The Limbaugh kerfuffle over the Fluke distraction from the Obama assault on religious liberty has now produced a meta-kerfuffle. The site is the University of Rochester, and the antagonists are Steven Landsburg, a contrarian economics professor, and Joel Seligman, the university president. Landsburg won the dispute, which wasn't really a fair fight.
It started with a Landsburg blog post last Friday, which prompted an official denunciation from Seligman Tuesday, which we shall quote in full:I was deeply disappointed to read UR Professor Steve Landsburg's recent blogs praising Rush Limbaugh for a "spot-on analogy" with respect to his offensive remarks about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke (although Landsburg parted company with Limbaugh for calling Fluke a "slut"). Landsburg went further. He stated that Ms. Fluke's position deserved "only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered." He further stated that the right word for her position was "extortionist," characterized those who disagreed with his view as "contraceptive sponges," and added that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.Professor Landsburg has the right to express his views under our University's deep commitment to academic freedom. And, of course, no reasonable person would ever assume that he speaks for the University of Rochester. I also have the right to express my views. I am outraged that any professor would demean a student in this fashion. To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in this way is about the most offensive thing a professor can do. We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.I totally disagree with Landsburg that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex. Having been a Dean of two law schools with clinics that addressed violence against women, I am all too aware of the terrible correlation between prostitution and the physical and emotional demeaning of women. Landsburg now has made himself newsworthy as one of Limbaugh's few defenders. I wish he had focused instead on the ideal of a university as an institution that promotes the free exchange of ideas and lively debate at its best in an atmosphere of civil discourse in which the dignity of every individual is respected.
Landsburg did not back down. He responded with a statement to the media and a letter to Seligman, both of which he published in another blog post. The letter begins: "I do appreciate your right to express your views, but I don't think you have a right to misrepresent mine." The professor doesn't need our defense, but we'd like to use the kerfuffle to make a few observations about higher education in America.
To begin with, one statement Seligman makes (which Landsburg does not address directly) is so misleading as to be scurrilous. "I am outraged that any professor would demean a student in this fashion," Seligman writes. "To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in this way is about the most offensive thing a professor can do."
The implication is that by treating Fluke with disrespect, Landsburg has behaved unethically. That's bunk, as blogress Ann Althouse (herself a professor) points out:To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in your classroom may be one of the most offensive things a professor can do, but when a student is a political activist who testifies before a congressional subcommittee on a specific policy question that you disagree with, it's not that horrible to blog about that.
To put it another way, Landsburg has ethical obligations to his own students, and perhaps to other students in his department or at his university. But all such obligations are based on his institutional relationship to those students. Seligman's shot at Landsburg is the equivalent of saying it is unethical for any physician to criticize Fluke's political activism because she is a "patient."Fox News/YouTube
Glenn Reynolds, another professor-blogger, quotes Nathan Harden, who writes about academia for National Review Online: "This is elite academia's brand of free speech and free academic inquiry in action. It's a double standard. It's a one way street. Only strict adherence to leftist orthodoxy is allowed." Reynolds himself adds: "Seligman's statement will have, and might as well have been intended to have, a chilling effect on the speech of faculty who are less eminent than Steven Landsburg."
These statements are true enough, but we'd like to dig a little deeper. Notwithstanding Seligman's professions of disappointment, outrage and disagreement, and his assertion that "I also have the right to express my views," there is no reason to believe these are his views at all.
His statement reads to us like that of a functionary in a totalitarian state--a high-ranking functionary, to be sure, but one who would risk losing his own position if he deviated from the party line. That's what happened to Larry Summers, who was driven from Harvard's presidency after he engaged in politically incorrect but intellectually defensible speculation about disparities in scientific aptitude between the sexes.
Summers is still a professor at Harvard, and Landsburg will remain one at Rochester. Likewise Althouse and Reynolds at their respective institutions. Tenure gives them the privilege of speaking their minds without needing to worry about retaliation. The chilling effect Reynolds describes inhibits only everybody else, including students, untenured faculty members and administrators, up to and including university presidents.Podcast
James Taranto on higher education,.
