Bigotry And The Campus

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…


  1. Are there any “genuine conservatives” still out there? If there are, they seem to be in hiding.

  2. education is suppose to widen a persons views and generally we find more education leads to a more open, more “liberal” point of view. Sadly we see in what passes for conservatism today a staunch resistance and disbelief in facts that don’t back up what conservatives want to believe and a willingness to believe garbage that does. Its probably better that this guy is a business professor and not in some other discipline. He can do enough damage as it is.

  3. What academic background can he have that would leave him with these views? Could someone with a true education still believe this b.s.? I’m just baffled.

  4. “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.”

    Is the statement to “condemn his opinions in the strongest possible terms” the same as a disclaimer to say Rasmusin’s views are NOT the views of nor are they the standards set by the University? Unless of course; they cannot disclaim such views or there are not standards against political, bigoted, sexist and racist postings on today’s broad spectrum of social media. Rasmusin’s views feed into the Trump/DeVos standards of education; are his views posted openly as separate from his teachings?

    In the 1970s I worked with 2 young men interns at a methadone clinic who were students at Martin University here. They walked out after being force-fed the racist view that every black person in the United States descended from slaves and every white person in the United States descended from slave owners. Has that changed at Martin University since then? Freedom of speech?

  5. The I.U. Provost is both correct and brave in her response to his misogynistic and racist attacks. I’m sure the university will carefully monitor the welfare of his students—as they should. This man is married and has a daughter. Can you imagine having to share a life with this creep?

  6. I did read about this professor in the Washington Post. I think the provost as done the absolutely right thing. She has protected the students and shown him how a strong woman reacts to nonsense, while showing us how the First Amendment really works.

    And, Pat, my question is: what kind of messages has his daughter received about her abilities and future?

  7. I thought Indiana was a “right to work” state?

    The working class can be fired by HR if they don’t like the new color of your hair and there is nothing you can do to defend yourself. In fact, you can’t even find a law firm in Indiana which handles wrongful termination/discrimination cases because the courts consistently side with employers.

    Why does this employee get preferential treatment with his employer?

    If he has tenure, he’s making the case for Republicans who want to end this practice at publicly-funded universities.

    Unions are okay for academe and medicine, but not for the working class?

    Employers can scour an employee’s Facebook page and fire them or not hire them because of their personal beliefs.

    Is this a double standard where some employees enjoy protection while others do not?

  8. The world within view is everyone’s Rorschach test. Some of us filter our interpretations of what we observe in such tests, because we are conscious of what our interpretations reveal about our inner being. A psychologist might complain that we are not being honest, or not “working”.

    Some, who seem to be unaware of the revelatory aspect of their interpretations of the world just blurt whatever comes to “mind” and are shocked that others claim to read their soul from their descriptions of their Rorschach world.

    Some are fully aware and like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest delight in playing games with nurse Ratched. A psychologist might call them crazy.

  9. Todd, the difference between a university and a factory is that the university is chartered by the state, and therefore is essentially part of the government. Therefore, to fire him would be equivalent of the state or federal government violating his First Amendment right to free speech (however odious that speech may be).

  10. When I heard Provost Lauren Robel’s statement read aloud on the radio Wednesday it made my day. In her well thought out and intelligent statement she succinctly shut down any possibility that Prof. Rasmusen might speak about or use his bigotry to harm students.

    His response of “innocence and surprise” was laughable. Like 45 and the extreme bigots in his administration, he is only sorry that he got caught and was called out. I imagine the white nationalist groups in Indiana have already contacted him with offers to organize violent protests on IU campuses.

    The Provost’s declaration that students will not be required to attend his classes in the future has sealed his demise as an IU professor. The university will not be able to justify his employment if very few or no students attend his classes.

    Provost Robel may have started a revolution at university campuses nationwide with her statement. I will be looking forward to the news of students and colleagues outing the bigoted professors at their campuses and the demands that their bigotry will not be tolerated while at work.

  11. Professor Rasmusen is a tenured professor, which means it is nearly impossible for the university to fire him, unless he commits an academic fraud or a crime. The best antidote to bad speech is good speech, both of which are free in this country. If I were in Indiana, I might be tempted to audit one of his classes to get a sense of the man. Sometimes people post outrageous items, just for the fun of watching the reactions of others.

    Todd, Indiana is also what is known as an “At Will” state, which allows employers to fire someone just because they felt like doing it. Employment contracts can make this a moot point for some. And “Right to Work” only takes away the power of unions to make membership mandatory. In essence, it is the right to work for less money and fewer benefits.

