In an earlier posting today, I said that Special Snowflake students who successfully badger their own universities to prevent them from having to hear words they might not agree with are not being well prepared for life in the real world. I would like to amend that statement: they are being well-prepared for a job at Marquette University, which is apparently now ruled by the Law of Merited Impossibility. You know that Law, right? It has to do with the relationship between the advancement of gay rights and the restriction of free speech. The Law of Merited Impossibility says: It will never happen, and when it does, you people are going to deserve it.
Last month, John McAdams, a conservative Marquette poli sci professor, blogged critically about the behavior of Marquette philosophy instructor Cheryl Abbate, who told her ethics class that she would not tolerate the opinions of anyone in her class who opposed same-sex marriage. She told a student who disagreed that he should drop her class. McAdams wrote on his private blog:
Thus the student is dropping the class, and will have to take another Philosophy class in the future.
But this student is rather outspoken and assertive about his beliefs. That puts him among a small minority of Marquette students. How many students, especially in politically correct departments like Philosophy, simply stifle their disagreement, or worse yet get indoctrinated into the views of the instructor, since those are the only ideas allowed, and no alternative views are aired?
Like the rest of academia, Marquette is less and less a real university. And when gay marriage cannot be discussed, certainly not a Catholic university.
The university is continuing to review your conduct and during this period–and until further notice–you are relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities, including, but not limited to, advising, committee work, faculty meetings and any activity that would involve your interaction with Marquette students, faculty and staff. Should any academic appeals arise from Fall 2014 semester, however, you are expected to fulfill your obligations in that specific matter.
Your salary and benefits will continue at their current level during this time.
You are to remain off campus during this time, and should you need to come to campus, you are to contact me in writing beforehand to explain the purpose of your visit, to obtain my consent and to make appropriate arrangements for that visit. I am enclosing with this letter Marquette’s harassment policy, its guiding values statement, the University mission statement, and sections from the Faculty Handbook, which outline faculty rights and responsibilities; these documents will inform our review of your conduct.
Richard C. Holz, Ph.D. Dean
What the heck? Eugene Volokh contacted Marquette about the matter, and it turns out that McAdams is now suspended from his job and forbidden to come to campus simply for criticizing a college instructor for intolerance of dissent on gay-rights orthodoxy.
On a Catholic campus. A Catholic campus where, on the matter of gay rights, a professor cannot defend intellectual freedom and Catholic teaching without being suspended from his job and banned from campus.
Given that the university’s actions seem to be based just on McAdams’s criticism of another instructor (though I’d love to hear more from readers who know any further facts on all this) those actions strikes me as quite improper. Marquette is a private university, and thus not bound by the First Amendment; and Wisconsin is not one of the states that generally restricts private employer retaliation based on an employee’s speech. Still, Marquette frames itself as a university that respects academic freedom and free speech rights. Acting this way towards a faculty member who publicly expresses his opinions on an important issue, including when the issue involves what he sees as improper suppression of student views by a colleague, stifles that freedom.
It not only deters faculty speech critical of colleagues, but it also tends to suppress student speech critical of faculty, and student and faculty speech on controversial subjects more broadly. If you knew that criticizing a teacher this way could lead even a senior tenured faculty member to be suspended from teaching and ordered off campus, would you as a junior faculty member feel comfortable criticizing homosexuality or gay rights? Would you as a student feel comfortable criticizing homosexuality or gay rights, or criticizing instructors who you think are intolerant of certain student views on ethics and politics?
It gets worse. Volokh follows up with a post decrying the “Unlawful Harassment Prevention” effort at Marquette. Basically, at Marquette, if somebody says they feel harassed by things they overhear on campus, then they can accuse someone of breaking the law. Volokh writes:
Universities, it seems to me, shouldn’t just take the most liability-avoiding, speech-restrictive position in such situations — if they want to continue being taken seriously as places where people are free to investigate, debate and challenge orthodox views. A professor at Marquette (not Prof. McAdams) tells me: “[T]he new harassment training, which McAdams mentions on his blog and which we as faculty all had to go through this fall, has a chilling quality to it, … then basically urging people, when in doubt, to refrain from expression.” A sad thing to see at a university.
Not at Snowflake Campuses like Marquette’s, though.
Send in more examples of Snowflake Campuses, wouldja?
UPDATE: Daily Nous says that Abbate was sandbagged by this student, apparently some kind of activist, and their classroom run-in did not happen like he claims it did. Susan Kruth of FIRE says not so fast, and reproduced a partial transcript of the student’s recording of the exchange:
Student: Regardless of why I’m against gay marriage, it’s still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions.
Abbate: Okay, there are some opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions. And quite honestly, do you know if anyone in your class, in your class is homosexual? And do you not think that it would be offensive to them if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?
Student: If I choose to challenge that, that’s my right as an American citizen.
Abbate: Well, actually, you don’t have a right in this class, as the, especially as an ethics professor, to make homophobic comments, or racist comments, sexist…
Well, what is “homophobic”? If the student in question was making slurs against gays, then he ought to be censured. But if he was only opposing SSM, so what?
Inside Higher Education has a report on it. Their reporter listened to the recording. From its report:
After the class, another student approached Abbate to tell her that he was “very disappointed” and “personally offended” that she hadn’t considered his classmate’s example about gay marriage more thoroughly, according to the student’s recording of the conversation, which was obtained by Inside Higher Ed. The student said he had seen data suggesting that children of gay parents “do a lot worse in life,” and that the topic merited more conversation.
Abbate told the student that gay marriage and parenting were separate topics, since single people can have and adopt children. She also said she would “really question” data showing poor outcomes for children of gay parents, since peer-reviewed studies show the opposite (indeed, the major study showing negative outcomes for children of gay parents, by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, has been widely discredited).
Regardless, the student said, “it’s still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions.” Abbate responded: “There are opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if someone in the class is homosexual? And do you not think it would be offensive to them, if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?”
The student then said it was his “right as an American citizen” to challenge the idea. Abbate told the student he didn’t, in fact, “have the right, especially [in an ethics class], to make homophobic comments or racist comments.”
His opinions weren’t homophobic, the student argued. Abbate said he could have whatever opinions he liked, but reiterated that homophobic, racist and sexist comments wouldn’t be tolerated in the class. She said the class discussion was centered on restricting the rights and liberties of individuals, but said that making arguments against gay marriage in the presence of a gay person was comparable to telling Abbate that women’s professional options should be limited. She invited him to drop the course if he opposed her policy.
The student asked whether his opposition to gay marriage made him “homophobic” in Abbate’s view, and she said that certain comments would “come across” as homophobic to the class. The conversation ended somewhat abruptly when Abbate asked the student if he was recording the conversation. He said “no,” but admitted he had been recording it when Abbate asked to see his cell phone.
I’m certainly prepared to believe that this student was a provocateur. And Abbate is right that the student doesn’t have a “right” to say whatever he wants to in class. I would even agree that if the student had been making abusive comments about gays in the class, he would be out of line and should be silenced. What it sounds like from the recording is that Abbate believes that simply expressing opposition to same-sex marriage constitutes homophobia. If you see anything online adding to our understanding of what happened here, please post it in the comments section.
UPDATE.2: And by the way, as far as I know, McAdams might be a cranky right-wing SOB, but so what? He’s a 70 year old man, by the way. His criticism of Abbate was incredibly minor. Read it for yourself. How is it that a professor can’t say something so mildly critical about another instructor’s behavior, even if he went off half-cocked (which I don’t concede that he did), without being suspended from a university campus for harassment?