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Law professors question university’s punishment of Christian professor for ‘vile and stupid’ views

‘The selected punishment is not tailored to address the purported problem’

Indiana University is letting students opt out of classes by a professor with “vile and stupid” views on gender, sexuality and affirmative action, and subjecting him to double-blind grading so that he can’t tell which student he’s grading.

But the public university will not fire Eric Rasmusen “for his posts as a private citizen,” Provost Lauren Robel told the Kelley School of Business community, where Rasmusen is a longtime professor of business economics and public policy.

Rasmusen (above) sparked controversy earlier this month when he tweeted out an article titled “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.” It was published on a website run by Ron Unz, a software entrepreneur and former Senate candidate.

Unz put together a losing candidate slate for Harvard University’s Board of Overseers that included former Green Party nominee Ralph Nader. One of its planks was fairness for Asian Americans in admissions.

The professor quoted from the Unz.com article in his tweet: “geniuses are overwhelmingly male because they combine outlier high IQ with moderately low Agreeableness and moderately low Conscientiousness.”

Provost Robel told the community last week that “various officials at Indiana University have been inundated in the last few days with demands that he be fired.” She condemned other views Rasmusen has expressed on his social media accounts, calling them “racist, sexist, and homophobic,” and even called him a bad Christian.

The taxpayer-funded institution can’t fire him for his “vile and stupid” views, however, “because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so,” Robel wrote. “That is not a close call.”

While Rasmusen has defended himself against the outrage on his personal blog and on Twitter, some law professors have criticized the reasoning and actions of Robel, a former dean of the law school.

As a former lawyer, Robel should know more about protections for free speech, the University of Chicago’s Brian Leiter wrote in a sharp critique:

Her job is not to attack members of her faculty, however stupid or foolish they may be; her job is to uphold the constitutional rights of faculty (which she professes she will do) and insure compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other tasks.

MORE: Janet Jackson’s nipple prompts bias complaint at IU

Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law wrote at Reason that the reasoning behind Rasmusen’s punishment is unclear, considering that even Robel has acknowledged there is no evidence of wrongdoing on his part.

“Removing Rasmusen from teaching required classes does not remove the hostile work environment” that some students claim Rasmusen’s presence on campus creates, Blackman wrote. “In short, the selected punishment is not tailored to address the purported problem.”

The punishment against Rasmusen is similar to that leveled against law professor Amy Wax by the University of Pennsylvania.

Her required first-year classes were stripped from her because Wax questioned whether any black students had graduated in the top quarter of their Penn Law class. Penn Law has refused to provide evidence that she’s wrong.

Rasmusen told The College Fix in an email last week that he would answer questions in writing, but has yet to do so.

A university spokesperson emphasized to The Fix that Robel was not attacking Christian beliefs in her criticism of Rasmusen’s expressed views. But some of those views are hard to separate from the professor’s orthodox Christian faith, particularly on sexuality.

‘Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs,’ like Rasmusen did

Rasmusen’s Nov. 7 tweet drew widespread notice because a purported IU student shared it with a popular Twitter account, She Rates Dogs, devoted to shaming “exes.”

Michaela Okland told her followers that “I hate leaving names in, but this can’t continue being a thing.” She posted screenshots of the tweet and a message from the student, who told Okland that Rasmusen is “not my professor” but the student had already reported him to the school.

Provost Robel showed no restraint in denouncing Rasmusen. He has posted “pernicious and false stereotypes” including that “women do not belong in the workplace,” that gay men are “promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students,” and that “black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions.”

His views are more consistent with “the 18th century than the 21st,” and he has falsely attributed them to Christianity, the provost continued: “Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs; indeed, he counseled avoiding judgments.” She compared Rasmusen to the crowd in the Gospel of John that attempted to stone a woman caught in adultery. (John records Jesus Christ telling the woman to “go and sin no more.”)

If Rasmusen “acted upon his expressed views in the workplace … he would be acting both illegally and in violation of our policies,” Robel wrote. It’s reasonable for “students who are women, gay, or of color” to assume that Rasmusen “would not give them a fair shake in his classes” and that his views “would infect his perceptions of their work.”

That is why the university will “provide alternatives” to Rasmusen’s classes for students who don’t want to be subject to him and subject him to double-blind grading. Another faculty members will grade parts of assignments that can’t be submitted anonymously to Rasmusen.

“If other steps are needed to protect our students or colleagues from bigoted actions, Indiana University will take them,” Robel said, including the investigation of allegations against Rasmusen related to “promotion and tenure decisions or in grading.”

MORE: Penn Law punishes Amy Wax for questioning black student grades

Rasmusen’s dean, Idie Kesner, posted her own statement on behalf of the “leadership” of the Kelley School condemning the professor for his “reprehensible views” toward women and diversity in race and sexual orientation. They violate the Kelley School’s beliefs and actions.

Going further than Robel, Kesner said the business school would “conduct a thorough review of the courses taught by this professor for the influence of bias.” She asked the community not to judge the school “by a single faculty member,” but to recognize its commitment to becoming “more inclusive and supportive of diversity” every day.

More than 170 faculty denounced Rasmusen in their own letter to business school students, saying “we must not remain silent when we see injustice.”

University spokesperson Chuck Carney told the Indianapolis Star last week that Rasmusen was currently teaching one course with 20 students enrolled at the start of the semester, but he didn’t have figures on how many if any had transferred out.

