Philosophy Grad Student Target of Political Smear Campaign (several updates)

Philosophy Grad Student Target of Political Smear Campaign (several updates)


A philosophy graduate student and instructor at Marquette University is the target of a political attack initiated by one of her students, facilitated by a Marquette political science professor, and promulgated by certain advocacy organizations.

Cheryl Abbate, a Marquette PhD student working on a dissertation in ethics, has provided me with information about the series of events leading to the campaign against her. She currently teaches an ethical theory class. At one class meeting in October, the topic was Rawls’s equal liberty principle. To help elucidate the principle, Abbate asked her students for examples of policies that would violate the principle. Suggestions from students included a ban on marijuana use and seat belt laws. One of the students also suggested that a ban on gay marriage would violate this principle, since it involves denying a group of people a basic right the granting of which would not at all limit the liberties of others. Other policies were then discussed.

After class, a student approached Abbate and complained that she had not allowed a discussion of gay marriage and so he was not able to voice an objection he had to it. His objection concerned research which purported to show that children raised by same-sex parents turn out worse than children raised by heterosexual couples. Abbate pointed out that adoption by same-sex couples had not been under discussion, and that, further, there was no sound empirical research she knew of that supported his claim. She invited him to email her references to such research. She also noted that certain objections to gay marriage would be offensive to homosexual students in the class.

During the conversation, Abbate noticed that the student kept rephrasing what she was saying in terms of “homophobia.” She also noticed that he was holding his phone towards her. She asked if he was recording the conversation. He said he wasn’t. She then asked to see the phone, and it was, indeed, recording the conversation without her permission.

At the next class meeting, Abbate, thinking that other students might have thoughts similar to the one who approached her, decided to address such concerns directly. She mentioned the objection, described her replies to it, elaborated on the criticisms of the study the student had been referencing (by Mark Regnerus, which has been thoroughly discredited), and noted that class time is limited and that there isn’t time to adequately discuss all topics of interest.

A couple of weeks later, Marquette associate political science professor John McAdams wrote a blog post about the incident. He apparently based his post solely on the report of the complaining student. This is how he describes what happened in class: “She listed some issues on the board, and came to ‘gay rights.’ She then airily said that ‘everybody agrees on this, and there is no need to discuss it.'” That is not merely a condensed version of the events; it is entirely misleading. McAdams continues in his blog post to heap scorn on Abbate. He accuses her of being the type of person who thinks that “opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”  She is described as having “intolerant views.”  The post rails against “the politically correct world of academia” and the idea that we should be concerned with offending people and yet laments that “Christians and Muslims are not allowed to be ‘offended’ by pro-gay comments.” He adds: “it is a free fire zone where straight white males are concerned.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) picked up on the story and simply took McAdams’ account as accurate. The Catholic Education Daily did the same. FIRE describes this as an episode of “free speech being chilled.” Thus, basic classroom management, as well as one of the key characteristics of philosophical pedagogy—keeping the discussion of a question focused on the question without veering onto tangents—becomes the focal point for a complaint about political correctness, and in the process, a graduate student’s reputation is threatened.

Abbate did raise concerns about students being offended. As an instructor at Marquette, she is required to be concerned with such offense, as she is required to be in compliance with the university’s harassment policy, which includes the following:

The university is committed to maintaining an environment in which the dignity and worth of each member of its community is respected, it will not tolerate harassment of or by students, faculty, staff and guests or visitors…. Harassment is defined as verbal, written or physical conduct directed at a person or a group based on color, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, veteran status, age, gender or sexual orientation where the offensive behavior is intimidating, hostile or demeaning or could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm. Harassing conduct can be either a single incident or a persistent pattern of behavior. Harassment includes not only offensive behavior that interferes with a person’s or group’s well-being or development, but also such behaviors that interfere with one’s employment, educational status, performance, or that create a hostile working, academic or social environment.

There are certainly interesting pedagogical questions about how to discuss potentially offensive topics without violating harassment policies (and I encourage such questions be taken up in the comments). However, the event at the center of this controversy does not appear to be one of speech being shut down because it is offensive. Rather, the comment was off-topic and based on false claims, and the instructor needed to make a decision about how to use limited class time, especially given the topic of the lesson and the subject of the course (which is ethical theory, not applied ethics). Further, as any professor knows, points may be made in offensive and inoffensive ways, and particular students may be more or less skilled at putting their ideas into words that make for a constructive contribution to the lesson. In light of these factors, it is well within the rights and responsibilities of the instructor to manage classroom discussion in a way she judges conducive to learning.

An additional and important issue here is what Marquette University is or is not doing to protect Ms. Abbate. Not only are false and damaging things being said about her by a professor at her own university (not the first time this professor has attacked people online; see this) and by various organizations parroting his claims, but she has now become the target for viciously hostile comments on some websites. Here is a screenshot from one:

 

Abbate comments

(Notice the upvotes on these comments.) [update: The above is a screen shot from IOTW Report.]

Abbate reports that her department has been supportive but I am not aware of any positive steps that Marquette University has made to publicly declare their support for Abbate and defend her against these attacks.

UPDATE: Those interested in encouraging Marquette University to support Abbate may wish to write polite messages of support to the dean of the university’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Richard C. Holz, at [email protected], or the interim provost of the university, Dr. Margaret Faut Callahan, at [email protected].

UPDATE 2: In addition to writing to the aforementioned administrators, readers may be interested in signing on to an open letter in support of Ms. Abbate that has been posted at John Protevi’s blog.

UPDATE 3: Susan Kruth of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) responds to this post here. My reply is here in the comments, below.

UPDATE 4 (11/19/14): McAdams states on his blog that he wrote to Abbate and asked for her side of the story. He wrote her at approximately 9am on Sunday, November 9th and published the original piece on his blog 9 hours later. One might think that the professor would know that this is an insufficient window of time, for it would be wise for a graduate student instructor to consult her chair or other administrators at the school (about school policy, or FERPA, good teaching practice, etc.) before divulging information about student behavior, in writing, to a third party such as himself, and that people sometimes are difficult to contact or check their emails less frequently on Sunday. If he was really interested in hearing her side of the story, he would have waited to hear back from her. What was the rush? Let me also share that his email (which I have a copy of) begins with the line, “I’m working on a story about an after class confrontation you had with a student.” Notice how this assumes there is actually a news story here, prior to hearing from Abbate. That doesn’t quite inspire confidence in the fairness or accuracy of his reporting. Finally, let me add that McAdams sent this email to Abbate from his official university email address, and in doing so gives the impression that his inquiry is official university business. This makes it all the more imperative for Marquette University to make a public declaration of support for Abbate and to explain that it does not condone professors using university resources to conduct politically-motivated witch hunts that target its students.

UPDATE 5 (11/20/14): Inside Higher Ed has published a lengthy article about this here.

UPDATE 6 (11/21/14): Fox News has picked up on the story. The article, posted today, starts with a lying headline and is clearly meant to rally the troops. Ms. Abbate has written to tell me that she has already received hate mail as a result of the Fox News article. As of now, Marquette has yet to make any public statement supporting Ms. Abbate. I have been informed that the decision to release any such statement will have to come from the university level, and so I urge concerned parties to write to Marquette University President Michael Lovell at [email protected] asking him to step up and publicly support Ms. Abbate.

UPDATE 7 (12/18/14): Please see this newer post (particularly updates 3 & 5).

