My university–albeit not my campus–recently made the Washington Post, among other national publications, thanks to a longtime business-school professor’s racist, sexist and homophobic posts to social media.
According to colleagues on the Bloomington campus, Eric Rasmusen has voiced these opinions–which he characterizes as “conservative” and “Christian”–for several years. What apparently triggered the current attention to them was his recent retweet of an article suggesting that women are destroying academia. The ensuing publicity has led to a lively argument over the University’s response, which has been to condemn his opinions in the strongest possible terms while respecting his First Amendment right to express them on his own site.
The current kerfuffle illustrates–among other things– the dishonesty of most conservative criticisms of higher education, especially the charge that conservative faculty members aren’t treated fairly.
More telling, however, is Professor Rasmusen’s clumsy effort to distance himself from the clear implications of his own social media history.
Rasmusen, who has taught at the school since 1992, told the Indiana Daily Student on Wednesday that he only shared a quote he “thought was interesting and worth keeping note of.” He told the student publication that the backlash was surprising, adding, “It seems strange to me because I didn’t say anything myself — I just quoted something.”
In a Thursday interview with Kelly Reinke, Rasmusen said he should be able to quote from an article without agreeing with it in its entirety; he deflected questions that asked him point-blank whether he agreed with the piece.
Since then, Rasmusen has continued to update a personal page “for links concerning the 2019 kerfuffle in which the Woke crowd discovered my Twitter tweets, retweets, and suchlike and got very excited, and my Dean and Provost immediately overreacted.”
If the Professor’s history of racist, sexist and homophobic posts reflects his considered philosophy, why does he seem so reluctant to own that philosophy? (I’ve noticed that a number of individuals who spout truly offensive racist rhetoric nevertheless object to being labeled racist. But that’s an observation for another day…)
The university’s response, in my view, was exactly right. It’s an approach that respects both the First Amendment and the right of students to have their classroom performance fairly and equally evaluated.
Indiana University Provost Lauren Robel did not mince words in a statement to the Kelley School community Wednesday, asserting that Rasmusen had used his social media accounts to push bigoted views for several years. Robel said Rasmusen had previously used slurs to describe women, who he has said do not belong in the workplace and academia. He has similar feelings about gay men, Robel said, because “he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students.”
Robel also said Rasmusen thinks black students are unqualified for attendance at elite institutions and are academically inferior to their white counterparts….
“Ordinarily, I would not dignify these bigoted statements with repetition, but we need to confront what we are actually dealing with in Professor Rasmusen’s posts,” Robel wrote. “His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.”
She indicated that school officials have been flooded with demands for Rasmusen to be fired in recent days, a request she said the university could not — and would not — adhere to because “the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so.” But, she said, Rasmusen would be in violation of the law and school policy if he acted upon his discriminatory views while grading or making tenure decisions. The school would investigate and address those allegations if they were raised, she added.
The university will ensure that students worried about being treated fairly in Rasmusin’s classes–an understandable concern, given the persistence with which he has voiced his views over the years– have alternative courses available to them, and administrators are requiring him to use a double-blind system for grading so he won’t know whose papers he is evaluating.
Are faculty members who espouse Rasmusin’s particular brand of conservatism rare on elite American campuses? Of course. His views are blatantly inconsistent with academic competence. They are inconsistent as well with the legitimate conservatism that does have a place in academic discourse.
Defending bigotry by calling it “conservatism” is an insult to genuine conservatives. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going around…