Protest: Martin misstates alumni request, blocks access

In the following letter, six Amherst College alumni tell Cullen Murphy, chair of the college board of trustees, how college President Carolyn Martin has misstated their request for action regarding Prof. Hadley Arkes and has simultaneously endorsed “the free exchange of ideas” and blocked their attempts to discuss the issue.

June 12, 2014

Dear Cullen Murphy,

Cullen Murphy (Gasper Tringale photo courtesy of Amherst College)

Amherst College board of trustees Chair Cullen Murphy (Gasper Tringale photo courtesy of Amherst College)

We are the six alumni who wrote to and later met with President Martin last September.  Subsequently, we sent you a petition which you shared with the other trustees, with over 100 co-signers, requesting that Amherst College dissociate itself from the homophobic pronouncements of Professor Hadley Arkes and from his intellectual dishonesty in supporting his positions.

We requested this because Professor Arkes almost unfailingly chooses to identify himself with his Amherst credentials while expressing opinions directly contravening stated college policies.  As you may know, the College has endorsed principles of academic freedom which require that professors “make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” The same statement of principles requires that professors “at all times be accurate … [and] exercise appropriate restraint”, both of which Professor Arkes consistently honors in the breach. By equating sexual orientation with “pedophilia, zoophilia, and necrophilia,” he attacks the validity of the fundamental category of sexual orientation, which the College employs in its explicit guarantee of protection from discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in its official statement on non-discrimination. Can anyone truly suggest that comparing a loving, lasting marital relationship to sex with animals, underage children, or corpses is an exercise in “appropriate restraint?”  If so, exactly what would lack of restraint look like?

As you will know from the packet of materials we sent you along with the petition, our very first communication on this subject makes precisely the same request we’ve made consistently: “the Board and administration need to make it clear that Arkes is not speaking for Amherst College.” [Letter from Warren Mersereau and Tito Craige, April 6, 2013] It was followed by my own concluding remarks the next day: ‘I would think that any institution concerned about its reputation would therefore have no difficulty whatever in drawing a clear line which says that intellectual dishonesty can have no home here.” [Letter from John Greenberg, April 7, 2013]

Amherst College President Biddy Martin addresses alumni on May 31, 2014. (Click image for video)

Amherst College President Biddy Martin addresses alumni on May 31, 2014. (Click image for video)

Accordingly, we must vigorously protest several of the statements President Martin made in her presentation in Johnson Chapel on May 31 which we know to be false. [See video, from 0:49:25 through 1:01:00.]

First, her contention that our requests changed is a pure fabrication.  In speaking of the six of us, she said: “they wanted a number of things, the target moved over time. Initially, they wanted us to censure or even remove one of our faculty members because of his writings on gay marriage.”  (52:50)

None of us has ever asked for censure or removal.  When she suggested that we had made such demands during our meeting with her, one or more of us made it explicitly clear that was not the case

This is at least the second time she has misrepresented us. See “Amherst president misstates alumni petition about Arkes.” [Feb. 9, 2014] So, perhaps she may take comfort in the applause she received for her response, but the reaction would likely have been quite different if the audience knew that they were being misled.

Second, subsequent to our meeting with her, our complaint has been not just that she has not agreed with us — she has every right to disagree — but that she has effectively shut down every opportunity for dialogue, not only with you and her, but also with our fellow alumni. I transcribed her words starting at 59 minutes, because they are so startlingly different from her actions: “the most important thing we can do is something we just discussed in response to — or I just discussed in response to — the earlier question.  And that is to insure that the free exchange of ideas is protected, encouraged, promoted, enhanced ….”

Rob Yamins

Rob Yamins

But as Rob Yamins ‘72, the questioner in Johnson Chapel, pointed out, the College has done its level best to make sure that there is no free exchange of ideas, let alone promoting or enhancing such an exchange. (Ironically, such a forum was among the suggestions we made to President Martin during and before our meeting).