(photo by Joe Raedle, altered)

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Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

This is deeply distressing. It’s one thing to represent what happened as McAdams has, but to go after a grad student, at one’s own institution no less!, is reprehensible. My thoughts go out to Cheryl.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

Looks like a classic case of a Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/David Horowitz fanboy pretending to be offended by “liberal college professors.” That shtick was old news by the late 90s.Report

Michelle
Michelle
6 years ago

What can we do to help?Report

anonymousqueer
anonymousqueer
6 years ago

I wish I were surprised. Many of us have seen exactly the sort of thing many, many times. If Cheryl Abbate needs representation (and she should seek it sooner rather than later– believe me when I say I know), here are some places she can start: (1) Nearly every campus (even those which are not unionized) in the U.S. has a local division of the AAUP. There’s a particular committee–it’s in all places called “committee A”– that could be very helpful to her. Committee A normally deals with matters of tenure and promotion, but because of the nexus of problems that come up in that arena, they are (at least some of the local committee A’s are) pretty adept at dealing with and familiar with this kind of nonsense as well. If the local AAUP doesn’t turn out to be very helpful, she might try phoning the national office. One thing the AAUP can help her with is in relations with administrators at Marquette, and getting the protection and support she has every right to expect from them under these circumstances. (2) The EEOC has a divisional office in Milwaukee (Marquette is not a state institution, so it’s not clear to me–not a lawyer– that they can actually protect her in any way, but they may be able to help her find the right resources); (3) Lambda Legal’s midwest division is in Chicago–if she calls their help desk, they too may be able to help her find the right resources (I’m not sure this is the sort of case Lambda Legal would themselves take on, but they can be very helpful in locating resources); (4) The AAUW–it will take some calling around to get the right person there who can help, but again, there are others who have faced this kind of nonsense, and the AAUW has various resources to find the right kind of person to help. All that said, I’d still start with the local AAUP. In the meantime, she should document everything. Record any conversation with any administrator, bring witnesses whenever she has a conversation even touching on the subject, back up all emails related to the subject to a server that is not university connected. It might also be a good idea for her to keep recordings of her classes for the rest of the semester–it would provide evidence of the falsity of claims being made against should further such claims be made.Report

surprised
surprised
6 years ago

and for those of us connecting the dots, who is John McAdams? he is the completely objective, apolitical, neutral “researcher” about the Kennedy assassination, whose ability to waive away the astonishing number of pieces of evidence that have been overturned in the past 20 years (especially the stuff released by the Assassination Records Review Board) should suggest to *nobody* that there is a right-wing political oligarchy working hard to keep the lid on any sort of political dissent in the US. See http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/home.htm.Report

Mark Alfano
6 years ago

Any idea why bigots are congenitally incapable of spelling ‘sodomite’? I’m reminded of the Oscar Wilde.Report

Anon Today
Anon Today
6 years ago

Please take this as a friendly suggestion. As much as the student sounds like an ass (recording a conversation is obnoxious), and so does the faculty member backing him, it might be constructive if Cheryl would walk back part of what she said to the student. It sounds like she had many good reasons not to want to have a discussion of gay marriage in class that day, but it’s problematic to curtail discussion to protect gay students from being offended. On similar grounds, you’d have to curtail discussion of abortion (people who have had abortions might be offended by pro-lifers), affirmative action (people who have benefited from it might be offended by people against), and veganism (meat eaters might be offended by arguments against meat-eating).
Furthermore, offense isn’t inevitable or even necessarily bad. I have covered gay marriage in a class that included an openly gay student and a homophobic football player. We had a substantive debate concurrent with the Supreme Court DOMA case, which was entirely worthwhile. Plus, the interaction gave the gay student an opportunity to demonstrate incredible grace and strength and the homophobic student could very well have learned a lot from that and from the reactions of his peers (who all supported the gay student). More data: I have kids involved in their high school’s Gay Straight Alliance and they like nothing better than to have conservative students attend meetings and spar with them. Even if there is some degree of offense, that can lead to genuine dialogue. They do not want to be in an echo chamber where everyone has all the same beliefs.
(I am Anon Today because of the last few sentences.)Report

anon grad student
anon grad student
6 years ago

Why on earth would you ever link to Fletcher Prouty’s website? The man is an absolute crank.Report

Rob Loftis
Rob Loftis
6 years ago

It would be helpful if other students in the class could come forward to confirm Abbate’s account of classroom events. Perhaps someone was even recording it.Report

Amy Lara
Amy Lara
6 years ago

Anon Today: that’s quite a derail there. There was a lively and interesting thread yesterday discussing that precise issue. This thread concerns a coordinated, premeditated political attack on a colleague who made a completely legitimate and competent pedagogical judgment. Whether one agrees with the particular judgment is irrelevant. It is absolutely vital that we step in to support the exercise of academic freedom, especially when it’s threatened as much as it is these days.Report

JT
JT
6 years ago

@ Anon Today

But she didn’t dismiss all such discussion as offensive. If the account in the post is right, she noted that some objections to same sax marriage are offensive–which is obviously true. Honestly, I can’t imagine a more skillful and charitable way for an instructor to have handled this situation. Notice, not only did she handle the student’s attempt to covertly bait her into saying something imprudent on camera, but she took up the very issue in the next class, when it would’ve been very easy (and evidently, prudent) to have just let it rest–actually, there’s something perverse about how she’s being essentially punished for being a good teacher.Report

Corey Wrenn
Corey Wrenn
6 years ago

Something tells me, as a professor myself, the student probably had a chip on his shoulder from poor performance in the class. Undoubtedly her vulnerable status as both a woman (as evidenced in the comments she received) and a graduate student make her an easy target for privileged white men with conservative values they wish to protect. It is chilling that Ms. Abbate’s university has not stepped in to protect her and her career, allowing a tenured professor to publish libelous and damaging comments. At this point, the misogynistic comments and harassment she is receiving based on her gender (not just her supposed liberal leaning) indicates that this has reached the level of a hate crime. Her university needs to act. In a field that is already so dismal in gender ratios, incidents like this only aggravate the discomfort women feel from a field deemed unwelcoming to women. I know I would not feel comfortable working at Marquette, and I would certainly not advise any of my students to apply there either.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

It seems to me that too much of the umbrage here trades on the teacher’s own representation of the events. Certainly the social media posts are unacceptable, but there’s nothing here to convince me her fairly benign representation isn’t the full story. One could easily imagine it happening otherwise, e.g., with a more heavy-handed treatment of the student’s objections. In any case, I wouldn’t think her testimony should simply be represented as what, in fact, did happen. So I’d amend the principal post to say things like “she says”, “she alleges” and other qualifications that would be standard in any serious journalistic enterprise.Report

Anon Today
Anon Today
6 years ago

This is what I read over at John McAdams’ blog, and what I was reacting to when I wrote my comment–
QUOTE: Abbate explained that “some opinions are not appropriate, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions” and then went on to ask “do you know if anyone in your class is homosexual?” And further “don’t you think it would be offensive to them” if some student raised his hand and challenged gay marriage? The point being, apparently that any gay classmates should not be subjected to hearing any disagreement with their presumed policy views.
This does make it sound like she was dismissing all discussion, on grounds that gay students could be offended. If McAdams’ misrepresented what Abbate said (the quotes are based on the recording, but the paraphrasing might be “creative”), then I’d certainly have to withdraw my comment.Report

Ruth
Ruth
6 years ago

Where were those comments posted? I did not see them on the “Marquette Warrior” blog.
In any case, this is not just a case of tempers running high etc.; no student should be recording a professor without her permission. It’s a violation of the Student Code of Conduct here at UNH, as well as a violation of intellectual property rights. I’m surprised that it isn’t a violation of Marquette’s faculty code of conduct to spread rumors about a professor on a blog.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

Even if we grant (and I think it’s a huge ‘if’) everything McAdams says in his representation of what happened, it still seems utterly inappropriate for McAdams to attack a grad student instructor as he has.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Anon Today, even if that’s an accurate representation of what she said, that exchange (according to McAdams’ description) took place after class, not during. It’s difficult for me to think that saying this to a student after class, when they have objected to not being able to raise a tangential argument because a tangential discussion did not take place, constitutes dismissing all discussion. Moreover, even if, again, that is direct quote, we don’t know what exactly the student said that elicited this response.

