Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nancy Snow, Philosophy Chair, Livid Over Marquette Warrior Criticism of Politically Correct Instructor

Just this past Sunday, we blogged about an instructor in Marquette’s Philosophy Department who refused to allow a class discussion of gay marriage because if any student voiced opposition to gay marriage, that would be “homophobic” and might offend gay students.

We were just at lunch at the Tory Hill Cafe (in the Law School) with some colleagues and a Political Science job candidate.

We were accosted by Nancy Snow, Acting Chair of the Philosophy Department.  She said [paraphrasing] “now you are picking on graduate students” in reference to the instructor, one Cheryl Abbate, who is indeed a graduate student.

She added “I’m so mad at you” and added “your student is lying.”

We responded  “we have the audio, Nancy.”  She repeated “your student is lying.”  She further claimed the student should not have recorded the conversation.  Suspecting that he was going to be called a liar, he was smart to do so.

We do indeed have the audio, and the quotes we attributed to the instructor are exactly what she said.

As for “picking on a graduate student:”  when a department puts a graduate student (or anybody else) in the classroom, in charge of a class, they are responsible for the person acting in a professional manner.  Put somebody in a position of power and responsibility and you are responsible when they abuse that power and responsibility.

Excluding certain opinions because they might offend some special interest group, or labeling a student’s views as “homophobic” is unprofessional.  Indeed, it’s intolerant.

Snow, to whom the student complained, apparently thought she could blow off the complaint.  But then our blog post appeared.

If Abbate in fact told Snow that the student lied about her comments, Abbate is in fact lying.  But we do not know firsthand what Abbate told Snow.

In fact, if anybody wants to make an issue of it, we will share the audio with anybody with the authority to deal with the situation whom we trust to keep the student’s identity confidential.

Aside from the audio, it’s easy to see how Abbate would have said what we reported.  Her blog is titled “Thoughts from a Vegan Feminist Philosopher.”  Some of the stuff seems quirky and bland, such as her criticism for a Catholic parish for having a pig wrestling contest.

Less benign is her essay titled “Yes All Men…Contribute to the Prevalence of Rape.” Yes, it’s a common theme among feminists and Exhibit One of the reality that hard-core feminism is, at root, about sexist antipathy toward males.

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Blogger Dad29 said...

Who you gonna believe? Shaw, or your lying ears?

12:56 PM  
Blogger mwk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:09 PM  
Blogger pastrypride said...

Looking back over your account of the conversation between Abbate and the student, you don't provide any quotations that are objectionable in and of themselves; the problems in every case depend on your paraphrases of what was said before or after the quoted statement.

To give just one example: you write, "Then things deteriorated further as the student said that it was his right as an American citizen to make arguments against gay marriage. Abbate replied that “you don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments.” "

The quoted passage is unobjectionable. The student doesn't have the right to make homophobic comments, Indeed, he may be positively *prohibited* from doing so by the school's sexual harassment policy. (My school's would prohibit homophobic comments; I don't know about Marquette's.)

The quoted statement would make an objectionable response to the anodyne claim that one has a right to argue against gay marriage. But I wonder if that's *exactly* how things transpired. Is that *all* the student said? Here's where Snow's accusation that you're lying gets traction.

So to make your case, you'll need to provide more context (i.e., much longer quotes). A full transcript would be helpful, but if that would give away the student's identity, at least give us some of the complete back-and-forth that you consider objectionable; give us the full, unabridged quote that directly precedes Abbate's statement that he has no right to make homophobic comments, e.g.

6:12 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

The quoted passage is unobjectionable. The student doesn't have the right to make homophobic comments,

But the context was the student's objection to gay marriage.

The instructor was bigoted and intolerant to characterize opposition to gay marriage as "homophobia."

Everything in my post about the after-class exchange was from the recorded audio.

The instructor clearly said that gay students would be offended by anti-gay marriage arguments, and that was the reason she would not allow the discussion.

(My school's would prohibit homophobic comments; I don't know about Marquette's.)

And how do you define "homophobia?"

Any politically incorrect comment about homosexuality?

Any opposition to a policy that gays are assumed to favor?

10:09 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

You have zero credibility when it comes to how you represent the material presented by other professors.

You just disagree with another student of mine about a class called "Psychology of Prejudice."

The student on whose account I based my blog post was quite reliable.

If you liked the class, so be it.

Perhaps you didn't mind the political correctness.

10:11 PM  
Blogger pastrypride said...

I think you missed the point of my post. I'm not arguing for a liberal definition of homophobia. Nor is it apposite to repeat your paraphrase of the student's comment. My point is that each of your quotes becomes objectionable only when combined with your paraphrases of statements coming before or after. I'm sure you can understand that any reasonable person will be reluctant to trust the paraphrase of a blogger with an obvious agenda. I'm not saying I know what happened or that the student is in fact homophobic--I'm saying your direct quotes by themselves don't show any bad behavior by Abbate, and I have no reason to trust the paraphrases you provide that depict her as behaving badly.

You say that Abbate characterized opposition to gay marriage as homophobia. For all I know, you're ignoring offensive language with which the student expressed his opposition. It is common for people to interpret or paraphrase those they agree with extra--sometimes unreasonably--charitably.

In any case, if you want to convince people like me (and as you know, there are a lot of us), you don't need to keep asking us to just trust your paraphrases. You can easily settle this by sharing the audio or, failing that, a transcript or, failing that, relevant portions of the transcript with full relevant context.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Victor Nolan said...