In the 1980s, Abigail Thernstrom described American universities as "islands of repression in a sea of freedom." But American higher education has a curious dual nature, in which academic freedom coexists with stultifying conformity. To extend Thernstrom's metaphor, on these islands there are small ponds of freedom, in the form of dissenters with tenure. As for administrators like Joel Seligman, they are to be pitied more than feared. Their freedom is even more constrained than that of the lowliest student or teaching assistant.
Preaching to the Choir This column doubts that Rush Limbaugh's impolite comments about Sandra Fluke are actually helping the Obama administration win public support for its attack on religious liberty. But assuming we're wrong, the New York Times and the Freedom From Religion Foundation may give the pro-liberty side a boost. According to the Catholic League, the paper today published an ad from the foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, that is just viciously anti-Catholic. As the league's Bill Donohue describes it:The pretext of the ad is the Catholic Church's opposition to the Health and Human Services mandate forcing Catholic non-profits to include abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization in its insurance plans. Its real agenda is to smear Catholicism. Here is how the ad begins: "It's time to quit the Roman Catholic Church. Will it be reproductive freedom, or back to the Dark Ages?"The ad blames the Catholic Church for promoting "acute misery, poverty, needless suffering, unwanted pregnancies, overpopulation, social evils and deaths." It says the bishops are "launching a ruthless political Inquisition" against women. It talks about "preying priests" and corruption "going all the way to the top." In an appeal to Catholic women, it opines, "Apparently, you're like the battered woman who, after being beaten down every Sunday, feels she has no place else to go."
The ad is billed as an "open letter to 'liberal' and 'nominal' Catholics." Donohue describes it as "hate speech directed at Catholics" and wonders "why the Times allowed this ad." Another rhetorical question: Would the Times have accepted a similar ad directed at--to take another religion at random--Muslims?
Two Papers in One!
- "Israel's reputation as a vibrant democracy has been seriously tarnished by a new law. . . . The law, approved in a 47-to-38 vote by Parliament, effectively bans any public call for a boycott--economic, cultural or academic--against Israel or its West Bank settlements, making such action a punishable offense. . . . Nonprofit groups could lose tax benefits."--editorial, New York Times, July 18, 2011
- "Taxpayers should be encouraged by complaints from Tea Party chapters applying for nonprofit tax status at being asked by the Internal Revenue Service to prove they are 'social welfare' organizations and not the political activists they so obviously are. Tea Party supporters claim they are being politically harassed with extensive I.R.S. questionnaires. But the service properly contends that it must ensure that these groups are 'primarily' engaged in social welfare, not political campaigning, to merit tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code."--editorial, New York Times, March 8, 2012
From Stagger to Swagger We roll our eyes whenever we read something like this, from ABC News:The president, seen talking with his mouth full while apparently chowing down on a salad, boasts to a donor at the last "Dinner with Barack" that he could have been NBA material."I'd be starting point guard for the Chicago Bulls," Obama says, when asked who he would work for if he could pick a boss other than himself. . . . The Obama campaign has made common practice of using video of the president "unplugged" to showcase his personality and authenticity.
But then we read a National Review Online post by William Gavin and wondered if we may not be underestimating the president's political strength:Obama is a swaggerer. No other word for it. Look at the way he moves across the stage, notice his little gestures, the very way he holds his head when walking. This guy is swaggering and that is not good news for Republicans. Despite the argument that the economy is the issue, we don't vote for policies, we vote for individual human beings. And a swaggering attractiveness is one of the qualities we look for in a president. FDR, wheel-chair bound, always gave the impression of swaggering, and he was irresistible to the electorate. . . .So there is Obama, at ease with himself, possessing what might be called a quiet swagger, maybe just a tad too self-satisfied. But the man is an attractive political personality, and part of that attractiveness is his swaggering sense of self, conveyed not just by what he says, but by the way he moves, the way he is.
Of course George W. Bush had swagger too, which never bothered us but drove his detractors crazy and probably wouldn't have been enough to win him a second term if the election had been in 2005 instead of 2004. Obama's swagger has been known to grate even on Democrats (remember "You're likable enough, Hillary"?). And Obama's attitude isn't always consistent. Last fall, when he was impotently demanding that Congress "pass this bill now," the effect was more of a stagger.
And not all recent presidents have had swagger. The first President Bush didn't. Then again, no man ever had less of it than Michael Dukakis.