The fact that she brought this up during the next class period, even after realizing that the student was attempting to record her, suggests to me that she in fact went well out of her way to address the student’s concern.Report

Kimberly
Kimberly
6 years ago

The comments can be found here. http://iotwreport.com/?p=261782Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

“There are certainly interesting pedagogical questions about how to discuss potentially offensive topics without violating harassment policies”

Not really. If you can’t handle “potentially offensive” topics discussed in a classroom setting without feeling “harassed,” you don’t belong in college – you belong in Kindergarden.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

[email protected]: Consider this, from a report that is based on interviews with the undergraduate and that very much takes his part:
“The student said he only wants Marquette to acknowledge the instructor was wrong to tell him he couldn’t bring up gay marriage, and ensure that students in the future will be allowed to speak in similar classroom situations.”
This amounts to a demand to be allowed to bring up an off-topic subject without allowing the instructor to guide the class back to the topic at hand.Report

Eva Dadlez
6 years ago

I’ve written a letter, but has anyone considered getting a petition together?Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

Please, please, no more letters or petitions.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

I can’t really agree with that at all; graduate students are certainly not above criticism just because they’re graduate students, particularly when they’re teaching undergraduates.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

Representation for what, though? In this context “political” seems to mean “people are saying things I don’t like” rather than any sort of threat that would require an attorney.Report

CN
CN
6 years ago

…but isn’t objecting to gay marriage offensive? Are we all just going to accept that there are two reasonable sides to this issue? There aren’t and reasonable people should be able to call a spade a spade.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  CN
3 years ago

then call a spade a spade. don’t prevent spade discussion all together because it’s “offensive.”Report

Kenny
Kenny
6 years ago

When a non-tenure-track instructor has her teaching methods criticized in a very public forum by a senior faculty member at the institution she works at, based on an apparent misrepresentation of her methods, I think she may be worried about her job. She may also be worried about becoming exposed to online harassment (I see several comments copied above where anonymous readers have claimed to start contacting her directly) due to potentially libelous misrepresentation of her teaching methods. It seems likely that some sort of legal issue is bound to arise soon, if it hasn’t already.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Kenny
3 years ago

> becoming exposed to online harassment

you are “exposed to online harassment” the moment you have a discussion available online. this is technologically illiterate.Report

Andrew Sepielli
Andrew Sepielli
6 years ago

If you want to criticize, do it the old-fashioned way — walk on over to your colleague’s office and express your concerns. Don’t diss her on the internet; your momma taught you better than that!Report

Lee J Rickard
6 years ago

MacAdams was the subject of an article by Tom Vanden Brook, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Do either the reporter or the paper have more to add to this, based on the content of their original story?Report

Charles Hermes
Charles Hermes
6 years ago

I semi avoid the topic of gay rights in my ethics class. For every topic I cover I try to defend an author on both sides in such a way as that students do not know my opinion about the topic by the end of the discussion. I do give a brief 15 minute discussion of why I am incapable of teaching this issue. While I can think of many reasons to be in favor of gay rights (and I explain to the students just how horrendous the situation is), I have never even came close to hearing a remotely plausible reason to be against gay rights. Since I am unable to provide any sane argument against gay rights, I lack the capacity to effectively cover this topic…and then I move on to serious moral debates where there is real intelligent disagreement. Instead of ‘fairly covering both sides of an issue’ it is the one point in the semester where I spend 15 minutes trying to persuade students to believe that what we do to our LGBT neighbors is insane. I applaud Cheryl for taking this student much more seriously than I would have…she’s a better teacher than me. I don’t have the stomach for it.Report

Spencer
Spencer
6 years ago

Justin, while I sympathize with your impulse to defend Cheryl, I don’t think you’re taking seriously enough the concern that this may be an example of ideological policing in the classroom. The title of the post makes it sound as if it were a simply a matter of fact that this is a mere political smear campaign, which is precisely the thing being disputed by the student. Are you not at all concerned that the harassment policy you cited above and with which Cheryl is trying to comply may be overly broad? There is not much controversial speech that would not run afoul of this. Talking about inconsistencies in the Bible and the genocide against the Canaanites will certainly make many people feel emotional distress.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago
Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
6 years ago

McAdams has continued his attack on Cheryl Abbate on a more recent post on his Marquette Warrior site while also complaining about acting philosophy chair Nancy Snow.Report

Anon Cynic
Anon Cynic
6 years ago

Am I the only one who wouldn’t be surprised if a grad student outright stated that disagreeing with gay marriage is homophobic?Report

Juan Carlos
Juan Carlos
6 years ago

Juan Jarlos

This has nothing to do with the fact that you run a blog with her, right?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Susan Kruth at FIRE has now posted in response to Justin’s post here in which she accuses Cheryl Abbate of having violated Marquette’s harassment policy by definition by insinuating that a student’s opinions could be offensive as it could cause the student emotional discomfort, ignoring that the policy specifies that harassment is verbal, written, or physical conduct based on color, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, veteran status, age, gender or sexual orientation (and, I take it, opposition to same-sex marriage is not tied to any of these protected classes). Ironically, the title of the post is “On Marquette Classroom Controversy, Rebuttal Ignores Facts”.Report

anonymousqueer
anonymousqueer
6 years ago

oh my god. Poor Abbate. Even in what the FIRE stooge transcribed, we can see that MacAdams and Kruth are either not paying attention or utterly dishonest or both. Here is what the student is quoted, by his advocates/hit people as saying, “Regardless of why I’m against gay marriage, it’s still wrong for the teacher to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions”. Abbate’s response was clearly (and remarkably quick on her feet, considering what a turd she was dealing with) picking up on the “regardless of why I’m against gay marriage” (a phrase all too conveniently not quoted in the original blog attack, and about the import of which Kruth is as apparently as slow-witted as the student). Surely at least some purported reasons one could be against gay marriage (‘those people’ are icky; ‘those people’ should be burned at the stake; ‘those people’ don’t deserve to be treated decently) qualify as bigoted. And should not be seriously entertained for that reason. And *of course* it’s someone’s *job* as a professor to “completely discredit” some opinions: if someone says in my class that the earth is only 6000 years old, I guarantee you I will completely discredit that. If someone says in my classroom that the Holocaust never happened, I guarantee you that I will completely discredit that. And if someone says that the Jews deserved to die in the gas chambers, I guarantee you I will completely discredit that too.
She should really get an attorney or at least AAUP representation asap. She needs to protect herself against email harassment and threats, make sure the administration does what it ought to do to that end, and make sure she protects her career.Report

MUGradStudent
MUGradStudent
6 years ago

As a philosophy graduate student at Marquette (and a women) I would like to say that our department is (relatively speaking) quite hospitable to women. Further, the acting chair of the department, Nancy Snow, is and will continue to go to the mat supporting Cheryl Abbate. (Cheryl is by the way, an all-around excellent instructor and person, as her strength and grace in dealing with this incident shows.) I hope this incident does not reflect too poorly on Marquette, particularly not the philosophy department, which is supporting her. (Note that the professor who is attacking her teaches political science and is not at all part of the philosophy department.) I hope that the College of Arts and Sciences and the university will soon come down in support of Cheryl as well.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

I would like to point out that FIRE recently criticized Marquette’s Harassment Training. The critcism stems from the greal ‘ol John McAdams blog. This is a direct quote from their blog “Perhaps the most egregious example from the module is a slide about hypothetical peers Becky and Maria, who “have been talking about their opposition to same-sex marriage.” Hans overhears the conversations, is offended, and reports the two for harassment. Hans’s action is condoned in the module.” See this website: http://www.thefire.org/marquette-harassment-training-forbids-certain-viewpoints/…… So, what is an instructor to do if she takes the Marquette’s Harassment training and is directly told that opposition to same-sex marriage is harassment? This isn’t a problem of Ms. Abbate liberally interpreting the harassment policy– in fact, she followed the very direct, unquestionable guidance that she was given by Marquette’s recent harassment training.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

Although I hate to give McAdams’ blog any more attention, I think it’s pretty relevant given the line of discussion that has developed. He also provides screen shots of Marquette’s training which EXPLICTLY show that openly criticizing gay marriage on campus most likely constitutes harassment. http://mu-warrior.blogspot.com/2014/09/marquettes-bizarre-training-on.html… So, Spencer, while the policy might be broad and not incredibly direct, the one thing that is in fact very direct is that questioning whether or not a member of a protected, marginalized group should have a basic human right is in fact harassment.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

I’ve got to say I am disappointed by the verbal gymnastics I see on this thread to classify offensive speech as “harassment” in order to justify squelching it or punishing the speaker. I don’t know where people got the idea that being offended or having your feelings hurt is such a profound injury that it’s worth throwing academic freedom out.