It's weird that at a Catholic University you can have views presented that are intended on undermining the validity of Catholic theology. Many students take pride in this fact.

But those same students cry 'foul' when their sacred beliefs are undermined with any hint of criticism.

Ms. Abbate has numerous blogs intended on chopping down paternalism.... but what is more paternalistic than 'protecting the delicate ears' of college students with any dissent directed at foundational views of a secular worldview?

12:34 PM  
Blogger Walter-marie Miller said...

This response from Snow, and it is "Snow," not Shaw, or Show, struck me as just what you might expect from totalitarianism: depravity. Truth-diminishing. The truth doesn't matter. Also: flippancy. I assume, because Snow is quite certain that the controlling P.C.-faculty-junta at Marquette is quite capable of weathering the storm, insulating their own from the ramifications of such flagrancy.

Also I'm overwhelmed by the sense that this comes from the "unexceptional left." Say what you will about him, but at least Noam Chomsky is formidable (I think). Not so with many leftists at Marquette who strike as quite insubstantial.

KeynesianPacker's remark about McAdams censoring his comments--scandalous!

5:40 PM  
Blogger KeynesianPacker said...

What made your source reliable? The fact that the student tended to agree with you politically? As you know, I have told you about professors whose political correctness I disagree with. That is not the issue. The disagreement we had about the course you referenced had to do with the fact that the description you gave of the curriculum was entirely inaccurate. For example, your student told you that the professor had students give presentations promoting certain "politically correct" viewpoints without mentioning the fact that other students were randomly assigned to argue the opposite position. For example, for every student assigned to argue that homosexuality is genetic, there was an equal number of students arguing that homosexuality is a choice. Did your supposedly reliable source mention that? You smeared a Marquette professor based on one student's false account of the course. That is why you have no credibility here.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Matthew Shadle said...

John, the reason Nancy Show called you a liar is because, even though you present factual information, you also leave out crucial information that misleads your readers about the situation, and much of the information you provide is misconstrued.

For example, in your posts on this topic you have failed to mention that the actual topic of discussion in the class was the political philosophy of John Rawls. The list of issues Abbate was writing on the board was a student-generated list of contemporary issues for which Rawls’s philosophy would have implications, and one student offered “gay rights” as an example. It was only then that the student in question wanted to debate the merits of same-sex marriage. By leaving out this fact, you created the impression that “gay rights” was the topic of discussion, initiated by the instructor, who then shut down dissenting opinions, when the reality is that the student in question was trying to start a debate on an issue only tangentially related to the class material, therefore taking time away from what the students were actually there to learn, Rawls’s philosophy.

Second, given this context missing in your own account, we have a much more plausible interpretation of Abbate’s comments than the one you provide. When Abbate said “everybody agrees on this, and there is no need to discuss it,” you interpret “this” as referring to “gay rights,” but given the context that you leave out, it is much more plausible that “this” refers to “the implications of Rawls’s philosophy for gay rights.” That is what the class was supposed to be talking about, after all. What she is saying is that within the class there was no debate on the point raised by the first student and which was actually relevant to their topic, about Rawls, whereas the student in question is attempting to turn the discussion into a debate on the issue of same-sex marriage itself, which was off topic and did not need to be discussed in that class. Abbate’s comment had nothing to do with the validity of the student’s comments, but rather with an instructor trying to manage her class after a student had attempted to hijack the discussion.


10:38 AM  
Blogger Matthew Shadle said...

Third, as the commenter “pastrypride” already pointed out, in your account of the after class conversation, all of your quotations of Abbate are paired with your own interpretations in a way that potentially misconstrues what she was actually saying. For example,

“don’t you think it would be offensive to them” if some student raised his hand and challenged gay marriage?

“Then things deteriorated further as the student said that it was his right as an American citizen to make arguments against gay marriage. Abbate replied that “you don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments.”

In each case “gay marriage” is something you have added to the interpretation, not something in the quotation itself. In your response to “pastrypride” you write that:

“But the context was the student's objection to gay marriage.”

But you actually present no evidence for that. You do not provide the context because you do not quote what the student actually said during this conversation. But helpfully, Susan Kruth at FIRE has provided a quote from the conversation which is the immediate context of Abbate’s remarks. The student says:

“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.”

The student is in effect demanding carte blanche to argue against same sex marriage for whatever reasons he chooses, even clearly bigoted or vacuous ones, without any kind of censure or discrediting from the instructor (and the comment is general enough that he appears to be demanding the right to air any opinion whatsoever without criticism). But as an academic surely you must recognize that this is ridiculous, that an instructor has every right to censure or discredit a student’s comment if it is based on truly bigoted or faulty reasoning.

And seen in that light, using Abbate’s actual words rather than your addendums, all of her comments make perfect sense:

“some opinions are not appropriate, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions”
“you don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments.”
“In this class, homophobic comments, racist comments, will not be tolerated.”

At no point does Abbate say that all arguments against same-sex marriage are homophobic, as you claim. She is merely making the perfectly reasonable claim that some arguments against it are homophobic, and will not be tolerated in class, contrary to the student’s assertion that all (of his) opinions, regardless of how poorly reasoned, should be allowed to stand in class without criticism.

The irony is that in a case where a student has attempted to hijack a class discussion onto a topic of his choice, and has asserted the right to air his opinions without criticism from the instructor, you have somehow twisted an instructor’s efforts to keep her class focused on their material and respectful toward one another as if she were the domineering and closed-minded one.

10:42 AM  

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