Specifically, we were denied access to email lists and listservs, to the letters-to-the-editor section of the alumni magazine [See “How Amherst College blocks dissenters,” March 17, 2014], to email blasts from class presidents or effectively to ANY other means of letting other alumni join our conversation.  I was also told that any generalized attempt to contact alumni by using the alumni directory would contravene the College’s rules for its use. President Martin’s blog, which you told me “speaks for the College,” allowed no comments, and hence neither its mischaracterizations of our positions nor its contradictions concerning principles of free speech and academic freedom (which we have repeatedly endorsed) could reach a public beyond you and her (and received no response from either). Hence, while we managed to contact a few members of classes other than our own, the College’s policy has actually ensured that there is NO exchange of ideas.

Finally, we were shocked to hear President Martin’s reference to “interaction after interaction after interaction.”  Several of us wrote her letters, to most of which she either did not respond or responded with the same bland general statements which did not address our concerns as her blog and her recitation in the Chapel.  Our idea of an “interaction” is an actual discussion in which ideas are articulated and then responded to.  Some of this happened at our meeting; virtually none in any of our correspondence and certainly none of it since.

As we have stated repeatedly, the principles of free speech guarantee that Prof. Arkes may state and publish what he wishes, but the College, particularly given its official policy of non-discrimination, has a profound responsibility to make it clear to the Amherst community and to the public at large that it does not accept his attempt to invalidate the term sexual orientation, because it is fundamental to the institution’s protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.  We are deeply shocked and insulted that someone in a position of academic administrative responsibility would publicly misrepresent the statements and questions of alumni as President Martin has chosen to do in this case.  Her lie requires public correction and apology.


John Greenberg for
Ronald Battocchi ‘70 (
Ernest Craige ‘70 (
John Greenberg ‘70 (
Warren Mersereau ‘70 (
Robert Nathan ‘70 (
Eric Patterson ‘70 (

P.S. We would appreciate your circulating this letter to the other members of the Board of Trustees.

Cc: Carolyn A. Martin

Posted in Biddy Martin, Commentary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s why to sign our alumni petition about Arkes

Students and alumni of Amherst College are invited to sign a petition to the Board of Trustees, urging them to dissociate the college from Professor Hadley Arkes’s divisive and destructive views. Here’s the reason for that appeal:

Homophobia based at Amherst College

Professor Hadley Arkes compares homosexuality to sex with animals, pedophilia, and necrophilia. He also disputes the “notion” of sexual orientation, claiming that “people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac.”

Beyond those homophobic comments, Arkes spreads misinformation, such as the discredited claim that the number of pregnancies from rape is “minuscule,” mentioned in 2012 by USA Today, which cited his connection to Amherst College.

As a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, National Review and other publications, Arkes influences decision-makers such as Justice Antonin Scalia, who has echoed his ideas. In the process, he typically describes himself (accurately) as the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, but does not say that his ideas differ from the official position of the college.

Arkes is one of a small number of anti-gay academics who lend an aura of respectability to homophobic tirades by politicians, especially those in Africa who use LGBT people as scapegoats to deflect attention from their failure to solve their countries’ serious problems. Arkes provides intellectual cover for leaders such as:

  • Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who this year enacted a law that provides life sentences for homosexual activity, claiming, “No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature.”
  • Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who said this year, “We will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria‐causing mosquitoes.” He has previously threatened to decapitate any gay person he found in the country.
  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who said during his re-election campaign last year that homosexuals are “worse than pigs, goats and birds.” He threatened, “If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads.”

How to respond to homophobia

When a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member made statements similar to those of Arkes last year, the dean there reiterated the importance of the right of free expression but also said that the statements were “hurtful, offensive language” that was “inconsistent with the culture of our institution.” Similarly, this year, after a University of Texas at Austin associate sociology professor testified in court about his widely discredited study of children of same-sex parents, the College of Liberal Arts there declared that his opinions did not reflect the beliefs of the university and, in addition, his department noted that the American Sociological Association found his conclusions “fundamentally flawed.”

