexuals should not teach grade and high school. I don’t think they should be Catholic priests or Boy Scout leaders either,” he writes. He’s wrong , but it is a widespread belief, especially among devout Christians, and will take some time, and experience with gays, to work its way out of the culture.
Rasmusen is a brilliant man, and he had to know that his extra-curricular writing would eventually land him in controversy. One part of me of feels that a responsible professor should not engage in public discourse guaranteed to cause controversies on campus and to interfere with his ability to connect with students, and that having poked the campus bear, he can hardly complain. Call it the Politically Incorrect Professor Principle. Another part of my conflicted brain feels that we are seeing suffocating intimidation being used to regulate thought and speech, and those of us who care about diversity of thought and free speech—is it still a majority?— are obligated, not to shut up, but to speak out.
Ultimately, I stand with Rasmusen, and am glad that he has the courage and the intellect to fight against his marginalization and society’s increasing hostility to non-conforming viewpoints.