  12. The “I didn’t say anything myself – I just quoted something” is interesting.

    I have had friends on social media post a meme with no explanation, and when I point out there are two or three interpretations, or how extreme, or completely false the meme is, the reaction (most of the time) is something along the lines of “I did not mean it exactly in that way”.

    I am sure in their minds it makes for a good defense of these dog whistle type messages, without really having to confront their conscience or their responsibility to the rest of society. I am sure it also makes them feel better about being a “conservative Christian” without really meaning it.

    My interpretation is if you quote something with no context, it means you agree with it, and if you could have found better words, you would have said it yourself.

  13. The ravings of a backward academic claiming to be conservative are typical of today’s Republican party. There are NO conservatives at all. Backwardness is the word everyone is seeking. I say that while reading the last book in a series about Eleanor Roosevelt and the battles she and her husband had with the backward, isolationist Congress and Republicans – and “conservative” Democrats of the 1930s.

    They, like today’s Republicans, were totally beholden to corporate/racist/misogynist Americans who held their purse strings. Since then, Republicans have been attacking the New Deal (They called it the Jew Deal in the 30s) for the sake of the capitalists. Not much changes in the world of Republican politics. They are, you see, owned and operated by the donor classes that give not a single shit about working people, fairness in the workplace, safety in the workplace or the destruction of our environment. They are “conservatives” after all.

  14. Todd,

    Re your question: Is this a double standard where some employees enjoy protection while others do not?

    My answer: Yes it is.

    Even though Indiana is a Right to Work state (thanks to Mitch Daniels) corporate executives seem to have complete immunity to being fired. They can all but ruin a corporation/company and remain employed, many times with a large bonus and raise in pay. At the very least, they will walk away with the golden parachute spelled out in their contract.

  15. We may not agree with the opinions of this professor, but our democratic principles require that we allow those with whom we disagree to express their opinions. The Provost handled this well. I’m glad IU is large enough that students have other choices for the classes he teaches. This isn’t always possible in a smaller university. Don’t think there are decent definitions of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ anymore.

  16. I support 1A as long as academia and public universities support the concept of at will employees who are not enabled by the veil of tenure to promote their personal ideology under the guise of promoting education while claiming 1A entitlement. Schools can and should strive to attract quality educators by beginning to PAY them salaries commensurate to private sector jobs. One wonders if his interest is more in doing something to enhance himself or his school or just his 15 minutes of attention. Perhaps his perspective could be tested by paying him his salary while reassigning him to a job more appropriate for his capabilities – cleaning co-ed dorm bathrooms with a toothbrush.

  17. Dan; I have learned the hard way through negative feedback from friends on Facebook and Facebook friends that sharing a post does NOT always include my comments. This makes it appear that I am sharing because I agree with the post. including at times (shiver) support of Trump and his minions. I try to be careful regarding what I share; of course they also rarely get my positive quotes on posts I do agree with. Social media is far from perfect communication.

  18. Perhaps Democrats in Indiana (if they ever come to power) should not only repeal the so-called “right to work” law and one-sided at will views but enact a new law that requires employers to make a written and enforceable contracts with all their workers from janitor through superintendent which spell out the same or similar rights to the contracts their coddled executives enjoy, including a clause which would call for a right to treble damages in the event of breach by the employer. Pollyannish? Sure, but so was social security when Teddy did his Bull Moose thing. Setting an impossible goal has the virtue of giving us a goal with the hope that we can step by step improve the rights of labor during the interim irrespective of whether the goal is ever reached. You take what you can get when you can get it, and agitate for it when you can’t.

  19. So-called free speech, 2nd amendment rights, religious freedoms, freedom of the press are used in a manner that the founders could never have imagined. Let’s face it, the Constitution has been compromised and corrupted buy an agenda which took more more than a century and a half to refine. There needs to be a house cleaning, but, I do not believe anyone is up to that task. Don’t take my word for it, history spells it out clearly!

  20. Why is it, I just knew this Eric Rasmusen would be a “Christian”??? We are a long way from the respectable William Buckley type of Conservative. I did not agree all that often with Buckley. He was intelligent and respectful.

    A Conservative at one time might have been characterized as “Look before you Leap” personality. At some point Jim Crow types were given the label Conservative, which was a a pure white wash (pun intended) of what they really were, which was racist and anti woman’s rights.

    The Conservative label, gave these creeps a respectability they did not deserve. The addition of “Christian” Conservative brought the creep factor to an all new level. Now religion could be used as a cover for Old Jim Crow.

    Eric Rasmusen, is not a lone wolf, there are today a whole pack of the wolves who think the same way. The Dog Whistles are long gone, in your face ignorance is now a fact.