A group of alumni has asked President Biddy Martin to do what officials at Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas have done, but she has refused, writing in her blog that doing so would clash with her commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.

Students and alumni from all classes are being urged to sign a petition to the trustees in hopes that our collective voices will persuade the college to take the issue of homophobia more seriously, as it eventually did with the Vietnam War and apartheid, after initially refusing to speak against them.

What you can do

If you are an Amherst College student, alumnus or alumna, please sign this petition:

“We request that the Trustees, acting for Amherst College, explicitly dissociate the institution itself from Professor Hadley Arkes’s divisive and destructive views and his intellectual dishonesty. Further, we request that Professor Arkes be asked either to refrain from citing his association with Amherst College in his extracurricular writings or that any such association be accompanied by a disclaimer stating that his views do not represent Amherst College.”

We make these requests of the Trustees because, in addition to violating Amherst College’s stated commitment to be an inclusive community, Professor Arkes’s public works expressly violate the Statement on Academic Freedom of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), which Amherst College has endorsed and made into college policy. Amherst College President Martin herself quotes the AAUP policy, stating that “…faculty, when they speak or write as citizens, ‘should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” [Emphasis added.]

To sign the petition, visit “Join Us: Oppose Amherst College’s Tacit Support of Hate Speech”  on The Petition Site.

[As of April 2014, the petition had been signed by more than 100 Amherst College alumni from 17 classes communicating by e-mail, in addition to dozens of signers on the online Petition Site.]


Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in Petition to trustees | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

How Amherst College blocks dissenters

In the following email correspondence, Rob Yamins ’72 protests the multiple ways that Amherst College blocks alumni attempts to communicate with the college community and other alumni about their petition asking the college to distance itself from the homophobic views of Prof. Hadley Arkes.

Dec. 4, 2013:  Why won’t Amherst magazine publish our letters?

Rob Yamins

Rob Yamins

Subject: URGENT request: please hold the presses!
Date: 12/04/13 04:35:25 PM
From: Robert Yamins [Class of 1972]
To: [Amherst magazine editor] Emily Boutilier

Dear Emily,

Please forgive any uncharacteristic bluntness on my part, but I write in haste due to what I imagine are imminent publication deadlines for the Magazine. I am not cc’ing anyone else (for the time being only) in the hope that we can work this out, but you are free to cc or forward this to anyone you wish.

I understand the Magazine has declined to publish Ron Battocchi’s (et al) letter to the Editor on the alleged grounds that it does not address the content of the Magazine. Based on that reason, I presume it has also declined to publish any other letters on the same subject that it may have received, so this decision is not merely an editorial choice of one letter over another.

With all due respect, that alleged reason is difficult to comprehend. The “More News” section clearly leads readers to Biddy’s blog with the obvious hope and expectation that they will read it. Presumably the Magazine took this approach because of limited space, thus that section is as good as publishing the blog itself and any distinction between appearing or not appearing in the magazine is meaningless in this context. The blog’s contents are indeed content of the Magazine and subject to commentary by readers.

You also mentioned that this letter is not the right fit for the letters section. Again, I vigorously assert that it is, but if not, for what section of what College publication or medium IS it a fit?

President Biddy Martin

President Biddy Martin

I don’t know if you are aware that the College has denied alumni every other avenue for disseminating an alternative point of view on this subject. It has refused to do an email blast of documents sent earlier to the President and Trustees, despite the fact that it did a College-wide email blast announcing Biddy’s blog (which many believe to be quite inaccurate). The blog itself does not allow commentary and requests that such replies be posted have not even received a response. Access to other listservs (which reach only a small fraction of alumni anyway) has been mostly denied. The Amherst Student, although it did publish one article earlier this fall, has suddenly stopped responding to requests to publish documents and analyses. [Editor’s note:  The Amherst Student later offered to cover the issue further, but when letters to the editor and documents were submitted, The Student declined to publish them, without explanation. The reason for that change of position was requested, but never provided.]

