Another professor accused him of signing a ‘disgustingly homophobic amicus brief in opposition of gay marriage’
A conservative Harvard University professor described his fight against cancellation by his peers after he publicly came out against the Supreme Court’s redefining of marriage.
Harvard School of Public Health Professor Tyler VanderWeele detailed the saga in a nine-page article titled “Moral Controversies and academic public health; notes on navigating and surviving academic freedom challenges.”
VanderWeele wrote in an email to The College Fix that his “hope” for the paper, slated to be published in the journal Global Epidemiology, “was simply to encourage discussion of these issues within the academic community.”
“The Harvard Chan School of Public Health leadership has already put forward an updated statement on freedom of expression as a result of these events, which seems very good, and our interim Dean Jane Kim has been very supportive, so I am hopeful about the future,” he wrote.
According to the statement, Harvard School of Public Health’s “commitment to freedom of expression by its nature entails tolerating some speech that members of the community may receive as offensive or harmful.”
The Fix reached out to media relations Manager Maya Brownstein at the Harvard School of Public Health to ask whether the statement had been prompted by VanderWeele’s experience and how the school will protect the free speech rights of those with conservative views in the future. No response has been received.
VanderWeele signed a brief in the landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, arguing that the Supreme Court is not authorized to redefine marriage and that “states can enshrine the conjugal view of marriage without depriving same-sex partners of liberty.”
His support for the contrarian view came up eight years later in a series of tweets posted by a fellow health professor.
In March 2023, University of Illinois Professor Rachel Hoopsick tweeted about VanderWeele’s signing.
“Tyler VanderWeele @HarvardChanSPH signing a disgustingly homophobic amicus brief in opposition of gay marriage was not on my epidemiologist bingo card today,” she wrote.
The Supreme Court brief, written by conservative Princeton Professor Robert George and signed by multiple academics, stated, “All human beings, regardless of their romantic desires or relationship choices, have equal dignity and title to all the same civil rights.”
“States can respect this principle in full while continuing to promote the distinct benefits of a male-female marriage scheme in law and culture,” according to the signatories. “In doing so, they can vindicate the moral claim of children to be raised by their own mothers and fathers whenever possible,” the authors continue.
In his own article, VanderWeele describes how “the Twitter posts led to turmoil at HSPH [Harvard School of Public Health] including calls for my tenure to be revoked and for me to be fired, along with public condemnations of my views by prominent academic administrators.”
He also wrote that his “signing of the brief was linked in the Twitter posts to a commentary that I had published in JAMA Psychiatry on abortion and mental health.”
That article stated, “the abortion and mental health literature should. . .be more oriented towards providing for the mental health needs of women regardless of their views,” according to VanderWeele.
He went on to describe how minority opinions in the public health sphere can be rapidly shut down before a dialogue even begins.
“At the Epidemiology departmental faculty meeting on April 5th, a central agenda item was ‘Discussion on matters related to Tyler VanderWeele’s views,’” he wrote.
He also wrote how he heard that his papers on unrelated subjects had been rejected because of his Obergefell opinions.
“In May, a faculty colleague mentioned that she had sent one of my statistical methodology papers to a collaborator, and that it had been dismissed because of my signing the amicus brief,” VanderWeele wrote. “It seems there were similar dismissals of my methodological work on such grounds on Twitter, and by some HSPH students.”
“The challenges to academic freedom in this case were somewhat convoluted,” he wrote. “The Vice-Provost, the Dean, and my Department Chair all affirmed my freedom of expression, but there was a reluctance on the part of the School’s leadership to publicly acknowledge this.”
He wrote that as a holder of a minority view “[t]he message that I felt was often being conveyed to me was that my views, while perhaps formally protected, should not in fact be present within academic public health.”
“Fundamentally, I think there is a lack of respect for the intellectual diversity within our public health community,” he wrote.
IMAGE: Templeton World Charity Foundation