The ACLU says it pretty eloquently:
https://www.aclu.org/free-speech/hate-speech-campusReport

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Today’s philosophy of “shut up, I know better” is not conducive to classroom learning. If there’s one thing I have learned as a college instructor, it’s to listen to my students’ opinions and interpretations; sometimes they know better than I do, and if they don’t, I at least know how to rebut their argument in a logical and inclusive manner. Learning should happen from both sides of the desk, and Cheryl Abbate clearly dismisses her student’s viewpoint and even the remote possibility that his viewpoint might add to the class. That is simply disgusting. Furthermore, holding a particular viewpoint is freedom of conscience, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as well as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and does not in itself constitute discrimination or harassment. If what happens in a person’s own mind is now subject to cries for censorship, where and how can learning even take place?Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

I also wanted to say that, as someone who has an overwhelming concern for marginalized others and is committed to fostering a safe environment for members of marginalized groups to learn in my classroom, I am in full support of Marquette’s Harassment policy and Harassment training, which, as I pointed out, clearly states that there is zero tolerance for comments that are hurtful to homosexuals. There is a clear difference between (1) offending a member of a marginalized group by informing them that they do not have a basic human right and (2) offending someone because they weren’t able to express their political views in class. If anyone believes that these are equivalent, then I encourage them to think a little bit more about how these two “offenses” are significantly different.
What individuals, like the complaining student and John McAdams do not understand, is that some individuals do not have the luxury to engage in “critical discussion” about what rights others have. McAdams has never once had to, or evidently tried to, put himself in the shoes of a marginalized other in order to consider what it might be like if he was the one person in a class of 35 students and he was forced to sit passively by as all of his classmates engaged in the “philosophically stimulating” conversation about whether or not he has the basic right to marry.
We need to be reminded that it is completely inappropriate to treat the topic of gay marriage as some “philosophical exercise.” These are REAL people with REAL lives we are talking about. How dare we feel so entitled to sit back in our arm chairs and “critically examine” what rights homosexuals should and should not have.
To make homosexuals the subject of some philosophical debate is truly offensive. The only time a philosophical discussion about a ban on gay marriage should EVER rear its head in philosophy class is when an instructor wants an example of a policy that would violate a certain ethical theory (such as in the case of Ms.Abbate’s class). To presume that there is some sort of “debate” to be had about gay marriage is just demeaning and offensive to homosexuals.Report

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

Might I just note that it’s disprefered to refer to gay, lesbian, and queer people as “homosexuals.” In fact, ‘homosexual’ and its cognates have fallen out of favor in recent years. So it’s a little grating to hear/read it, particularly from ‘allies’. Please take that as a friendly suggestion (and although there are certainly many queer folk who have no problem with the word, many do).Report

The UnDude
The UnDude
6 years ago

This should cut both ways though. If you can’t handle having your views dismissed without feeling like the object of some liberal conspiracy to silence dissenting opinion you don’t belong in college – you belong in Kindergarten.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Noting his comment (10:16 pm last night) that he had attempted to contact Ms Abbate but received no response, I told Professor McAdams that thanks to this post he now has the chance to consider her side of the story, and warmly invited him to respond here.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

MarquettePhilosopher: “There is a clear difference between (1) offending a member of a marginalized group by informing them that they do not have a basic human right and (2) offending someone because they weren’t able to express their political views in class. If anyone believes that these are equivalent, then I encourage them to think a little bit more about how these two “offenses” are significantly different.”

It doesn’t matter if one viewpoint is more offensive or ethically wrong than the other. That’s not what we’re talking about. The issue is when you say that some viewpoints should be suppressed because they’re offensive or “obviously wrong” you are plummeting down a very steep slope and throwing away a lot of freedom to preserve hypothetical hurt feelings. It’s not worth it.Report

Anon Today
Anon Today
6 years ago

Justin, I don’t think you responded to part of what she said about the harassment policy, which didn’t hinge on the word “punishable”.
QUOTE: “harassment must be sufficiently serious (i.e., severe, persistent or pervasive) as to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program.” In other words, “to be prohibited by the statutes within OCR’s jurisdiction, [harassment] must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.” So Weinberg’s contention—that by shutting down certain viewpoints to preemptively prevent a student being offended, Abbate was only doing her job—relies on a depressingly broad but tragically common misreading of what is and isn’t harassment in the educational context.

From what Kruth says here, it sounds as if Marquette’s harassment policy does not in fact prohibit a classroom debate about gay marriage and furthermore, surely all philosophers ought to welcome and insist on this. If harassment policies really could be correctly interpreted as prohibiting such debates, we’d have a situation where a major change in our country (gay marriage becoming legal) couldn’t be reflectively discussed in ethics classes. There would also be lots of other topics instructors would have to stay away from, for fear of violating the harassment policy. I once had a religious student advise me, in person, that I should not cover atheism in my class, because it was offensive to him. Since religion is a protected category in harassment codes, I might have had to worry about this if Kruth wasn’t right about how these codes are to be construed. You’d have to worry before discussing pornography, for fear of offending some women. You’d have to worry before covering affirmative action, just in case some racial groups are offended by students who are against it.

From what Kruth says in that passage, surely the very most a harassment code dictates is that when sensitive topics are discussed at length, they should be discussed sensitively. A gay student shouldn’t have to sit in a class for a month hearing people call him a “fag”. Religious students shouldn’t have to hear atheist students call religion “dumb” over and over again. I can see lots of good reasons for Abbate not to want to host a debate about gay marriage in the middle of teaching Rawls, but it would set a bad precedent to allow that the harassment policy might prohibit such debates.Report

D
D
6 years ago

Why would we waste precious and expensive university classroom time discussing things that have been proven false? We don’t discuss the possibility that the earth may be flat in a physics class and by the same token we don’t entertain notions that there is something unethical about being LGBTQ or that LGBTQ people should have fewer rights than straight people. So yeah, sometimes we do suppress “obviously wrong” views for the sake of prudent pedagogy. It isn’t as if these views haven’t already been brought to the table, properly analysed, and dismissed as being wrong. We aren’t going to reassess the suggestion that the earth could be flat in every physics 101 class for the rest of time. It has been laid to rest and the discussion is over. Schools are institutions of learning, reason, and science, and ought not to tolerate stupidity in the form of prejudice. Report

anonymousqueer
anonymousqueer
6 years ago

Again, anon today, I draw your attention to three features of the present situation. (1) Abbate, as you yourself note (or at least allow) had good reasons for not hosting a debate about marriage equality in the midst of teaching Rawls which reasons did not revolve around the harassment policy; (2) in the class following the exchange with the student brought up the issue herself in class, “mentioned the objection, described her replies to it, elaborated on the criticisms of the study the student had been referencing (by Mark Regnerus, which has been thoroughly discredited), and noted that class time is limited and that there isn’t time to adequately discuss all topics of interest.” (3) The response being quoted by the right-wing hit people was a response, we now know, to among other things, this: “Regardless of why I’m against gay marriage, it’s still wrong for the teacher to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions.” If you are even willing to allow (as you seem to) that something like “those fags don’t deserve jobs/rights/hospital benefits” would violate a sensible non-discrimination policy with regard to classroom conduct, then it looks to me that you need to grant that Abbate was right to express concern that this student’s extremely broad (indeed, as lawyers would say, over broad and vague) claim that he should be permitted, *without being discredited*, to say *whatever he’d like* about *why* he’s opposed to marriage equality could run afoul of a sensible classroom policy.Report

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The first amendment was not created to protect popular or non-controversial speech. While I strongly support gay rights, including marriage, I still do not support prior restraint on people voicing an opinion on the matter that’s at odds with mine.

Falling back on the school’s unclear definition of harassment is childish given the student never had the chance to express any point of view in class. Furthermore, it’s pretty clear that arguing that ANY offense can be harassment is so broad that it would never survive a court challenge. Ms. Abbate surely knows this, and therefore tries to shift her argument.

