Earlier this week, College Republicans at the University of Iowa wrote a university-approved blast email to their fellow students as part of their yearly recruitment drive. The email advertised a “Conservative Coming Out Week” that apparently struck a wrong note with one of the university’s professors.
On Monday morning, one University of Iowa professor had three words to say to those conservative students at her university:
“F[%$&] YOU, REPUBLICANS”
The professor, Ellen Lewin, teaches Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies in the Department of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies. The taxpayers of Iowa pay her $94,800 a year plus benefits for the value she presumably adds to their state university’s campus (when she is not cursing out her students). When she was asked for an apology, Lewin responded with the following, in an email sent to AIA by the current chairwoman of the University of Iowa College Republicans, Natalie Ginty:
I should note that several things in the original message were extremely offensive, nearly rising to the level of obscenity. Despite the Republicans’ general disdain for LGBT rights you called your upcoming event “conservative coming out day,” appropriating the language of the LGBT right movement. Your reference to the Wisconsin protests suggested that they were frivolous attempts to avoid work. And the “Animal Rights BBQ” is extremely insensitive to those who consider animal rights an important cause. Then, in the email that Ms. Ginty sent complaining about my language, she referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted. I do apologize for my intemperate language, but the message you all sent out was extremely disturbing and offensive.
Lewin used her university email to tell her university’s students to “F[#$^] OFF” because they used the term “coming out of the closet” in an email that had been previously approved by the university. Lewin would likely be upset if anyone told a gay or lesbian person to “F[#%^] OFF” for coming out of the proverbial closet, but she is all too ready to drop that standard when a conservative even mentions “coming out.”
When a person “comes out of the closet” announcing that they are gay, they do that because of what they believe, and because they don’t want to hide how they feel anymore. Apparently Lewin has not considered the fact that a conservative on a college campus could feel the same way: tired of hiding feelings and opinions that many treat with disdain and disgust—tired of hiding opinions that could even get them academically punished. In this way, gays and conservatives have a lot in common: both can face prejudice and discrimination from the people they are open with, especially on college campuses. Lewin apparently finds it wrong to harass members of one group trying to be honest with those around them, but right to harass members of another group just trying to do the same thing.
However, Lewin apparently doesn’t see her double standard.
Another email she sent earlier in the week went as follows:
This is a time when political passions are inflamed, and when I received your unsolicited email, I had just finished reading some newspaper accounts of fresh outrages committed by Republicans in government. I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities. I would really appreciate your not sending blanket emails to everyone on campus, especially in these difficult times.
Lewin blames her incivility on “inflamed” “political passions” during “difficult times.” One wonders if she would find those same reasons to be a decent excuse for a conservative telling her to “F[@$%] OFF” for being open about her beliefs.
Sally Mason, the president of the University of Iowa, has taken a stand in favor of freedom of speech, stating in an email:
The University also strongly encourages student engagement in such discussions and supports students acting on their viewpoints. Student organizations are sometimes formed along political lines and act on their political beliefs. Even if we personally disagree with those viewpoints, we must be respectful of those viewpoints in every way. Intolerant and disrespectful discord is not acceptable behavior.
Sally Mason got it right. Personal disagreement with a viewpoint is not an excusable reason to exercise “intolerant and disrespectful discord.” One can disagree without being disagreeable—a lesson Lewin is hopefully learning.
(Lewin’s actions fit a pattern discernible in her ratemyprofessors.com ratings. Predictably, those who disagree with her accuse her of stifling dissent. Somewhat surprisingly, so do some of those who agree with her.—ed.)
Allie Duzett is the Director of Strategic Operations for Accuracy in Media, Accuracy in Academia’s sister group.
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