It has been said that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of the freedoms we as Americans enjoy every day. Truly, the right to say what you want is fundamental to our democracy. And what better place to see that right in action than on college and university campuses across our nation. But one university provost is getting attention for her strict adherence to the First Amendment, even though she disagrees with the comments of the man it protects.
Provost Lauren Robel of Indiana University Bloomington makes it very clear what she thinks about this university professor on her campus. “His views were racist, sexist and homophobic, she wrote in a statement this week. They were ‘vile and stupid,’ she said, and ‘more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.’” She is talking about Professor Eric Rasmusen. Professor Rasmusen, who teaches in the economics department, has advocated that gay men should not be teachers for fear they will molest students. He often refers to women as “the weaker sex.” He has even publicly voiced his belief that colleges lower their acceptance standards to accept African American students over their white counterparts.
Despite calls to fire Professor Rasmusen, Provost Robel refuses to do so. To those who seek his dismissal, she points out that the views he expresses are during his private time and clearly protected by the First Amendment. In taking this stance, she seems to recognize recent court opinions protecting speech by faculty members, even when those sentiments are considered repugnant by most.
Many applaud her for calling the professor out, still some see her decision as cowardice to stand up to inappropriate behavior. Selena Drake, who is a senior law and public policy student, agrees that freedom of speech needs protection. Yet she argues that a public denunciation does not protect students. “Expressing her concerns doesn’t really do anything for us,” said Drake. The student pointed out that the professor’s comments created a hostile learning environment which did not foster a positive place to learn. How could students get a fair shake with grading if these are the core beliefs of this man?
The provost has taken some steps to address these concerns. She ordered the university to change policies to allow students to transfer out of Professor Rasmusen’s class, if they wish. She also promised students that no one will have to take him to satisfy degree requirements. Finally, the university requires Professor Rasmusen grade all student assignments anonymously.
In his defense, the Professor points out that he keeps his private thoughts at home and does not bring them into the classroom. No complaints have been filed against him for his treatment of students while teaching. When asked about changing his behavior, Professor Rasmusen makes no apologies for his “conservative Christian beliefs.” In the end, it looks like the professor is not going anywhere. But on the bright side, neither are your First Amendment rights.