Academic Freedom & Violence: The Kershnar Case Continues


Lawyers for Steven Kershnar argued, in a hearing earlier this month, that the philosophy professor should be allowed back on the SUNY Fredonia campus, where he has long been employed.

He had been barred from the campus by its administration in February of 2022 following his appearance on a podcast in which he questioned the moral bases of prohibitions on adult-child sex.

See this earlier post for details on that.

The administration has argued that the reason for keeping Kershnar off campus is for reasons of safety. The Buffalo News reports:

It’s not just the vile emails and social media posts they have seen directed at philosophy professor Stephen Kershnar that worry [university officials]. Those, in fact, have waned since his February 2022 podcast comments about whether adult-child sex is always wrong, they say. Instead, it’s the potential unseen threat from some lone “pseudo warrior” quietly planning a violent attack on campus—triggered by Kershnar’s return—now driving their opposition to allowing him back on campus, according to court filings in Kershnar’s federal case against two university officials.

Former SUNY Fredonia police chief Brent Isaacson, in a court document filed this summer, said:

I do not believe it possible to adequately protect the SUNY Fredonia campus in a situation where Kershnar is physically present on the campus… Many laypersons, without training or experience in threat assessments, view explicit and articulated threats as the most credible and serious. In fact, they rarely are. We often say in threat assessments, “hunters don’t howl, and howlers don’t hunt.” Accordingly, my concern is directed to the much larger audience who have remained silent.

Kershnar’s attorney, Adam Steinbaugh, said that the university is unjustified in banning him from campus. Reports the Buffalo News:

The university first cited a “tidal wave of threats to him and the SUNY Fredonia community” to justify suspending him, Steinbaugh said in a court filing. Now the university points to the absence of threats as a justification, Steinbaugh said.

The university privately concluded there had never been any “direct threat” at all, said Steinbaugh of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national campus civil liberties organization that defends the rights of students and faculty across the country.

“It is unreasonable to permanently bar Kershnar from the classroom on the theory that the absence of threats makes violence likely,” he said in a court filing.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Vilardo presided over the hearing. He has yet to issue a ruling, but in response to the university’s argument that its ban was justified because of the possible public reaction to Kershnar’s remarks, he said: “I think your argument leads to frightening possibilities on college campuses.”

Inside Higher Ed reports on the hearing here.

Readers may recall that earlier this summer a man entered a University of Waterloo classroom in which a course on the philosophy of gender was taking place and stabbed the philosophy professor and two of her students.

 

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Jason Brennan
10 months ago

I have no love for Kerschnar, but I hope the admins in question all lose their jobs and never work in academia again.