Tag Archives: academic freedom

Comment Of The Day: “The ‘Unacceptable Word’ Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?”

I don’t know if anyone regularly commenting here cares about the punishment of the acting student for his politically incorrect choice of words in an improv exercise as much as Curmie (above) and I do, but we care about it a lot.  As with the Ethics Alarms baseball ethics posts, the various theatrical ethics posts here sink quickly in readership, which, I’m afraid, speaks to a regrettable narrowness of vision. Ethical issues are seldom restricted in their applicability to the specific area in which they arise. I’m especially sensitive to ethics issues others might miss in certain areas where I have a lot of experience and expertise. The same is true, obviously, with Curmie.

Incidentally, I again urge readers to check on Curmie’s blog routinely. He has been through a light writing period of late, but when he speaks, as they once said of E.F. Hutton, people listen, or should. And maybe we can get him writing more again. I know of no more thoughtful, fair, and eloquent blogger, regardless of the topic.

See Curmie? The pressure’s on now!

Here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the post, The “Unacceptable Word” Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?:

I am not an acting teacher by trade, but I have taught about two dozen sections of various college-level acting courses over the years. I’ve also taught directing maybe 15 times, and I’ve directed about 40 full-length plays (and a bunch of one-acts)—I’ve used improv techniques in the classroom and in rehearsal many times, although perhaps fewer than some of my colleagues of equivalent experience may have done.

It is remotely possible that the professor, Craig Rosen, imposed some restrictions on the exercise. I’ve done this. For example, if a student is working on a period piece and the language is, shall we say, less explicit than that of a work by David Mamet or Neil Labute or Sarah Kane might be, that young actor may be having trouble finding the anger a character feels if the verbal expression of it seems mild by 21st-century standards.

I’m reminded of working on a book chapter about an Irish version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The translator/adapter had Masha, one of the title characters, refer to her sister-in-law as a “bitch.” I happened to have access to a good friend and native Russian speaker, who also happened to be a scholar of dramatic literature. No, she said, Masha’s expletive doesn’t really translate that way… but for her expression of class-driven disgust to have the same effect on a modern audience that Masha’s line would have had in Tsarist Russia, she’d have to call Natasha a “fucking shopkeeper.” Continue reading

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The “Unacceptable Word” Fiasco: OK, Now I Really Want To Know How Many Progressives Seriously Endorse Stuff Like This?

I just received an email from the Democratic National Committee urging me to protest Betsy DeVos’s (completely valid and overdue) withdrawal of the “Dear Colleague Letter” by which the Obama Department of Education pressured universities into dispensing with due process when a male student is accused of sexual assault. “Tell Trump and DeVos not to undo President Obama’s policies to combat sexual assault on campus!” it bleats. The e-mail blast (if I ever find out who put me on this list, there will be blood), quotes DeVos, as if this advances their case, as saying, “If everything is harassment, then nothing is harassment.”

The Education Secretary was exactly right, and a story today from Reason shows why.

Joshua Zale, a student at Moraine Valley Community College, was asked by his drama instructor to play a pimp asking for money from another student, playing the role of a prostitute in an improvisation exercise. Improvisation means that the actors work without a script. In the process of the improv, Zale used an “unacceptable word” according to the instructor, who was apparently improvising the role of a fool. The teacher immediately reprimanded Zale, who later insisted on a private meeting to learn why he had been attackedfor using a word he felt was consistent with  the role he had been assigned.  Assistant Dean Lisa Kelsay subsequently accused  Zale of violating Title IX—the weapon of choice in the “Dear Colleague Letter”—and school conduct policies by sexually harassing his acting partner “as a woman.”

No one has yet divulged what this “unacceptable” word was. I have taught improvisation. I am a pretty creative guy, with a fairly extensive vocabulary. I cannot imagine any word, from Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to Bill Maher’s favorite, cunt, to “penis breath,” uttered by a child in the opening minutes of “E.T.”, that would be “inappropriate” in an improv, especially in a scene involving a sex worker and a pimp.

As you know, ethics stories often remind me of TV shows and movies. This one (see the video clip above)  reminds me of a famous “MASH” episode, “The General Flipped At Dawn,” in which Harry Morgan, later to play lovable, crusty old Col. Potter, played an insane general. Reviewing the MASH squad, he asks Radar, “Where are you from, son?” Radar answers, “Iowa, sir..” only to have the General scream, “NO TALKING IN RANKS!!!!”