The denial to publish letters regarding Biddy’s blog, together with all the aforementioned, cannot possibly be what Biddy meant in her blog by “freedom of expression”, “fostering critical dialogue”, “more and better speech”, and “free exchange of different perspectives”.

Again, if there is another forum available to which the letter is better suited (and which reaches the AC community at large), please advise. And/or if you can explain why all this does not make a mockery of the alleged values of freedom of inquiry, I would be happy to hear it. If not, I implore the Magazine to reconsider its stance. At the very least, I hope you will hold up publication briefly until this most important matter can be resolved. Clearly there is far more at stake here than the inclusion or exclusion of a single letter.

Thank you for your understanding and attention.


Dec. 10, 2013: Please stop what appears to be censorship

From: Robert Yamins
Sent: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 9:58 PM
To: [Amherst College President] Biddy Martin; [Amherst College alumni secretary] Betsy Cannon Smith

Cc: [Amherst College board of trustees Chair] Cullen Murphy

Subject: FW: URGENT request: please hold the presses!

Dear all,

It is not my habit to write to Amherst with urgency and I am not certain to whom I should be writing, but it has been nearly a week since I sent the [above] to Emily Boutilier and I have received no reply of any kind. I understand there is still time before the magazine goes to press, although I don’t know how much.

Indeed all letters on the subject of Biddy’s blog that I’m aware of have received the same rejection as below. I also have no idea if you are aware of this matter and am writing in the hope that someone will stop what, in the absence of any explanation, appears to be a subterfuge for censorship, the ramifications of which will likely carry far. At the very least, I would hope to get a response from someone.

Feel free to forward this to anyone whom you see fit. Thank you for your attention and best wishes to all at Amherst.

Rob Yamins ’72

Reply of Dec. 17, 2013: This is an editorial decision

On Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 01:15 PM, Betsy Cannon Smith wrote:
To: Robert Yamins; Biddy Martin
Cc: Cullen Murphy; Emily Boutilier

Hi Rob, Thank you for reaching out for clarification on this, and my apologies for the delay in my reply—I’ve been out of town the last few days. You note in your message to Emily that Ron’s (and other) letters were not published as they did not directly address the content of the magazine—that is correct. And as you suggest, it is not a matter of choosing one letter over another. In fact, I know of others letters recently received, on other topics, which have not been published for the very same reason…that section of the magazine is specifically intended for comments on magazine content. The President’s commentary is not printed in the magazine, so letters referring to such would not be included either. There is no attempt at censorship, instead an editorial decision based on content. Emily did advise us of the decision and we agree with that decision.

As always, I send my warmest regards to your lovely family! I look forward to seeing the holiday photos– Peace and joy to you and yours this holiday season.


Dec. 17, 2013: How is this not censorship?

On Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 04:27 PM, Robert Yamins wrote:

To: Betsy Cannon Smith
Cc: Biddy Martin; Cullen Murphy; Emily Boutilier


Thank you very much indeed for your reply. I fully understand you are just doing your job, however I must point out several serious problems with the response:

1) It implies that the Magazine’s policy is never to print letters that do not address content. However the Magazine states on its web site only that (italics are mine) “priority is given to letters that address the content of the magazine.” As Warren Mersereau has already pointed out to Emily (I’m sure he won’t mind my repeating it here), the Magazine has indeed regularly published letters that do not do so:

“….In reviewing published letters to the editor from the past few years, there are letters that focus on other letters, class notes, memorial tributes, the design of and general writing in the magazine, and even a solicitation from a professor for research assistance.

If these other letters meet your criterion that letters must “address the specific content of the magazine” by virtue of referencing something in the magazine though not necessarily a feature article, than certainly my letter does the same.

Again, I appreciate that you responded. I wish your explanation rang true with demonstrated practices….”