Censorship is wrong and no amount of weaseling changes that.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Anon Today quotes from the MU policy: “harassment must be sufficiently serious (i.e., severe, persistent or pervasive) as to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program.” In other words, “to be prohibited by the statutes within OCR’s jurisdiction, [harassment] must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”

One wonders whether Professor McAdams considered this policy carefully enough before writing his blog post about Ms Abbate, who is, after all, a student at MU, and who was, one could argue, as a foreseeable result of his actions, exposed to rather vicious comments on blogs picking up his post, as documented above. Has her ability to participate in or benefit from an education program been limited in a way that meets OCR standards? We may find that out.

On the professional ethics side of things, rather than the legal side, I myself find his actions in writing that post to be contrary to my sense of the duty professors have to graduate students to guide them, rather than to make them pawns in what seems to be his one-man crusade (“Marquette Warrior” indeed) against all things he deems “PC.”

Bonnie Honig’s comment here http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/11/open-letter-in-support-of-cheryl-abbate.html expresses this concern very well: “Even if everything printed were true and the grad student said and did everything attributed to her ( which I do not grant) this response — public calling out, exposure to public condemnation, political labeling,– by a faculty member violates every expectation of graduate training and collegiality. It is a betrayal of the trust invested in faculty to mentor and guide students, not to make of them casualties in larger battles whether inside or outside their institutions.”Report

Amy Lara
Amy Lara
6 years ago

I still think most of this conversation is off-topic and incredibly politically naïve. It was only a few years ago that labor studies professors in Missouri got Breitbarted and nearly fired without serious investigation on the part of their institutions. http://crooksandliars.com/heather/democracy-now-features-breitbarts-smear-ca Only last year David Guth was nearly fired here in Kansas for a freaking tweet on his personal account, and now we’re stuck with an unbelievable social media policy (which I am no doubt violating right now.) There is a coordinated right wing effort to attack professors, and they are training conservative students to collect audio and video, and to make unreasonable demands to which no response you give will be acceptable, and when all that fails they just doctor the recordings. And because of universities’ growing dependence on corporate and alumni donations, the campaign is having some real success.

There is a time and place for pedagogical discussions about how to cover controversial topics. But there is also a time to draw lines and say, “within this range, a professor has a right to exercise her own professional judgment, and academic freedom protects that right.” I mean, just to use a silly thought experiment: if I decide to teach an ethics class using historical texts, but I teach them in non-chronological order because I judge that to be most effective, you might disagree with me. But if I get targeted by some political group because my judgment bothers them, or if I have students trying to bully me into arranging the material in a chronological way, then I certainly hope all my colleagues and my institution will back me up. And, frankly, I don’t think I would be under any obligation to provide more than the most superficial justification of my judgment, since it’s obviously within the acceptable range. Now, if I’m going to teach that Kant is a utilitarian or something, then I’ll need some back-up, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

“One wonders whether Professor McAdams considered this policy carefully enough before writing his blog post about Ms Abbate, who is, after all, a student at MU, and who was, one could argue, as a foreseeable result of his actions, exposed to rather vicious comments on blogs picking up his post, as documented above. Has her ability to participate in or benefit from an education program been limited in a way that meets OCR standards? We may find that out.”

That’s not the test, though. McAdams is not liable for the actions of third parties, no matter what kind of causal chain you’d like to construct.Report

Aiba
Aiba
6 years ago

Thanks for pointing that out, Rachel. I’m embarrassed to say it’s news to me. Could you expand (briefly would do), or point at where one can inform oneself? Thank you.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Okay, thanks, DC. I think the professional ethics point stands though, wouldn’t you agree?Report

anonymousqueer
anonymousqueer
6 years ago

I speak not for Rachel, only for myself. “homosexual” is a medicalized term (in the sense of the social meaning that it carries, and in some measure in its etiology). Being gay, or queer, or bi, etc is not a medical condition. It’s also increasingly (and partly for that reason) a term used mostly by those who do in fact view the great variety of non-straight sexualities as morally and psychologically problematic deviations.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Anon Today (and others): There is a difference between Marquette’s harassment policy and what the minimum requirements are to be in accordance with OCR regulations. Marquette’s harassment policy makes no mention of a severity requirement. That policy is linked above in Justin’s post. It should also be noted that universities need not limit themselves to OCR guidance in constructing student policies. That is simply what is required in order to be in compliance with Title IX. A university, for example, may have policies prohibiting plagiarism, if it wishes to. Kruth’s point about what the OCR requires is no objection to Cheryl’s citing the harassment policy as a concern. It is an objection to Marquette’s policy extending on OCR guidance.Report

Teaches at a Catholic School
Teaches at a Catholic School
6 years ago

How about this to explain the role that offensiveness plays here? If the anti-gay marriage position (AGM) was worthy of intellectual respect, then its being offensive to discuss it would not be sufficient reason to not discuss it. But the antecedent is not true. AGM is intellectually equivalent to creationism, though it is morally much more noxious. But plenty of views not worthy of intellectual respect are such that teaching them can still be useful. Creationism is a good example. It provides an opportunity for students to diagnose bad arguments. But when choosing between intellectually deficient theories/arguments, since any one of them can do the job of providing an exercise in argument analysis for students, it seems to me we should avoid the ones that are offensive to them. When we can avoid being offensive without sacrificing anything else of worth, we should do so. And there is no interesting moral issue that I know of raised by the debate over gay marriage that is not raised by other issues. Offensiveness is a reason to avoid a topic only when certain other conditions are met, but in this case they are met. I know that this dismissive take on AGM is probably offensive to AGM partisans, but as I think you can guess, I don’t think that your being offended is immediately normatively significant. If you decide to come up with arguments that don’t trade on discredited teleological notions, or show an inability to understand what a homonym is, I will reconsider my dismissive attitude.Report

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

I disagree that AMG is intellectually equivalent to creationism. There a difference between faith (creationism) vs. science and a debate about social mores and which couples get the responsibilities and benefits of marriage. Don’t believe me? How about plural marriages. Our society outlaws these among consenting adults, while still legally permitting unmarried adults to have plural relationships. Those against plural marriage have to resort to values arguments that avoid addressing the discrimination against plural marriages. As you can imagine, many of those in favor of gay marriage are dead set against plural marriages because it clashes with their world view.Report

Anon Today
Anon Today
6 years ago

Kathryn–This is the way Justin put it: “Abbate did raise concerns about students being offended. As an instructor at Marquette, she is required to be concerned with such offense, as she is required to be in compliance with the university’s harassment policy, which includes the following…” I think Kruth’s reply as to what the policy “requires” is directly relevant to what he said. I should add–I don’t think we actually have any evidence that Cheryl was motivated by the Marquette harassment policy. We don’t know what she was thinking because she hasn’t said (which might be because FERPA rules prohibit her from discussing the student without his written permission).Report

Teaches at a Catholic School
Teaches at a Catholic School
6 years ago

First, I think you misconceive the nature of the evolution/creation debate if you think of it as a dispute between faith and science. It is a debate between good science and bad science. But debating the line of demarcation between science and non-science is not really the point here, so I won’t say more about that. I have trouble understanding the point of bringing up plural marriages, it seems like a non sequitur. But perhaps it helps for me to say that I was not trying to get at the faith vs. science contrast in either case. I don’t think AMG is bad because it is only based on religious faith. I think it is bad because all the arguments for it that I have seen are abysmal failures. Some of those arguments fail for the same reason that creationism does, because they appeal to pre-modern conceptions of the role of purpose and function in nature, but others fail for other reasons (silly ideas about the nature and extent of proper protections of religious freedom for example). All I meant to say is that the evidence/arguments for AMG are no better than that for creationism, and deserves to be treated by university educators the same way. Perhaps it would help to avoid misunderstanding for me to say that AMG has the same intellectual status as phlogiston theory (with the caveat that they differ in that once upon a time there was good reason to accept phlogiston theory).Report

Different anonymous grad
Different anonymous grad
6 years ago

RE: Amy Lara @54

“There is a time and place for pedagogical discussions about how to cover controversial topics. ”

There certainly is, namely this blog, and especially when the original poster, who is also the host of the blog and does a ton of work to maintain it, invites such discussion. I really don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell others what they ought to be posting about.

