America's North Shore Journal

Supporting the Ninth Amendment

University of Rochester’s Censorship Campaign

The University of Rochester has this on its website:

The University of Rochester envisions itself as a community that welcomes, encourages, and supports individuals who desire to contribute to and benefit from the institution’s missions of teaching, research, patient care, performance, and community service. In a pluralistic culture, that community includes faculty, students, and staff who represent important differences. … The University not only welcomes such differences in the members of its community but, in fulfilling its own missions and in preparing the leaders of tomorrow’s world who will necessarily be operating in an equally wide-ranging environment, it actively seeks to recruit and include them in all aspects of the institution’s operations.

Steven E. Landsburg is a tenured Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. he authors the blog The Big Questions. In several recent posts, he has defended Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke and that is the issue that the University seems to have with him. Here is a sample:

March 2, 2012

But whether or not he chose the right word, what I just don’t get is why the pro-respect crowd is aiming all its fire at Rush. Which is more disrespectful — his harsh language or Sandra Fluke’s attempt to pick your pocket? That seems like a pretty clear call to me.

March 7, 2012

Mandated insurance coverage means that the government requires everyone who doesn’t use contraceptive pills to contribute to the costs of everyone who does. This is exactly equivalent to a tax on not using contraceptive pills.

March 9, 2012

Had Sandra Fluke offered an actual reason for her position (including any of the ones I proposed on my blog), I might have disagreed with her, but we’d at least have had the basis for a thoughtful discussion. By contrast, it’s quite impossible to have a thoughtful discussion with someone who says only that she doesn’t like the outcome of a negotiation.

The University of Rochester’s president, Joel Seligman, had this to say about Professor Landsburg’s comments.

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.

The professor’s response:

I reserved the phrase `contraceptive sponges’ very clearly and specifically for people who demand subsidies without offering any reasons beyond the fact that they’d prefer to be subsidized. In other words, the targets of this phrase are people who have not actually stated any views on the matter at hand, namely how do we know when a subsidy is justified.

People who express actual views on this matter do not deserve to be mocked or ridiculed, and I never once said or implied that they do; indeed the considerable respect I’ve shown to opposing views throughout the comments section (and in the posts themselves) belies this interpretation.

Again, my objection is to people who think we ought to draw policy conclusions based on nothing more than their own personal preferences—that is, people who think that ideas don’t matter. I’d have hoped that a distinguished academic would share that objection.

Campus police stood by as student protesters disrupted a class being taught by Professor Landsburg on March 7.

A number of respected academics have read the statement by Dr. Seligman and seen the classroom behavior permitted by the University and have made these comments.

Ann Althouse, Robert W. & Irma Arthur-Bascom Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin School of Law

“We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.” Where’s the character assassination? Landsburg disagreed with the policy Sandra Fluke promoted. In Congress. Professors have the obligation to “nurture” and “inspire” her from afar by refraining from taking on her ideas? Is that some special kid-gloves treatment for women? Ironically, that would be sexist. Should we be patting the female political activist on the head and murmuring good for you for speaking up? That is dismissive. It’s better feminism to react to what a woman in politics says and to respond to her with full force the way you would to a man.

William A. Jacobson, Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School

Why did the President of the University feel the need to get involved? Is he the thought policeman?

Sure, the President of the University is entitled to an opinion, but it’s clear that he was trying to tamp down a dissenting view using the power of his presidency.

Glenn Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law

ou know, it’s going to be harder and harder to sell the notions of universities as places where people pursue knowledge for its own sake.

And Landsburg has tenure, but don’t you think that a university president going after a professor like this will serve to chill the speech of untenured professors, grad students, etc.? And do you think Joel Seligman was unaware of that?

Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Most worrisome, however, is the fact that UR allowed its students to disrupt Landsburg’s class without any consequences, despite the fact that campus security was on the scene. What happened in Landsburg’s class is a textbook example of “mob censorship,” where a group of people silence or drown out a speaker with whose views they disagree. A classroom is perhaps the least appropriate place for something like this to happen, and the fact that UR did not see fit to clear the heckling students out of the class is disturbing. If UR truly values “freedom of expression of ideas and action,” it should make clear that those who engage in mob censorship will be punished and that it will tolerate no further disruptions of campus speakers …

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