A huge brouhaha erupted when we blogged about an instructor in the Philosophy Department who told a student (in an after class conversation) that his opinions in opposition to gay marriage were “homophobic”
and that discussion of the issue had to be banned since any gay students in class would be “offended.”
It went national in outlets that were appalled at the suppression of the Catholic Church’s position at a so called “Catholic university,”
and at outlets that support free expression on college campuses
It also created a backlash among leftist and politically correct academics
who apparently agreed with the actions of the instructor, one Cheryl Abbate.
One of the nastiest (and most hypocritical) attacks
came from some Marquette department chairs in humanities and the social sciences.
Marquette reacted to the uproar with the following statement from the Provost:
I am writing to address recent discussions within the campus community concerning the issues of collegiality, professionalism and academic freedom.
The university has guidelines and processes to ensure that all of our faculty, staff and students are treated fairly. These processes allow us to thoughtfully address both incidents themselves and the ways that others have reacted to them.
Shortly thereafter, Brian Dorrington (Marquette PR guy) told various media outlets
that Marquette was:
. . . reviewing both a concern raised by a student and a concern raised by a faculty member. We are taking appropriate steps to make sure that everyone involved is heard and treated fairly. In compliance with state and federal privacy laws, we will not publicly share the results of the reviews.
This claim of confidentiality, of course, sounds like a nice strategy for evading issues and keeping everybody happy. They can believe they are getting what they want from the Marquette administration, but that the whole thing must be kept “confidential.”
We don’t know what consequences came of all this, with the exception of the fact that Arts & Sciences Dean Rick Holz wrote a letter of reprimand to Philosophy Department Chair Nancy Snow for her verbal assault on us in a university café
(in the presence of a prospective job candidate).
Marquette has made no attempt to censor the Marquette Warrior, nor have we received any sort of reprimand.
It would be nice to believe that this is because Marquette values academic freedom. But the reality is probably less flattering to Marquette.
On Wednesday, November 19, we got an e-mail from Kim Patterson in the office of Holz. It said Holz wanted to meet with us.
We e-mailed him and made it clear to him that we would not accept any sort of reprimand or attempt to censor our blog. He wrote back with a conciliatory message:
Hi John. I think there has been a misunderstanding. I would like to meet with you tomorrow to just gather facts and listen to your side of the issue. As I have indicated before, I was asked by the Provost to gather information and do the fact finding investigation. So I have listened to the recording by the student and read your blog. I would like to hear from you directly and also hear from you about your run-in with Nancy Snow.
And then in a later e-mail:
Hi John. Your blog is your business but we will have to discuss aspects of what you blogged about as I think it is relevant to the issues. I am not planning to “reprimand, censure, or harass” you in any way. I simply want to have a conversation with you so I have a better understanding about what happened here.
Fair enough, we thought, and we even apologized to Holz for our initial testy response.
When we finally arrived at the meeting (on November 20) Holz was congenial enough and got some factual information from us.
But then he offered us some advice that could be interpreted as an attempt at intimidation (although he probably did not see it that way).
He noted that we had (before we went live with the story) e-mailed Cheryl Abbate from our Marquette account asking her for her version of what transpired. He suggested that we should keep our blogging separate from our Marquette business. He suggested we should consult Marquette’s guideline for computer use on that.
We told him that our blogging is a form of publication (if not a particularly exalted one), and research for publication is most certainly something for which we can use Marquette resources. We told him he would be opening a “can of worms” if he made an issue of that.
Then, worse, he told us we should consult Marquette’s guidelines on harassment – the implicit suggestion being that we were “harassing” people with our blogging. We told him we know the guidelines quite well, and that Marquette’s guidelines are absurdly broad
, but that for anything to be called “harassment” it has to be directed against a “protected class.” People with politically correct leftist political opinions are not a protected class.
We asked Holz if he had completed the university “training” about harassment, and he replied that he had. We pointing out that the “training” clearly teaches that merely expressing opposition to gay marriage
to a fellow employee could be considered “harassment.” He blandly replied [paraphrasing] “yes, the definition is getting broader.”
His response gave no indication that he had any reservations about defining the mere expression of a political opinion as harassment.
We explained to him that if we got anything from Marquette that even vaguely resembled a reprimand we would call our lawyer, and that “we have a lawyer who loves to sue Marquette.”
We have heard nothing further from Marquette
Holz probably didn’t even perceive his statements as questionable. He came across as a conventional, bland, risk averse bureaucrat. Such bureaucrats find free expression problematic, since it creates complaints to the bureaucrats. Holz probably thought he was giving us good advice as to how to avoid controversy —
and of course, our avoiding controversy would avoid controversy for him. He apparently didn’t understand that we don’t mind controversy.
And especially not at Marquette University, were outrageous excesses of political correctness happen quite regularly.
Generally, free speech can prevail on a college campus, but only if the speaker is willing to make a stink about it. The preferred mode of operation among campus bureaucrats is to quietly “handle” conflict, and to chill free expression.
Often, a stifling climate of political correctness can do the job for them, as students come to understand that they will be attacked and derided for stands unpopular among the politically correct activists, and as faculty avoid conflict.
All of this is the result of an unfortunate confluence of intolerance among the faculty (especially in the humanities and social sciences) and conformity and timidity among vision-less administrators.
In this, Marquette is probably no worse than a lot of other universities, but it’s also no better.