Author’s Note: Dan may or may not be a pseudonym. You decide.
I am writing in response to your recent outburst in the wake of the hubbub surrounding by viral article “An Embarrassment to Higher Education.” I learned of your outburst from a conservative colleague whose office is located on the first floor of the building where you teach here at UNC-Wilmington. He called and described the incident roughly as follows:
“Two of your colleagues on the UNCW faculty were standing by the water fountain outside a crowded classroom on the first floor of the S&B Building. One of them characterized you, after identifying you by name, as an ‘asshole’ within earshot of students and staff members. The faculty member who called you an ‘asshole’ said you should be fired for your criticism of the university. He added that your pending lawsuit against the university was the only thing keeping them from firing you for your opinions. Then, he joked that it would be entertaining to walk into your classroom and write ‘I have a small dick’ on the whiteboard before you walked in to start your lecture. He further joked, in a sexual play upon words, that it would be a good way to get a rise out of you.”
Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of columns criticizing the culture of higher education. On occasion, I’ve documented what seem to be petty squabbles between faculty members, staff, and students. In reality, however, these conflicts often shed light on systematic problems within higher education. The present incident involving your remarks by the water fountain is illustrative of three major problems with the current educational climate. I discuss them below, roughly in order of importance.
1 Respect and civility. It is no coincidence that your profanity-laced conversation took place on the day that both Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh read one of my columns on national radio before audiences of millions of people. Often, I write write about some particularly strange event or controversy on a college campus, which, when publicized, causes a brief stir in the national media. Many of those criticizing me in the wake of the controversy are simply bothered by the fact that I am able to get my message out into the national media before millions of people. In contrast, most professors publish in journals read by only a few dozen people. This is frustrating to academics because most of them believe that they deserve national attention.
But there is something else at work, here. Academics have always been self-important and thus dissatisfied with their relative obscurity. But, in recent years, they have bought into the notion that they are actually entitled to respect and should therefore be shielded from any criticism that could be seen as disrespectful. Enter the campus speech codes, including our own Seahawk Respect Compact.
The real effect of speech codes and respect compacts is that they produce two tiers of speech – “hate speech” and protected speech. The ideas of people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Mike Adams are categorically placed inside the realm of hate speech. This is not because the speech itself is hateful but because liberals, lacking the intellectual ability to rebut the ideas the speech embodies, simply hate it. Therefore, any speech opposing it is, by their definition, “anti-hate speech.” This anti-hate speech is therefore deemed permissible even when it contains profanity – for example, calling another professor an “asshole” by name within earshot of students.
Some of the most virulent attacks in academia are carried out in the name of promoting civility. I have concluded that the best way to return to civility is to abolish these speech codes and respect compacts immediately.
2 The uselessness of tenure. You said that the only thing keeping me from getting fired by the administration was my pending lawsuit against them. I appreciate your candor. You’ve just made an important point for me. For years, I’ve said that tenure is useless now that we have post-tenure review and tenure is no longer truly permanent. I’ve also argued that if tenure is primarily there to preserve academic freedom, then it has failed miserably. Look at our universities. They are the least tolerant places in America when it comes to dissenting opinions. Ultimately, if someone is fired for expressing his views, he is going to need a good lawyer. He can’t simply rely on tenure now that it is “reviewable” (read: revocable) every five years.
Dan, I support your right to free speech. But I must say that it was a really bad idea of you to admit in public that the university wants to punish me for criticizing the university but cannot do so because my lawsuit is pending. That’s exactly what my lawsuit alleges – that the university has retaliated against me for exercising my free speech rights. Looks like you just made the witness list. It’s probably time for you to buy a new suit. The trial starts later this fall.
3 The sexualization of the workplace. My “An Embarrassment to Higher Education” letter was written to rebut an accusation by Ed, a liberal reader, who said that I was the biggest embarrassment to higher education in America (simply because I support state recognition of traditional marriage and not same-sexed marriage or polygamy). I rebutted that charge by comparing my beliefs with the antics other professors, speakers, and student groups in the UNC system. All of my examples were meant to demonstrate how highly sexualized our campuses have become. I spoke of professors teaching orgasm awareness workshops and sexual bondage seminars. I spoke of anal sex lectures and the public display of vibrator museums on campus. In short, I spoke of the gross sexualization of our campuses by pseudo-intellectuals who are simply over-sexualized adolescents with a propensity for inappropriately interjecting sex into the workplace. And that made you mad.
So, how did you respond, Dan? You concocted a plan to write “I have a small dick” on my whiteboard before I came into class to give a lecture. This reference to my genitalia would then be on full display for my female students to see before the class began.
Dan, I just want to thank you for confirming everything I have said about higher education in America, and in the UNC system in particular. And welcome to my lawsuit. You’ll be hearing from an attorney shortly. I think you’ve seriously underestimated the size of my gonads.