‘Neither conservatives or Christians were called out,’ university says

On his own blog, Rasmusen is keeping an index of his writing and other responses to the “kerfuffle,” including statements supportive of him.

On the index page, he mocked Robel’s implied claim that double-blind grading “will make students relaxed and feel able to express their political views without fear of retribution” by a “dissident professor.”

They can safely “speak freely in the classes of the 99% of professors who are (a) leftwing, and (b) exempt from blind grading,” Rasmusen wrote: “Indiana University is not discouraging bias, but encouraging it, even requiring it, as a condition of teaching.”

He cited “Christian and conservative students” who have previously expressed gratitude that they found a professor like them “open in his beliefs.” This top-down action against him will have a ripple effect on them, he claims. Rasmusen also quoted a “gay man” who wrote to him about the kerfuffle, urging him “don’t give up!”

Rasmusen responded to Robel in a line-by-line rebuttal most recently updated Tuesday. In response to his viewpoints being labeled “racist, sexist and homophobic,” he said:

These insults no longer have much meaning. I oppose admitting people to universities based on their race; I open doors for ladies; I say that sodomy is a sin. I am sure that is enough to qualify me for those insults under the Provost’s personal definitions.

MORE: Fraternities claw back their 4th Amendment rights in IU agreement

Robel falsely characterized him as hostile to women in academia, he said: “I did not object” when his wife taught at Eastern Illinois University before deciding “she liked being a housewife better.” Rasmusen would not object if his daughter became a professor, calling academia “more compatible with motherhood than most jobs.”

He’s not sure what “slurs about women” Robel says he has used. Rasmussen guesses that she’s referring to a tweet of his calling FBI lawyer Lisa Page “a slut who was having an adulterous affair at the office” with special agent Peter Strzok, both married.

“I do not think it misogynistic to speak strongly against women who steal other women’s husbands,” Rasmusen wrote. “And the guy, Strzok, is even worse.”

The professor is also on the record saying “homosexuals should not teach grade and high school” but has always maintained that “academia was different” because college students are “older and better able to protect themselves” from predatory gay professors.

As for affirmative action, the whole idea is that “too few black students would get in without racial preferences, so we need to lower the standard for them and accept that they will do worse academically,” he wrote. “Affirmative action may be right; it maybe wrong; but that’s what it is.”

MORE: Amy Wax mulls defamation suit against Penn for saying she made up stats

Rasmusen challenged Robel to provide evidence that he has ever judged his students on their “gender, sexual orientation or race,” either “to their detriment,” as she said, or to their benefit. “I look at them as individuals, and see how well they do on tests.”

Carney, director of media relations, disputed that the university was going after a professor for his religious beliefs.

“While the provost did point out that the faculty member does often cite Christian beliefs, this in no way was attacking religious beliefs,” he told The Fix:

Additionally, he did not, to my knowledge, claim himself that these are deeply held religious beliefs nor was he espousing something he ascribed to his Christian belief … Neither conservatives or Christians were called out; only these views which are completely opposed to the values of Indiana University.

While the university may not have intended to call out Christians, some of Rasmusen’s positions are plausibly rooted in Christian belief and practice, including criticism of adultery and homosexual activity, as opposed to promiscuity and sexual orientation.

Offering a ‘shadow’ class to avoid professor is unconstitutional

Leiter, the University of Chicago law professor, wrote that it was “especially disappointing” when lawyers and law professors attack faculty for their views.

“It would have taken more courage, and more commitment to the ideal of a university,” for her to release a brief statement: Rasmusen “speaks only for himself,” his speech is constitutionally protected “whether or not the University or members of the public agree with it,” and that IU will ensure “all faculty comply with anti-discrimination laws in the classroom.”

Blackman, the South Texas College of Law professor, guessed that Robel based her decision on how to handle Rasmusen on a 1968 free speech case known as Pickering.

The “Pickering balance test” judges whether a governmental entity, such as a public university, “had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public” based on his speech “as a citizen on a matter of public concern.”

Leaving Rasmusen employed on campus while subjecting him to restrictions on grading, and letting students avoid his classes, is not obviously responsive to allegations against him, Blackman wrote.

“There are no allegations (as far as I can tell) that students in Rasmusen’s classes complained about his behavior in the classroom,” he said. “Furthermore, the fairness of Rasmusen’s grading was never called into question.” The complaints about the professor concern his campus and social media presence, neither of which is affected by his punishment.

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Blackman also cited comments by Hans Bader, a former lawyer in the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Bader noted that a “shadow” class created at the City University of New York – to allow students to get away from a professor who made “denigrating comments” about blacks – was ruled unconstitutional.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the university’s “encouragement of the continued erosion in the size of” the professor’s class “if he does not mend his extracurricular ways is the antithesis of freedom of expression.”

Outside of the administration’s words and actions against Rasmusen, two bridges near campus have been spray painted in protest of the professor, the Indiana Daily Student reported.

One read “Fire Eric Rasmusen” on one side and “No Bigots Allowed” on the flip side. The other bridge “has a checklist listing racist, sexist, homophobic [sic] and ‘Kelley’s own prof. Eric Rasmusen Don’t Stand for Hatred.’”

A similar situation happened to Robert Oscar Lopez at California State University-Northridge. The professor was heckled so severely for his conservative viewpoints, expressed in less inflammatory language, that he left the university altogether.

MORE: Bisexual, Latino professor chased out — for being too conservative

IMAGE: Indiana University

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About the Author
Christian Lubke -- Carthage College