  21. I worked for both the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis and the IU Foundation. The B school was IMO dominated by male professors and leadership. Academia overall is a bubble of competition and I observed, in my campus wide role, that the men inherently believe they are better than women faculty, students, staff. I reported to someone on the Bloomington campus of Kelley who once described the Business School as a “soulless place”. Arrogance reins and the pressure to assume a similar posture pervades the environment.

    Professor Kennedy rises above the fray. As in most life settings, it’s the person who is confident, with personal insight, empathy and real humanity who has no need to denigrate the “other”. Eric Rasmusen sounds like many closeted gay men who can not come to terms with their own conflicted sexual urges and therefore lash out at the very thing he is drawn to.

    State funding for higher education has dwindled. An important university revenue stream, “butts in the seats”, may eventually impact Rasmusen as he finds himself alone in his classroom facing consequences based on sound business school theory – supply and no demand for him. We can hope.

  22. Hope this breaks anyone’s bubble that assumes someone with graduate degrees is automatically “educated” to be fair .

  23. Thank you, Lester. You summed up my thoughts quite well, although I would have ended the paragraph after the word “educated”.

  24. Lisa – I am an idealist who hopes all education teaches critical thinking which implicitly suggests fairness.

  25. Again! Indiana makes the news for all of the wrong reasons.
    Let’s hope that no students sign up for his classes and like media “personalities” that lose sponsors, he gets sent out to pasture, cuz he’s full of it.

  26. The wisdom of freedom of speech is that all ideas get out of heads and put on public display for evaluation by everyone. That encourages the proliferation of good ideas and, at least among people who are able to sort the good from the bad, nobody is surprised that there are those thinking the useless ideas.

    There are many reasons for dysfunctional thinking and one is it comes from those who fear any possibilities different than the past that favored them.

    However reality comes at the behest of no one and is not subject to anyone’s approval but reflects the reality of the universe that spawned life, life itself and finally the collective efforts of humanity.

    Successful humans readily adapt to what comes and dysfunctional humans resist reality.

    We can count on human recovery to functional existence but the damage which will be inflicted by these times has not been revealed yet.

  27. According to Dr. Jordan Peterson of Toronto, a well known professor to point things out in academia. The left is very intolerant of others viewpoints and uses shame based discipline instead of discussion to point out differences.
    In reviewing this professor I found out his wife has her doctorate and his daughter is going to be a professor at a university. If he believes these views for himself beyond retweeting these views I’d like to see them before making a personal judgement.
    In my own experience I’ve had a relative who was simply a conservative having a very high IQ attend a liberal college. He never received better than a C, was shamed and eventually committed suicide. He had missed one question on his SAT. I can assure his liberal professors never had to double blind grade his papers.
    It’s best to point out differences amongst people instead of calling them bigots or racists or we should instead say their viewpoint is not one that you would espouse.
    In one case I can point out; While in college a pastor who l liked used a racial slur against a black pastor whom I was very fond of. My stepfather who was on the college board as a chairman of the elders at my church, a Christian Republican who was a supporter of the ACLU, descended upon the situation. Since no apologies were given, the pastor was summarily and justifiably dismissed.
    I agree we shouldn’t be supportive of views that are bigoted. Public discourse on these matters have to be handled carefully for Professor Rasmusen does have a wife and daughter that won’t forget the kind of backlash that may change their view to one which we don’t prefer.
    Realize that all people deserve to have a viewpoint without necessarily being chastised for their views.

  28. I imagine there will be no need to fire Rasmussen. He will likely self-eliminate in the not too distant future.

    First, of course, he will rail against the “unfair treatment” he has brought down upon himself. When that doesn’t bring about a relaxation of his new restrictions, I’m betting he will grab his marbles and go home.

    He might, in fact, be followed by some lawsuits by women, blacks, gays and others who believe they were unfairly evaluated prior to the current measures being put in place. That should keep him occupied for a while.

  29. The reason Rasmusen cannot be fired is because First Amendment law has been extended to say that all state actors must act in such a way that doesn’t inhibit or chill anyone’s right to free speech. IU is a state actor because it’s a public school receiving state and federal funds. IU’s not being able to fire him has got nothing to do with whether Indiana is an employment-at-will state, whether he’s tenured, or has a contract. It’s because IU can’t violate Rasmusen’s right to free speech.

    IU’s being a governmental actor also means it has a responsibility to not discriminate against anyone because of the 14th amendment, not to mention several federal laws. If Rasmusen, as a professor at IU and therefore a state actor himself, can be shown to have discriminated against someone who’s a member of a “protected class,” that is, a member of a group who’s historically been discriminated against, they can oust him. This is why IU is examining his grading and conduct in the past.

    Lauren Robel was my civil rights prof at what was then IU Law. She rocks.

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