Further, I think it’s a bit judgmental to regard those of us who don’t see this issue precisely as you do to be “off-topic” and “politically naive.” Perhaps we simply see the issue a bit differently, or we wish to get the facts straight before grabbing our pitchforks. I don’t think declaring alternative perspectives to be off-topic or naive does much to facilitate meaningful dialogue.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Anon Today, to be frank, I really don’t understand you. This is the part of the policy Justin quoted,

“The university is committed to maintaining an environment in which the dignity and worth of each member of its community is respected, it will not tolerate harassment of or by students, faculty, staff and guests or visitors…. Harassment is defined as verbal, written or physical conduct directed at a person or a group based on color, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, veteran status, age, gender or sexual orientation where the offensive behavior is intimidating, hostile or demeaning or could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm. Harassing conduct can be either a single incident or a persistent pattern of behavior. Harassment includes not only offensive behavior that interferes with a person’s or group’s well-being or development, but also such behaviors that interfere with one’s employment, educational status, performance, or that create a hostile working, academic or social environment.”

Note that there is no mention of a severity requirement, and there is mention that harassing conduct can be either a single incident or a persistent pattern.

The part of the “policy” you quoted, via FIRE, regarding behavior needing to be sufficiently severe is not from Marquette’s harassment policy. That is from OCR guidance. OCR guidance provides guidance on minimum requirements that institutions which receive federal funding must meet in order to be considered in compliance with Title IX.

Marquette’s harassment policy is not the same as the OCR guidance, and the OCR guidance is not the same as Marquette’s harassment policy.Report

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

Teaches at a Catholic School, you may consider creationism (and its variant, Intelligent Design) as good science vs. bad science, but that’s not at all how the courts or people who teach science have interpreted it. In Edwards v. Aguillard, the supreme court struck down a Louisiana law requiring that schools teach creation science whenever students learn about evolution. The court ruled that the law’s purpose was to promote religion and thus that it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

I happen to disagree with those who argue that marriage should only be between a man and woman, but I find the that the arguments that are made to dismiss their position in absolutist terms that start to crumble when we look at the prohibition on plural marriages. That written, thank you for clarifying your thoughts. I can agree that arguments against gay marriage fail to hold up.

It does not follow however that we stifle debate on the topic since it can be very useful a pedagogic tool to illustrate the fallacy of that thinking. The risk of censorship (yes, it’s censorship) to preserve peoples feeling is that it goes counter to the broader academic mission of any school, and goes counter to the laws of the land. Any time these kinds of speech codes have been challenged in court, they lose. That should tell you something.Report

Amy Lara
Amy Lara
6 years ago

Different anonymous grad: Yes, I am being judgmental. I am making judgments, which I have backed up with some (not airtight) evidence. One of my judgments is that a great deal of the above discussion is harmful and playing right into the hands of the groups that are trying to limit the speech of professors. I also think a lot of the above discussion is not very supportive of Abbate, and if I were under similar attack for exercising my academic freedom in my own classroom, I would be extremely disappointed if the above discussion were the main way my own colleagues were responding to my predicament. I am open to being convinced that I’m wrong about this, but you’d actually need to provide an argument, not a few sentences of tone-policing.Report

Anon Today
Anon Today
6 years ago

Kathryn, Yes, I wasn’t that clear. The issue is whether Cheryl may have seen herself as required to limit discussion of gay marriage because of concerns about being in compliance with the Marquette harassment policy. That is how Justin describes her and what Kruth is responding to. Kruth says is that it is implausible to think the policy prohibits a debate about gay marriage, in light of OCR guidance. I guess she is assuming the Marquette policy is no stronger than need be for purposes of federal compliance. I don’t know whether that supposition makes sense or not, legally, but you can also think about it independently of OCR guidance. Could Marquette really mean to prohibit constructive, substantive, guided classroom dialogue about the issues of the day? I’d be very surprised if that were so, and would certainly protest such a policy if I were a Marquette student or faculty member, not quietly comply with it. But anyhow…it’s totally speculative that Cheryl has in mind the Marquette harassment policy. So maybe I’ll bow out of further discussion of that subject.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

Perhaps, though I am not sure that graduate students, particularly ones that teach, should be immune from criticism from professors, particularly a professor who is in another department and has no authority over the student. So while this may be slightly ethically problematic, I don’t think it is a particularly egregious ethical lapse, but rather something more along the lines of discourtesy. From a professional Perhaps it would have been better to contact her privately; it probably would have been a more effective teaching moment for the graduate lecturer rather than public criticism.

And in this case I don’t have a problem with not discussing gay marriage in class; you can’t discuss anything, and the lecturer has to make a choices regarding where the discussion goes in the interests of the pedagogical aims and time constraints. I do, however, have a problem with her telling the undergraduate that the reason that they couldn’t discuss gay marriage because even acknowledging that there is a debate would somehow offend some students. I do not think a teacher of philosophy, out of all disciplines, should find that a valid justification. I certainly don’t think the undergraduate student was well-served by such a statement.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

To Matt & everyone else who is arguing that either (1) Ms. Abbate is “shifting” her argument by appealing to harassment so to save herself, or (2) that Ms Abbate is not justified in appealing to Marquette’s harassment policy in explaining her response to the student, I ask: have you looked at the link I posted earlier which provides PICTURES directly from Marquette’s Harassment training which specifically take up scenarios where individuals are engaging in verbal discussions about gay marriage. Evidently, you did not, otherwise you still wouldn’t be talking about this. So, here it is again: http://mu-warrior.blogspot.com/2014/09/marquettes-bizarre-training-on.html. And, here is a quote from McAdams blog where he clearly acknowledges that opposing gay marriage in a university setting is most likely harassment *according to Marquette’s very clear guidance* in its recent 2014 harassment training: “Thus Marquette University, in this “training,” has endorsed that view. Notwithstanding that the Catholic Church disapproves of gay marriage, merely endorsing Church teaching in a university setting can be harassment.” So: bottom line– if you don’t agree that publicly opposing gay marriage on Marquette University constitutes harassment TAKE IT UP WITH THE UNIVERSITY! Ms. Abbate did not write the policy, but as both a student and a employee, she is obligated to adhere to it and she is well within her rights to deter students from making such comments in class that arguably violate Marquette’s harassment training. Finally, I strongly suggest that commenters avoid making statements that imply that Ms Abbate is now appealing to MU’s harassment policy “to save herself.” I am quite positive that no one on this thread, besides myself (who knows Ms Abbate very well) and Justin Weinberg, has any idea as to whether Ms Abbate had the MU harassment policy in mind when she engaged in the after-class discussion with the complaining students.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

“Perhaps, though I am not sure that graduate students, particularly ones that teach, should be immune from criticism from professors, particularly a professor who is in another department and has no authority over the student. So while this may be slightly ethically problematic, I don’t think it is a particularly egregious ethical lapse, but rather something more along the lines of discourtesy. From a professional Perhaps it would have been better to contact her privately; it probably would have been a more effective teaching moment for the graduate lecturer rather than public criticism.”

I think “discourtesy” vastly understates the problematic nature of Professor McAdams’s behavior. Furthermore, “criticism,” as you put it, is much too abstract; there is criticism in the form of a polite face-to-face discussion, and there is criticism in the form of a blistering blog post; it is the latter we are discussing here and I think it would be better if you were to acknowledge that.

