Shed No Tears for the Rhode Island Professor
In the society gossip hub known as the Chronicle of Higher Education, which some academics still view as the gold-standard paper for college professors, there is a blog cluster known as "The Edge of the American West: History Can Save Your Ass." Very classy, I know. Sometimes my fellow doctors of higher learning make me so proud.
One of the more rebarbative commentators on the "Edge" is Ari Kelman, who came out of partial hibernation to rally his minions in defense of Erik Loomis, a Rhode Island history professor. Here's an excerpt:
Erik Loomis tweeted about wanting Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre. He was upset about kids being mercilessly gunned down. He felt that the best way to remedy the situation was to visualize a lethal pike, like the kind Turnus used to impale the heads of Nisus and Euryalus in Aeneid, Book 9.
The blogosphere took umbrage, and then Loomis cried foul, as I've excerpted below:
Being attacked by a David Horowitz wannabe for saying I wanted to see Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick has led to a world of fun, ranging from a meeting with the Rhode Island State Police last night to people inundating the University of Rhode Island community with warnings of their murderous colleague in their midst.
[...] What stinks about it is that it has now involved my family, colleagues, and university. So I'll apologize to them and to anyone legitimately offended by my metaphor.
The "David Horowitz wannabe" to whom Loomis refers is Glenn Reynolds, a fellow academic who blogs as Instapundit.
As a supporter of free discourse, I cannot countenance calls for Erik Loomis to be fired. The thing is, I doubt he will be fired. I doubt he will even have difficulty getting a job somewhere else, should he desire to relocate from Rhode Island. His offense was against conservatives, who have virtually no power in the academy, other than the rare chance to sink the Ward Churchills or Norman Finkelsteins of the world.
On the other hand, as someone who has survived over a dozen "complaints" sent to my university administration by liberals, as well as vandalism and more, I have had enough of the double standard.
Whereas Erik Loomis specified one individual and used violent language, all I did was (1) state that I had reservations about gay parenting and (2) join the Army reserves. These two things, apparently, warranted e-mails to officials in Sacramento stating that a "gay basher" and "bigot" was tarnishing the name of California's universities.
Nobody held my hand or rallied together support groups on the Chronicle. Campus police took a report and went back to writing out parking tickets after I reported knife marks dragged across my door and racist e-mails. My colleagues didn't care. Some of them doubtless enjoyed watching the department's lone conservative squirm and sweat.
If I have survived the left's howitzers blasting at me, Erik Loomis can deal with some hate mail and a couple embarrassing meetings with police, especially given that he has a throng of left-wing academics willing to rush to his defense. If he'd like, he can e-mail me, and I'll give him some tips about what to say to his dean; I've been there.
When the Modern Language Association delegates in Seattle approved the following statement on academic freedom, note how imbalanced the terminology chosen by professors came across:
Be it resolved that the MLA affirm that members of the academic community have the right to challenge legislative or administrative decisions curtailing educational access, to oppose political interference in such allied academic areas as ethnic and environmental studies, to teach and promote the work of controversial writers, and to address social-justice issues relevant to their communities without fear of reprisal.
In case you don't get the dog whistles of "environmental studies," "ethnic," "educational access," and "social-justice," let me translate: this was a big f-you to conservatives. In English this means: "liberals can act like punks, while conservatives speak up at their own peril."
William Cronon became a cause célèbre when Republicans used an open-records law to request copies of his work e-mails. Cronon had blogged some encouragement to opponents of Scott Walker, goading them to investigate secret conversations between conservatives like the Koch Brothers and officials in Wisconsin.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans figured that if they could be the target of fishing expeditions, so could Cronon. Claire Potter, the lesbian martyr of Tenured Radical, wept: "We are all William Cronon now." No, Claire, actually we're not -- he's comfortably tenured, whereas professors like me, who are accused of bigotry, have to worry about never working in academia again.
I'm familiar with the sham that is FOIA. It's always fun when it's the other side getting exposed; when your friends are targeted, it becomes invasion of privacy. Hundreds of pages of my correspondence that I'd never thought would be unprotected were printed off and sent to a gaggle of unhinged queer activists in New York City who not only had no standing in any case against me, but also had nothing to do with my field.
I've gotten used to people trying to get me fired. In fact, I have pre-formatted shells of response letters to send to people. My union representative and lawyer are on speed-dial. If it isn't antiwar activists claiming I am an undercover CIA recruiter, it's snarky watchdogs telling deans and provosts that my radio interview with the American Family Association qualified as working with a "hate group" designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (If you'd like, forward to minute eighteen on that dialogue with Sandy Rios and tell me if I'm truly engaging in hate speech.)
Don't get me started.
Never mind that the same liberals who beatified Cronon were also quick to force Helen Dragas, a University of Virginia rector, to turn over her e-mails about the dismissal of Teresa Sullivan from her $660,000/year job as university president. Sullivan was probably the highest-paid victim of ostensible oppression by the mean-spirited "one percent" that the world has ever seen. Because of Dragas's perceived ties to Republican governor Bob McDonnell, the exposure of Dragas's e-mails was a home run for the left.
Note to Erik Loomis: no, your tweet isn't like Glenn Reynolds saying, "Will heads roll?" Do you know why? Because Reynolds was not making an affirmative statement about an individual (i.e., "I want to see person X dead."). To police investigators, the distinction matters. These tiny little nuances actually make a difference. But one occupational hazard of being a leftist professor is that the lack of dissenting opinions fosters tone-deafness. The occupational hazard of being a right-wing professor is that you can very easily lose your job, and nobody in the Chronicle of Higher Education will care.
Robert Oscar Lopez is the author of three works of fiction coming out in 2013. The first, Johnson Park, will come out in March.