Kirsten Powers is a liberal, but an old-style liberal who believes in freedom of expression. Those folks are becoming fewer and fewer. As one would expect in a volume that chronicles the actions of the intolerant left, her new book The Silencing
deals with Marquette University.
The relentless stereotyping and demonizing of people who oppose same-sex marriage has paid enormous dividends for the illiberal left. Their views have seeped into the culture to the point that many people think that denying same-sex marriage opponents the right to speak about their views is acceptable. In 2014, an instructor in a philosophy class at Marquette University, a Catholic school, let it be known that opposition to same-sex marriage was unworthy of discussion. In a conversation recorded by a student following the class, instructor Cheryl Abbate explained “there are some opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful” and compared questioning same-sex marriage to sexism and racism. Abbate went on to say that no one should express views that might be “offensive” to any gay student. Abbate told the student, who opposed same-sex marriage, “You don’t have a right in this class ...to make homophobic comments” and said the student could drop the class. The student complained, but the university took no action against the instructor.
Marquette political science associate professor John McAdams wrote a blog post criticizing Abbate for refusing to allow criticism of same-sex marriage in class discussions and quoted the conversation Abbate had with the student. He then found himself the object of illiberal scrutiny. Inside Higher Ed’s Colleen Flaherty wrote that University of South Carolina associate professor Justin Weinberg argued that McAdams had made Abbate the “target of a political attack,” likely stemming from “sexism.” Louisiana State University French studies professor John Protevi posted an open letter of support of Abbate on his blog blasting McAdams’s “one-sided public attack.” Abbate characterized McAdams’s post as “cyberbullying and harassment” and noted, “It is astounding to me that the university has not created some sort of policy that would prohibit this behavior which undoubtedly leads to a toxic environment for both students and faculty.”
Just to be clear here: the illiberal left considers the victim in this story to be the professor who preemptively silenced a student and compared his views to racism and sexism. Disagreement expressed by McAdams, in an academic environment where rigorous debate should be encouraged, was cast as a bullying attack. Rather than his motivation being reasonably interpreted as wanting to expose illiberal silencing on a campus, McAdams was accused of being motivated by sexism. This is all standard fare for the illiberal left. Why make a substantive argument when it’s just as easy to smear dissenters as sexist bullies?
While the university brushed off the student’s complaints of being silenced, the administration became vigorously engaged when the illiberal left complained about McAdams’s post. Incredibly, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences sent McAdams a letter informing him he was “relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities, including, but not limited to, advising, committee work, faculty meetings and any activity that would involve your interaction with Marquette students, faculty and staff.” He was ordered to stay off campus while he was being investigated for an unnamed transgression. Enclosed was a copy of Marquette’s harassment policy, which appears to be modeled on Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), screenshots of a faculty training session on the policy include “a slide about hypothetical peers Becky and Maria, who ‘have been talking about their opposition to same-sex marriage.’ Hans overhears the conversations, is offended, and reports the two for harassment. Hans’s action is condoned.”
It’s hard to imagine a more intellectually chilling policy than one that turns students and faculty into informants and punishes them for discussing issues in a manner not sanctioned by university authorities.
When a reporter inquired about the investigation against McAdams, a Marquette spokesperson straight out of Orwell’s 1984 asserted that McAdams had violated the university’s “Guiding Values to which all faculty and staff are required to adhere, and in which the dignity and worth of each member of our community is respected , especially students.” Clearly Marquette’s “Guiding Values” don’t apply to students who oppose same-sex marriage. Marquette was also violating its expressed commitment to free speech in its official handbook, which states, “It is clearly inevitable, and indeed essential, that the spirit of inquiry and challenge that the university seeks to encourage will produce many conflicts of ideas, opinions and proposals for action.”
Due process was also out the window. McAdams was not informed of his offense, nor was he given an opportunity to defend himself. This treatment blatantly violates another one of Marquette’s show documents, the faculty handbook, which states that the university protects professors’ “full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action.”
Apparently, Marquette’s professed commitments to their students and professors are trumped by their enigmatic and creepy “Guiding Values.” One might also note the irony of an orthodox Catholic position on marriage being ruled as outside the bounds of legitimate discussion at a Catholic university at the hands of the illiberal left who dominate or run so many college and university campuses.
Power’s book can be purchased here
Labels: Cheryl Abbate, Intolerance, John Protevi, Justin Weinberg, Kirsten Powers, Marquette University, Political Correctness, The Silencing