Maybe the improv instructor, Craig Rosen, flipped too. That would be an excuse, at least. But how do you explain the Assistant Dean? Continue reading

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Professor Volokh’s Ethics Dissent On The Vicious, Pazuzu-Blaming Professor’s Firing

‘Yes, I know he’s an idiot, but we should support idiots as highly paid teachers of our children, for the protection of the non-idiots…

Eugene Volokh is one of the best and most objective legal minds in the country. If he finds himself on the Supreme Court when Kennedy retires or Ginsberg shuffles off this mortal coil, we will not have suffered through the ugliness of the Trump years in vain. When he opines, I listen, as we all should, and he has now opined regarding the now fired idiot that I wrote about this morning, ex-University of Tampa visiting sociology professor Ken Storey.

Storey used Twitter, in the middle of the still-unfolding human disaster in Houston and soon New Orleans, to announce that flooding victims who were Trump supporters or Republicans deserved to die. He did this twice, so his later claim that his words did not intentionally convey what his words were obviously intended to convey was a desperate and obvious lie.

I wrote:

The university or college that fires an employee like Storey is protecting its reputation as a responsible institution, by stating in clear terms that people with terrible judgment and cruel and unethical instincts who are motivated by hate and intolerance are not qualified to teach….because they aren’t. That professors increasingly have no ethics alarms beeping when the prepare to publish sentiments like Storey’s (or worse) shows how thoroughly the leftist echo chambers of most campus faculties turn academics into Pat Robertson, which is to say, rigid, mean, and dumb. Once upon a time, liberals giggled themselves silly over the evangelical huckster’s periodic pronouncement about how a disaster was God’s way of punishing the U.S. for not abusing gays sufficiently, or similar bile, Now they do the same thing, and expect their colleagues and students to applaud.

Today, in the Washington Post, Professor Volokh advocates a different position:

Storey’s comments were nasty and mean-spirited; and I should note that the University of Tampa is a private university, in a state that doesn’t limit private employers’ ability to fire employees for their speech. The university’s actions thus seem legal (assuming they didn’t breach any contract). And Storey’s comments also weren’t academic or likely to be part of a serious political debate.

But the university’s action strikes me as further undermining the freedom of expression and debate at American universities, including the freedom to say things that are much more thoughtful. If you were an untenured faculty member at the University of Tampa, would you feel free to express your views on controversial subjects, when you saw how the university reacted to this tweet? Even if your views were very different politically, what do you think the University would do if people started pressuring for your dismissal, pointing to the Storey incident as precedent?

I’ve talked before about “censorship envy,” one mechanism through which these sorts of speech restrictions can grow: “If my neighbor — and especially my political adversary — gets to ban speech he reviles,” the thinking goes, “why shouldn’t I get to do the same?”

If a university has a strong policy of protecting speech, including offensive speech, administrators can point to that policy as a means of resisting calls for firing a controversial faculty member, and they can appeal to people’s desire to see speakers on their own side protected, and use that desire to help protect speakers on all sides. But once the university starts firing some people for speech “that do[es] not reflect [the university’s] community views or values,” that makes it much harder to resist calls for more suppression. Indeed, at that point tolerating speech starts implicitly conveying the message that the speech does reflect the university’s community views or values — and to avoid that implication, the university would have to fire any speaker who offended some sufficiently influential constituency.

I am very confident that in this rare case, Prof. Volokh is dead wrong. Continue reading

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Follow-Up! Defending Prof. Kevin Allred’s Right To Make An Ass Of Himself On Social Media

When we last visited Montclair State University Women’s Studies Professor Kevin Allred, he was about to be sacked at Rutgers for  tweeting

“Will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”

In that case, I agreed that the university had little choice but to remove Allred from the campus, noting that Allred,  as an employee, an adult (theoretically) and an instructor, should have known better than to broadcast his provocative musings in 140 characters or less to the world at large, rather than confining them to class. He should also have  known that campus shootings aren’t a joking matter after the Virginia Tech attack. If he had the sense to write “someone” rather than “I,”  avoided “when” to make it clear this was a hypothetical, the situation would probably have not arisen. Then, I wrote,

  “…Rutgers would only be risking outraged parents demanding to know why a prestigious school thinks it’s responsible to have their students going into debt to pay for courses like the one Allred teaches.”

After he had to leave Rutgers, Montclair State hired him to teach the same course on “the music and career of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter.”

I know, I know.

Now Allred is in hot water again, this time for tweeting,

Trump is a fucking joke. This is all a sham. I wish someone would just shoot him outright.” 

He then retweeted the image of Kathy Griffin holding a model of the  President’s severed head. Continue reading

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Unethical Quote Of The Week: San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart

I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma…McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health…But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago)….

San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart on Facebook, prompting some calls for him to be fired, and others on campus to second his opinion.

Is this an Ethics Quote or an Unethical Quote? I could call it  an Ethics Quote because it raises many ethical issues, and mere statements of opinions, even stupid and vicious ones, are not usually unethical in themselves. This quote strongly suggests that the speaker is unethical in  than one respect; it is also, at very least, irresponsible in its context, which is that he is a teacher, and represents the institution.

