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Marquette instructor who silenced student wants cyberbullying policy

Following up on our story about Marquette University instructor Cheryl Abbate and her dispute with a student who complained she wouldn’t let students openly disagree with gay marriage in a philosophy class: Abbate is now going on the offensive.

In a thorough summary of the dispute – which oddly leaves out the alleged role of philosophy department chair Nancy Snow in intimidating the student – Inside Higher Ed reports that Abbate is calling for the school to crack down on the people who criticized her:

Abbate, however, said she hoped Marquette would “use this event as an opportunity to create and actively enforce a policy on cyberbullying and harassment.” She added: “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. I would hope that Marquette would do everything in its power to cultivate a climate where Marquette employees, especially students, are not publicly demeaned by tenured faculty.”

Abbate, a grad student, said she’s received many unkind comments by email and letter, “calling her a ‘tyrant,’ a ‘stupid, stupid woman,’ and a ‘toxic example to students,’” according to Inside Higher Ed. The comments simply made about her online have been worse, and it’s unclear how Marquette could stop them under any policy.

The Marquette professor who brought the student’s claims to light and allegedly “demeaned” her, John McAdams, “said he’d received several nasty emails of his own, including one from a colleague.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), in covering the dispute, notes that Marquette’s “alarmingly broad” harassment policy already “prohibits, among other things, ‘verbal … conduct’ (i.e., speech) including ‘a single incident’ when it is ‘intimidating, hostile or demeaning or could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm.’”

 

Abbate and her defenders come off in the Inside Higher Ed article as believing it’s perfectly fine for them to silence students if they hold views based on sources they don’t like. Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of political philosophy and ethics at the University of South Carolina, says:

“Rather, the [student’s] comment was off-topic and based on false claims, and the instructor needed to make a decision about how to use limited class time …the inappropriateness of the remark came largely from it being irrelevant and based on mistaken empirical claims.”

Weinberg is referring to the student’s claim to Abbate that the children of gay parents “do a lot worse in life,” which she disputed in justifying her shutdown of the gay-marriage discussion.

Inside Higher Ed, unprompted, said “the major study showing negative outcomes for children of gay parents, by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, has been widely discredited.”

Related: Professor McAdams, the initial source of the student’s claims about Abbate, said last week that philosophy department chair Snow “accosted” him in the law school cafe after his post went viral and twice told him “your student is lying.”

Read the Inside Higher Ed article.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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