If I had to sum up this exchange, I would say “that’s easy for you to say,” writing pseudonymously as you do.Report

Anon Today
Anon Today
6 years ago

In answer to Marquette Philosopher: I did look at those pictures before commenting. I took them to be alluding to a situation where a couple of students, outside a classroom, are speaking offensively about gay marriage within hearing of a gay student. It honestly wouldn’t occur to me to think the policy also ruled out a constructive, substantive, analytical, and polite debate about same-sex marriage, especially under the supervision of an instructor in a classroom. But I suppose it’s ambiguous…and it would be all to the good if the university clarified.Report

Different anonymous grad
Different anonymous grad
6 years ago

Amy Lara

I think perhaps we got off on the wrong foot here. Let me try again. You say the discussion so far has been harmful and unsupportive. Maybe so. But suppose I’m interested, as many people have been, in discussing pedagogical issues related to the case. Is that wrong? Are those folks making a mistake? Didn’t Justin invite that discussion? How is it helpful to reject that discussion as naive and off-topic? My post wasn’t about tone policing, it was about having respect for difference of opinion. I want to see the sorts of issues raised by this case dealt with in a meaningful way. I imagine you do too. How does deriding your peers accomplish that?Report

Teaches at a Catholic School
Teaches at a Catholic School
6 years ago

Matt,
Like most sensible people I do not take judges to be authorities on the philosophy of science. More controversially I suppose, on account of judges for the most part knowing less about science than a sophomore science major, I don’t take working scientists to be authorities on it either. Both groups take falsificationism far too seriously to be worth taking seriously when it comes to discussing what is and what is not science.
As for plural marriages, I still don’t fully understand the position you are taking. Is the claim that arguments for gay marriage would allow plural marriage and that plural marriage is obviously wrong? Or is it that arguments for gay marriage would allow plural marriage and most defenders of gay marriage don’t happen to like plural marriage? Is this supposed to be an ad hominem or a reductio? Either way let me say that I don’t have moral objections to plural marriage in itself. I have worries about what plural marriage is likely to result in given the power disparities between men and women in contemporary society (plural marriages don’t have to be the exploitative relationships you read about happening in old fashioned Mormon communities), and I have worries about how a law allowing them could be crafted in a reasonable way (how many people can enter into such a relationship without it becoming a situation where the institution of marriage is being used to establish, for all intents and purposes and business relationship), but if what you have in mind is a reductio, I think I am going to disagree that the conclusion is absurd. It is certainly the case though that plural marriage is going to bring up different issues, and so be subject to different criticisms than gay marriage, on account of the changes in establishes in the institution being quite different. If what you have in mind is an ad hominem argument, however, then I suppose I just don’t care. If most defenders of gay marriage are uncomfortable with plural marriage, and if there is no cogent objection to plural marriage, then most defenders of gay marriage ought to change their mind. I will confess though that I have not thought as much about plural marriage as I have about gay marriage. That probably has something to do with there not being a large marginalized group that has been subject to persecution for centuries pushing for plural marriage.
Finally I am not talking about stifling debate. I am defending my decision to not include it in my syllabi. I do not know of an interesting issue that arises in discussion of gay marriage that does not arise in other applied ethics areas. There is no reason to pick gay marriage as a topic over others, and there is some reason to avoid it, given that it is likely to make some students in class feel unwelcome in class. If you can present me some distinctive and interesting topic of class discussion that I cannot achieve except by talking about gay marriage in class then I am prepared to change my stance. And as I said my objection to teaching this topic is not simply that it gives offense or hurts feelings. My objection is primarily that the arguments of the Robert George’s of the world have not earned a spot on my syllabus, and that as an expert in my field I get to make that call in my own class. I honestly do not know what I think of harassment policies at Marquette. I have not given it enough thought.Report

Aiba
Aiba
6 years ago

That’s helpful, anonymousqueer. Thank you.Report

David Koukal
6 years ago

I teach at a Catholic university and have had similar confrontations with a very small handful of students over the years, none of which escalated so severely. Still, I don’t kind myself: this could happen to anyone.Report

Amy Lara
Amy Lara
6 years ago

Different anonymous grad: Thank you, that clarifies your point. In fact, I actually totally missed Justin’s explicit invitation to discuss the pedagogical issues in this thread, so I really goofed in my comments. At any rate, you’re right that deriding my peers does not help my cause. All it does is help me vent my spleen, which is a totally inappropriate thing to do on someone else’s blog. So I apologize for that, especially to Justin. Next time I feel the need, I’ll take my spleen out for a drink. Or to gawker.Report

Jeff Heikkinen
Jeff Heikkinen
6 years ago

Mainly @TeachesaaCS;

You ask, “As for plural marriages, I still don’t fully understand the position you are taking. Is the claim that arguments for gay marriage would allow plural marriage and that plural marriage is obviously wrong? Or is it that arguments for gay marriage would allow plural marriage and most defenders of gay marriage don’t happen to like plural marriage?”

I believe the dialectic here is something along these lines:

1. Assume for the sake of argument that, as you and others think, the arguments for gay marriage are not merely correct, but so totally open-and-shut that there’s no room for debate. (E.g. in your case you’ve gone so far as to say that being opposed to gay marriage is analogous to arguing for creationism.)
2. The same arguments that make 1 the case also apply to plural marriage.
3. If (1 and 2), then the case for plural marriage is equally open-and-shut.
4. If the case for plural marriage were that open-and-shut, all reasonable people would accept it.
5. But hardly anyone accepts it, and presumably at least some of those people are not thereby unreasonable.
6. Therefore, 1 is false. Those arguments may be correct, but they are not so open-and-shut that there’s no room for debate.Report

Jeff Heikkinen
Jeff Heikkinen
6 years ago

Note that I’m not necessarily endorsing every aspect of the argument I give in my previous post. I can see room for reasonable disagreement with premise 2, premise 4, or either conjunct of premise 5. Some of those are claims that I myself have no settled view on. I’m just (I hope) clearing up what the claim actually is.Report

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

Just FYI, unlike New Hampshire (assuming that is the “NH” in UNH), Wisconsin is a “One Party Consent”) State when it comes to recording conversations, so in this respect the student did nothing illegal.Report

Kimberly Engels
Kimberly Engels
6 years ago

My letter to President Lovell:

Dear President Lovell,

I am a fellow graduate student of Cheryl Abbate. I am also a lecturer in the philosophy department. Cheryl and I entered Marquette’s Philosophy program together in 2011. I can say with absolute certainty that Cheryl is an exemplary scholar, teacher, and member of the Marquette community.

To put things into perspective, this is Cheryl’s fourth year at Marquette. In her short time here, she has secured six publications in very prestigious philosophy journals. This is unheard of for a graduate student. Cheryl has also served as an academic role model for me for the past 3 1/2 years, and I would not be where I am without her. She is an irreplaceable member of the philosophy department. Marquette should be honored to have her as a student.

Cheryl is also a very dedicated and hard working teacher. She goes above and beyond in her ethics class, in which she teaches the contemporary application of ethical theories and also challenges her students to be ethical in their everyday lives. That her pedagogy has become the center of such a harmful political smear campaign is a disgrace to Marquette, and a threat to academic freedom and our right to moderate classroom discussion. I know that what happened to Cheryl could have happened to any of the other graduate teachers in the philosophy department.

Marquette philosophy graduate students teach a large number of the Phil 1001 and 2310 classes. We are thus very important members of the Marquette community, as we teach vital core courses that are a fundamental to the Marquette curriculum. Your silence on the issue of the attack against Cheryl is deafening.

John McAdams and his blog have in the past caused harm and controversy.This time he has taken it to a whole new level when he attacked a graduate student–threatening her national image and her future job prospects. The FOX news article has led to Cheryl receiving disgusting and awful hate mail. This is something no student should have to experience, especially at a Catholic, Jesuit University. McAdams’ previous conflicts with the philosophy department aside, his attack on a student is an academic and public disgrace.

You can still do the right thing–you need to publicly condemn McAdams’ actions and assert your support for Cheryl. As an exemplary student and teacher, Cheryl deserves nothing less than Marquette’s full support.

Kimberly S. Engels
Marquette University PhD Candidate and LecturerReport

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

You comments that judges are not authorities on philosophy of science is an excellent example of misunderstanding court process.

The Supreme Court ruling, and the related lower court rulings, rely on testimony by experts in the field to make a decision. That’s how it works with submissions and oral testimony. The court is not interested in hearing from just anyone.

For such a high profile case, these experts would be among the best. I would hazard a guess that this expert testimony that guided the Supreme and lower courts was far more expert than your training.