2) More importantly, it ignores the thrust of the matter as per my 4th paragraph and 6th paragraph (1st sentence) to Emily. Once again, for what College publication or medium that can reach the AC community at large are these letters a fit? Without allowing any alternative mode of communication for alumni to dissent or even to correct inaccuracies, and with the College controlling all Amherst-community-wide communications on this matter, by what reasoning or definition of the word is that not censorship? I.e. addressing the matter of the letters to the Editor alone (and I continue to assert that the College hasn’t, as per my 3rd paragraph to Emily) doesn’t address the real point.

3) To elaborate on #2, it continues Amherst’s increasingly common and unfortunate habit, intentional or not, of picking and choosing what it wants to answer and ignoring the rest. I.e. subtly and not so subtly changing the issues and arguments and fashioning more facile and easily answerable ones rather than the real ones that were raised. I hate to digress to Prof. Arkes here because that is an entirely separate issue, but this is exactly the sort of thing he does. It is sad to see Amherst borrow from that playbook for whatever reason, again, intentional or not.

Cullen Murphy (Gasper Tringale photo courtesy of Amherst College)

Amherst College board of trustees Chair Cullen Murphy (Gasper Tringale photo courtesy of Amherst College)

From other private communications with Amherst officials which I pledged to keep confidential, I am well aware that Amherst is understandably fearful of loss of financial support over the issue raised by these letters. I also understand that, for institutions just as for individuals, it is a tremendous challenge to accept and allow public dissent. But what a tremendous opportunity it would be for the students as well as alumni to see and hear this debated openly, as we did on controversial matters during my student years, and what a stultifying (and maybe dangerous) effect there would be if it isn’t. Thomas Friedman points this out eloquently in his column in this past Sunday’s NY Times albeit in a very different context, but one can read between the lines and find much relevance to the situation here (Cullen, as a journalist by trade, I’m sure you can appreciate the significance of what he writes.)

Like Friedman with China, I want Amherst to succeed. But he also points out the dangers of the paths that both China and Amherst have chosen. I won’t attempt to predict the exact outcome or timing, but the odds are great that this will come back to haunt Amherst and that is what I fear more than the loss of dollars. If Amherst sacrifices its principles out of fear of what others will (falsely) allege and doesn’t practice what it preaches (i.e. “freedom of expression”), then what is Amherst at that point?

Betsy and all, likewise my best regards to you and yours for the holidays and the New Year.


Jan. 16, 2014: The College chooses to remain silent

Subject: RE: URGENT request: please hold the presses!
Date: 01/16/14 10:29:10 AM
From: Robert Yamins
To: Betsy Cannon Smith, Biddy Martin, Cullen Murphy
Cc: Emily Boutilier

Dear all,

Belated Happy New Year to you and everyone at the College.

Even though it’s been more than four weeks since I sent the [above] and I’m sure the magazine has long since been published, because the holidays intervened, I want to be sure this didn’t slip through the cracks and to give the College another opportunity for response. There are two explicit (and non-rhetorical) questions in item 2 and many obvious implicit ones throughout that remain unanswered. Again, feel free to forward this to whomever else you see fit.

If no response is forthcoming, then I must assume the College chooses to remain silent on these serious issues. From that and other observations, I will have to draw the fairly obvious conclusions on what is really going on at Amherst, conclusions which I’m still hoping against hope are unfounded.

Thank you and regards,

[Although Rob received read receipts to this last follow-up email, as of April 5 no further responses from Amherst College officials have been received.]

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in Biddy Martin, Petition to trustees | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Amherst president misstates alumni petition about Arkes

This is a letter to the editor of Amherst Magazine from Ron Battocchi, ’70. It was rejected for publication on the grounds that it responds to statements by Amherst College President Biddy Martin that did not appear in the magazine.