Jonathan Turley flagged this episode, as he reliably does any time a professor comes under fire for controversial speech. As always, he supports his fellow academic:

“Graubart’s comments are hurtful and hateful. It is a reflection of the incivility that has taken hold of our social and political dialogue. It is always sad to see a fellow academic rush to the bottom of our national discourse. However, we have free speech and academic freedom to protect unpopular, not popular, speech. Popular speech does not need protection. Graubart is expressing his deep political and social viewpoint on social media. He should be able to do that just as his critics have a right to denounce his views.”

San Diego State University is a government institution, and thus subject to the First Amendment, in addition to the principles of academic freedom. However, even a state institution  has a right to protect itself from harm. This isn’t just political speech; it is bona fide asshole speech, signaling that the speaker is not a trustworthy teacher, and that any school that would have someone this intolerant, doctrinaire, vile and contemptuous of kindness and compassion educating, aka indoctrinating students isn’t trustworthy either. Universities, public or not, should be able to insist on a minimal level of professionalism from faculty in their public behavior and pronouncements so the institution isn’t permanently discredited, embarrassed, and harmed.

Here is Graubart’s whole Facebook rant: Continue reading

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“Hey, Look! Professor Chung Has A Painting In The Exhib—-WHAT THE HELL?????”

While we’re on the topic of  “hate speech”…how about “hate paintings”? At public universities? Painted by faculty members?

An art gallery at the University of Alaska-Anchorage this month displayed the painting above, depicting actor Chris Evans as Captain America and holding  the severed head of President Trump while Hillary Clinton grasps Cap’s  legs like she is a slave girl and he is Conan the Barabarian.  The artist is UAA Painting Professor Thomas Chung, who  created the masterpiece as part of a faculty art program. Naturally it was accepted, just as it would have been if he had painted Thor holding up President Obama’s severed head. Of course it would have been accepted. After all, art is art. Academic freedom. Right?

Chung explains the artwork as something he chose to paint because he was upset at the results of the 2016 election. “I spent days just weeping,” he has said. Campus Reform quotes him  explaining his decision:

“I was really torn about putting this piece up at a faculty show, because I would never talk about my own political beliefs to my students. But I realized that I feel very strongly about this, and I think even students that might be pro-Trump supporters could benefit from having a conversation with me about why I feel this way—why I painted this.”

(By the way, the actual painting shows Evans/Captain America’s sex organs. None of the versions on the web do, though. Sorry!)

Random ethics observations, since I fear that painting may have caused some brain damage and I can’t seem to organize a coherent paragraph: Continue reading

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Yale’s Core Values Betrayal: The Case Of The Student’s Unnecessarily Provocative Philosophy Essay

It certainly appears as if U.S. higher education is sailing toward the shoals of ethics bankruptcy, full speed ahead. It also appears that Yale, although it’s part of a tightly bunched armada, is leading the way.

A law suit called Doe v. Yale tells a jaw-dropping tale that once would have been unbelievable, “once” meaning “before a large segment of the culture accepted the proposition that free expression and thought were undesirable unless they met certain lockstep requirements that will ease the way to a progressive utopia.” The plaintiff, a male student, claims that Yale punished him for the offense of writing a class essay that offended a female teaching assistant.

According to his lawsuit, in late 2013 a philosophy teaching assistant filed a complaint with the university’s Title IX office, complaining about a short paper “Doe” had written in the class she was helping to teach.  The essay discussed Socrates’ discussion, recounted in Plato’s “Republic,” of the three divisions of the soul and their relationship to justice. It applied the Greek philosopher’s ideas to rape, arguing that the crime was also an irrational act in which  the soul’s appetites and spirited components overwhelm its reason, which must have primacy for mankind to be moral and just.

The Title IX coordinator, an associate dean in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences named Pamela Schirmeister, told Doe that his essay was “unnecessarily provocative.” By daring to discuss rape, he had committed an offense against the teaching assistant. He was told to have no contact with the teaching assistant, and ordered to attend sensitivity training at the university’s mental-health center—re-education and indoctrination, in other words. “Doe” was now, he was told, a “person of interest” to Yale, meaning that that the college was now going to be watching him with a grounded suspicion that he was a potential danger to the campus.

What followed, a few months later, were two dubious accusations of sexual assault by female students, both handled with the slanted, pro-accuser, due process-avoiding  approach that has become epidemic on campuses since President Obama’s Dept of Education issued its infamous “Dear Colleague” letter in April of 2011.  Ethics Alarms has discussed some of these cases and the letter, but that is not the topic before us today.

Today the topic is the suppression of free speech, thought, and expression on college campuses.  Continue reading

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