Nova did an excellent reenactment of the more recent Federal case relating to the Dover PA School-board’s attempt to include Intelligent Design in their curriculum. It’s worth watching, and even you might learn a thing or two.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.htmlReport

John Baker
John Baker
6 years ago

Would that this topic generated as much light as heat. Alas, it does not, and some of the comments here (though admittedly to a lesser extent than some other places which have discussed this matter) are approaching the melting point of chromium steel. I am an alumnus of Marquette, though from the law school. I had no contact with the philosophy department. I did take a few courses back when I was an undergrad, but that was about the time Plato was still making the talk show circuit promoting his book, so I do not remember much. Something about being what you think or being what you think you are or something like that, which means that at many morning classes, I was a hangover. Thus I do not know anything about Rawls’s principal.

There seems to be some debate as to what exactly occurred here, but as far as I can tell, Abbate did not erase the words, “Homosexual marriage” from the board while commenting “Everybody agrees on that.” Nor does it appear that she said the issue could never be discussed in class. She apparently did refer to Marquette’s anti-discrimination policy, though it is questionable whether any such policy could be interpreted to prohibit any discussion of homosexuality at all, particularly on the campus of a Catholic university.

I do not know Professor McAdams. I do note that the people who I have encountered who took his course on the JFK assassination describe it as excellent. He can present information in an interesting and factual manner, which is why it is a shame that he failed to do so here. His original blog post shows little effort to determine what actually happened. Like many political blogs, Professor McAdams’s seems often to wander from rational discussion toward the realm of screed. The fact that the folks at FIRE adopted his article in its entirety seemingly without any effort to independently verify the allegations therein is disappointing. FIRE is a respected organization with many reputable scholars on its board. They should know better. The fact that Fox News did the same should of course come as a surprise to no one.

The behavior of the student in question demonstrates poor judgment at best and a regrettable level of narcissism and immaturity one might expect from an undergrad. Lots of undergrads think they are brilliant, and many do crazy things looking for attention. For my friends and me, this took the form of outfitting the statue of the college’s founder in a toga during finals. (Well, actually, it looked more like Aunt Jemima with a broken arm, but it’s the thought that counts.) Clearly, this is someone with an axe to grind, and he is determined to grind it wherever and whenever he can. One suspects he would have brought up the issue of gay marriage in Theory of Coaching Basketball. The fact that he recorded the conversation and then tried to deny it is pretty pathetic. It also appears that he attempted to steer the conversation in such a way as to get Abbate to say something controversial, which could then be widely disseminated. His behavior does not appear to be illegal. It was however childish and shameful. Sadly, it is no surprise that this resulted in the kind of comments shown above. That is what discussion often amounts to in our internet age. In light of his own often controversial behavior on various websites, perhaps Prof. McAdams should have considered the likelihood that this would happen, and publish more responsibly.

All of that said, some of the reactions here are way over the top. Look, I like gay people, at least some of them. I have gay friends. I have at least one gay relative. I have little interest in who someone wants to sleep with. I might offer an opinion if someone wanted it, but it is likely that few people do. I am an observant Catholic and believe in church teaching regarding sexuality. Still, I would not waste my time hectoring undergrads about their sexual activity, a good deal of which falls outside the bounds of church teaching, even at a Catholic university like Marquette. That would be both counter-productive and a waste of breath. Personally, I disagree with church teaching as to the legalization of gay marriage, but for legal, not religious reasons. I believe and have believed for a long time that the eventual legalization of gay marriage is inevitable.

However, some of the reactions here are extreme. Gay marriage is still not legal in the majority of states and for the majority of people in the United States. Homosexual behavior is proscribed by the Catholic church and by many other denominations and religions. Although I do not find them convincing, many plausible arguments against the legalization of gay marriage have been made. To compare opposition to gay marriage to creationism is beyond absurd, even if you teach in a Catholic school. The age and origin of the earth and the rest of the cosmos is a matter of science. It can be proven, or at the very least, argued on the basis of verifiable scientific observation. The legality and propriety of gay marriage is a matter of custom and opinion. It is hardly beyond dispute, as it remains illegal in much of the world and most of the United States. It is not so clear-cut a moral issue that no reasonable argument could be made in opposition to it. I have no objection to gay marriage. I also believe that the world is round. If someone disagrees with me on the first point, they are entitled to that opinion. If someone disagrees with me on the second, they are wrong.

As for Marquette’s anti-discrimination policy, unless I have seen it and have actually taken part in those hated seminars, I do not know what it is, exactly. Someone has suggested that even Prof. McAdams agrees that just expressing disapproval of homosexuality, as he has published slides shown at such a seminar that say so. It seems that there should be no disagreement on this board that Prof. McAdams is prone to exaggeration to make a point. As a practical matter, I have to consider it unlikely that any student or faculty member is going to be sanctioned strictly for offering an opinion which gay people might find offensive. What would this include? Saying that Chaz Bono should have stayed a girl? Saying A Chorus Line sucked? Showing insufficient respect for Judy Garland? Policies are exercised in the real world.

One might encourage others to treat gays and the rest of the ever-expanding list of consonants with kindness and respect. This is also called for in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The current pope has earned the praise of many for advocating such an attitude. He has not however, altered church teaching on sexuality. Homosexual acts remain defined as sinful. While I disagree with the church’s position on gay marriage as a matter of law, I leave for another day a discussion of homosexuality as a matter of morality. However, to suggest that any such discussion on the campus of a Catholic university should be prohibited is nonsensical. In some classes on Catholic theology, it would be positively required.

This matter has been a vehicle for some people, particularly conservatives, to make overstated, illogical, cruel and degrading comments toward people with whom they disagree, particularly Ms. Abbate . It would be wise to take care not to follow the same path.Report

Caty
Caty
6 years ago

I truly hope that this situation doesn’t ruin this poor woman’s career…I’m a student at MU and I attended several animal ethics talks she hosted, as well as interviewed her for a paper I was writing. She seemed like a genuinely kind and interesting person, and i hate to see her in this situation. It sounds to me like she was merely trying to stay on-topic for the class. Additionally, it also seems like she was TRYING to have mature discourse with this student after class time, vs. Professor McAdams account of her accusing him of being “a homophobe” and whatnot. Really unfortunate and I hope MU publicly rallies around her. No one deserves to be called the names she has been referenced as.Report

Caty
Caty
6 years ago

As a student at MU, I echo these sentiments exactly. Well said!Report

Libby
Libby
6 years ago

I am disappointed that Marquette University has let this situation get to this point and that they have not stepped up to defend one of their own.

All universities should protect their instructors with a ban on recording instructors without permission. Penalty suspension. No instructor should be inhibited by the concern that they may be recorded while teaching. Only to later find that recording, original or tweaked, out on display.

I am also finding it difficult to comprehend how an instructor, of an Ethics class at a school for Arts and Sciences, is to be questioned for what is said or not said. Common sense knows there is not enough time in the day to cover any topic completely when it comes to discussion on ethics.

I believe Ms. Abbate’s situation has already caused undue rest on campus not for something she said or did but for what has been perceived. This is very unfortunate for both her and Marquette. It would be my hope that President Lovell will quickly make a statement that will not add fuel to this situation yet support Ms. Abbate as an instructor of Marquette.Report

Jessica
Jessica
6 years ago

Personally, as a bisexual woman, if I was in a class where other students were vocally opposed to marriage equality, I would not just be “offended”, I would be outright afraid, especially if the topic was brought up suddenly and I didn’t have any time to prepare myself. My status as a human being and my right to access to legal and social institutions should not just be used as a lighthearted talking point. It’s nice that some people are able to stand up and polish their debate skills, but queer people are under no obligation to try and convince others of their humanity, especially when those others have shown that they are perfectly willing and able to enact violence against us.Report

William Irwin
William Irwin
2 years ago

.This student seems clearly out of line. But I wonder if the same amount of print would be spent on a situation where a student or teacher was being coerced because they would not conform to the politically correct dogma that dominates today ‘s college instruction.Report

Ed Borszczow
Ed Borszczow
10 months ago

I think Internet should be banned.Report