Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Now this is interesting

So a Michigan State University professor was deeply offended by the Muslim student association handing out hot cocoa at an event intended to raise awareness about the Danish Muslim cartoons. He wrote a bitchy email to the students, which has now shown up on In it, the professor irrationally seems to think that these students should answer for every Islamic terrorist act of the last few years and he encourages them to leave the country. His level of nastiness seems to be a very significant overreaction to a pretty benign protest. I mean, how can you get that angry at dudes handing out hot chocolate?

Now he’s claiming that he had no idea the students would *gasp* forward the email to their friends and complain to the school about what an asshole he is. (He didn't think they would do that? How do people as dumb as this guy is get PhDs anyway?)

The email assures us that the administration will probably condemn his remarks, after all the Consercvatives forwarding this have to get in their moment of playing victim. But those politically correct academics whom one often hears hate Israel are saying that the remarks fall under freedom of speech. That's dumb, imho. THE GOVERNMENT can't punish you for speaking your mind. If you talk like a bigot on the job, your employer can reprimand you for that anytime they want. As dumb arguments about free speech go, that's right up there with Morgan Spurlock claiming that using "retarded" as an insult at a talk he gave at a school was him teaching the kids about freedom of speech.

So I guess the administrators in Michigan don't want to reprimand the guy. That sucks. I would want to go to a school where the professors didn't hate kids of a certain religion, or if they did, at least refrained from emailing them to tell them so.

Call me politically correct, but is that too much to ask?



panthan said...

is that too much to ask?

Not really. You are obviously free to avoid Michigan State.

But I think that it is asking too much that the administration reprimand the professor. For what? Sending a private email? No profanity was used. No threats were made. He did not speak for the university.

While he clearly should not have sent this email, the university administration has no business getting involved. They say correctly that this is a private email, and wash their hands of it.

Chalicechick said...

OK, let’s pretend this guy isn’t a professor emailing Muslim students. Let’s pretend he’s a senior accountant emailing Muslim junior accountants. Soon, all the Muslims and their friends in the accounting firm feel weird around the guy and don’t want to work with him. Accusations fly that he is unreasonably hard on Muslim accountants who make mistakes. It becomes a big mess jsut as this has become a big mess.

Does the accounting firm HAVE to call the guy into the head office and bitch at him? No.

But it would be smart of them to do so.

They don’t even HAVE to send out a mass email to the company that says “This guy is welcome to his opinions, but as the partners of this firm we value all of our employees, no matter their religion.”

But it would be smart of them to do so.

Aware that one could make an argument that professors and accountants are inherently different, but I think that argument hinges on academic freedom. I don’t think academic freedom is the issue with this particular mechanical engineer. I think this is essentially an HR issue. You can get canned at my law firm for being rude to your peers and subordinates. I’m not calling for that. But a reprimand does seems reasonable.

TheCSO said...

Academic freedom is precisely the difference. The most that it would be reasonable for the school to do is issue a statement that this is the professor's personal opinion and does not represent the opinion of the school.

Say this person wasn't a professor. Say they were, to use your example, an accountant at the university. In *that* case, it *would* be an HR issue, and they *would* be reasonable in disciplining the employee for that.

I do not want that standard to apply to professors. That would be opening the door even wider - and it's too open already - to persecuting academics for their opinions. Even if I find their opinions distasteful, the damage done by retaliating against them for expressing those opinions is far greater than any damage that might be done by them expressing the distasteful opinion. That's just asking for a repeat of McCarthyism - the justification for persecuting adademics who were allegedly Communist was quite similar to the one you're advocating here.

panthan said...

one could make an argument that professors and accountants are inherently different

More importantly, students and junior accountants are inherently different. As is most everything else about your hypothetical.

This guy sent one email, to one group, in response to a specific event. He did not mass-mail every Muslim. He did not send it out of the blue. It is unlikely that the student he sent it to is in one of his classes, and he probably does not know the religion of the students in his classes.

In your hypothetical, the firm probably does have to call the guy in and bitch at him; he's creating a hostile workplace environment. This professor is not. Further, he has no power to do so.

Also, the university did make the statement that this is the professor's private business, and they don't support it. And they apparently told him that if he does it again, he could be up for discipline -- and said it publicly enough that it's in the article. Which is what you say would be smart of them.

Note that the university was not being asked to "call the guy into the head office and bitch at him". They were being asked to publicly reprimand him, which would serve as a warning to others.

Finally, I disagree with thecso that this is a matter of academic freedom. It is a matter of private persona as opposed to university representative. The university is doing the right thing by simply staying out of it.

The Emerson Avenger said...

Well if you talk like a bigot on the job as a U*U minister, as Rev. Ray Drennan (formerly of the Unitarian Church of Montreal) did on more than just one or two occasions, and as other U*U clergy do from time to time, you can be pretty sure that your employer will not only refuse to reprimand you but will even back you to the hilt. . .

So I guess the U*U administrators in Boston and Montreal don't want to reprimand the guy. That sucks. I would want to go to a "church" where the ministers didn't hate people of certain religions, or if they did, at least refrained from telling them so. . .

Call me politically correct, but is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately it has already proven to be *way* too much to ask of U*Us for over a decade now. . .

Ananymous Poster said...

Where does it say that these are his students? At Michigan State, which has 40,000 students, that seems unlikely.

Also, he did not say this in his class, so I don't think he can be said to be doing it on the job.

Lastly, I personall find the idea that someone would threaten the life of someone who publishes a newspaper cartoon to be MUCH more offensive than the content of said cartoon.

Doug Muder said...

Oh crap, it's my alma mater. MSU-78

Chances are, somebody has taken this professor aside and told him he's an idiot. What they haven't done is insert something in his permanent record.

I agree with one thing the anonymous poster points out: There's no indication he did this in his official capacity as a professor. He did it as a jerk who happens to be a professor. So I guess I'm going to support my adminstrators on this. If his anti-Muslim bias leaks out in class, they should boil him in oil. But you can be a jerk on your own time.

Chalicechick said...

Y'all don't think they have one Muslim mechanical engineer?


Epilonious said...

Meanwhile... Duke University suspended a lacrosse player for "sending a vulgar email" right after 'the party' of all infamy.

I think that's all sorts of shitty...

And coming from a "we're a bunch of rich brats who feel like we must protest/demonstrate lots of causes to atone for our rich brattiness" college... I can imagine this mechanical engineer will be getting enough greif from everyone else, so the administration won't have to do anything.