Out on a Limb "Fate of Ballot Measures Often Depends on the Wording"--headline, Stateline.org, March 9
Political Horror Show
- "A suburban American family is being stalked by a group of psychotic people who live in the desert, far away from civilization."--IMDB.com plot summary, "The Hills Have Eyes," 2006
- "Hill Has Eyes on Presidential Race"--headline, The Wall Street Journal, March 8
Shortest Books Ever Written "What We Can Learn From Whitney Houston and Lindsay Lohan"--headline, Los Angeles Times website, March 8
'Throw the Bums Out' Has Become a Bit Hackneyed "Input Sought for New Voter Lines"--headline, Daily Times (Salisbury, Md.), March 9
Waffles Are the House Specialty "Kerry's Cafe: A Dash of Rich History, Sprinkled With a Passion for Cooking"--headline, Marco (Fla.) Eagle, March 8
Look, It's Jimmy Carter! "Preening Dinosaur Found"--headline, Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 9
Domestic Violence Is a Serious Problem "NATION: Bruising Gay-Marriage Showdowns Likely in 5 States"--headline, Associated Press, March 8
They Refused to Put Him on the Comp List "Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Buys The New Republic"--headline, Puffington Host, March 9
The Lonely Lives of Scientists "Work-Life Balance Is Out of Reach for Many Male and Female Scientists"--headline, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 8
So Much for the War on Drugs "A Great Relief for High Tax-Payers"--headline, Daily Telegraph (London), March 9
Turn On, Tune In, Dry Out "LSD 'Helps Alcoholics to Give Up Drinking' "--headline, BBC website, March 8
They Can't Afford a Pool "London 2012: China's Olympic Swimmers to Train in Bath"--headline, BBC website, March 8
They Ran Out of Astronauts "Apollo Hall of Fame to Induct Lionel Richie, Etta James"--headline, Associated Press, March 8
Is That Even Possible? "SPOTLIGHT: Illinois Woman Nurses for Half Century"--headline, Belleville News-Democrat, March 9
A Parishioner Called Police to Report an Organ in the Church "Naked Man Arrested in Church Burglary"--headline, San Diego Union-Tribune, March 7
Questions Nobody Is Asking "Did Professor Derrick Bell Visit the White House?"--headline, ABCNews.com, March 9
Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
- "I'm Pro-Choice Because I Love My Kids"--headline, Puffington Host, March 8
- "Santorum to Newsmax: I'd Consider Gingrich for VP"--headline, Newsmax.com, March 8
Question and Answer
- "Would You Vote . . . for a Camel?"--headline, CNN.com, March 8, 2012
- " 'We call it "smokes for votes," ' said Wisconsin state Rep. Scott Walker, chairman of the Bush campaign in Milwaukee. 'We have videotape and a log by the security officer at the homeless shelter. He asked them to leave because the homeless people were complaining about Gore-Lieberman workers asking them to vote for cigarettes.' "--Peter Bronson, Enquirer (Cincinnati), Dec. 10, 2000
Look Out Below! "Obama Quietly Prepares for Fall as Republicans Fight"--headline, CNN.com, March 9
It's Always in the Last Place You Look "Wife Discovers Correctional Officer's Other Bride on Facebook"--headline, KIRO-FM website (Seattle), March 8
Breaking News From 2010 "White House Works to Shape Debate Over Health Law"--headline, New York Times, March 9
Bottom Stories of the Day
- "EU Climate Standoff Continues As Environment Ministers Meet"--headline, Dow Jones Newswires, March 9
- "Pro-Obama PAC Won't Give Back Maher's Money"--headline, FoxNews.com, March 8
- "George Pataki Endorses Romney"--headline, TalkingPointsMemo.com, March 7
Der Platz der Frau Ist zu Hause "Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, Bild, will scrap its signature front-page photographs of topless women, the newspaper said Friday," Newscore reports:More than 5,000 of the titillating photographs have been printed in Bild since 1984, however the tabloid said that from Saturday its images will be "more modern" and not feature topless women.Bild said the decision was made Thursday, when the newspaper gave all of its female employees the day off and the paper was produced by an all-male staff to celebrate International Women's Day.
They observed International Women's Day by having the gents work and the ladies go home? Sounds as if the Germans are having second thoughts about feminism.
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