President Biddy Martin

President Biddy Martin

President Martin’s blog about Prof. Arkes’ homophobic writings and academic freedom (“More News” Fall 2013) mischaracterizes alumni concerns and leaves a false impression.  The original 60+ alumni petitioners (now  100+ from 17 classes) never disputed Arkes’ right to speak.  We did not “demand” that Arkes’ views be “condemned” or “denounced” or that his speech be “regulated.”

Rather, we requested a public statement by Amherst comparable to Johns Hopkins’ about Ben Carson who made similar homophobic comments,  which affirms Arkes’ freedom of expression, but makes clear publicly that his writings are inconsistent with the values of Amherst College.  While Martin says she values “reasoned debates,” she refuses to post John Greenberg’s  comments that challenged  her inaccurate blog.

The real issues behind the alumni requests include the College’s own right (and we would add, obligation) to speak publicly in defense of its values (which Amherst has a distinguished history of doing), violation of longstanding stated College policies, intellectual dishonesty (which no college or university should tolerate), “arguments” that would not pass peer review in a scholarly publication, and the abuse of academic freedom to further a personal and hateful agenda.

President Martin cursorily mentions some of these, but ignores the huge contradictions between Arkes’ writings and the explicit policies that the College has adopted.   She also fails to explain why the statement requested by graduates  is inappropriate for Amherst when she could cite no damage to John Hopkins from theirs.

Substituting a simplistic defense of academic freedom, about which all are in agreement, for a serious discussion of these issues does not, as she wrote, “foster critical dialogue”.  Instead it serves to shut it down.

What is Amherst really afraid of?

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in Biddy Martin, Commentary, Petition to trustees | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Irony: College says its silence defends free speech

This is a response from John Greenberg ’70 to President Biddy Martin’s blog post in which she rejected the call for Amherst College to disassociate itself from the anti-gay writings of Prof. Hadley Arkes.

John Greenberg '70

John Greenberg ’70

With All Due Respect, President Martin is Wrong about Professor Hadley Arkes

Since President Martin has opted to conflate the complaints about Professor Hadley Arkes that she’s received from various alumni in her statement, it’s important to begin by noting that I speak for myself, not necessarily for any others who may have written the President.

I start with common ground I share with the President’s statement. In her words: “the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech protect Professor Arkes’ right to express his views, as an individual, even if the arguments or the manner in which they are made may offend.”  I am NOT trying to silence Professor Arkes. Neither the documents sent by the six members of the Class of 1970 in advance of our meeting, nor anything any of us said at the meeting suggest otherwise. Professor Arkes has a right to speak.

Rather, I assert that the College ALSO has free speech rights, and should use them to dissociate itself from intellectually untenable, hate speech.  I agree with Justice Brandeis: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” (Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, p. 377 (1927)  In short, I’m advocating — and trying to foster — “more speech” and to end the College’s “enforced silence.”

President Biddy Martin

President Biddy Martin

For that very reason, it is more than a tad ironic to see President Martin argue that “If there are inaccuracies in the work of scholars more and better speech will correct them,” in a statement whose entire purpose is to explain why she REFUSES to any effort to do so in this instance.

I also heartily endorse the principles of academic freedom, as articulated in the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, to which Amherst College subscribes:  “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

We reach the very crux of this discussion in this statement, which provides four criteria, defining a professor’s responsibilities. Professor Arkes has flagrantly violated three of them:

1) “Hence they should at all times be accurate …” My letters have shown in detail (Attachment #1) repeated and indisputable violations of this rule in the writings for which we requested a response.

2) Professors “should exercise appropriate restraint….”  Can anyone truly suggest that comparing a loving, lasting marital relationship to sex with animals, underage children, or corpses is an exercise in “appropriate restraint?”  If so, exactly what would LACK of restraint look like?

Prof. Hadley Arkes (Photo courtesy of Pew Forum)

Prof. Hadley Arkes (Photo courtesy of Pew Forum)

3) Professors “should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”  As the six of us pointed out repeatedly, Professor Arkes NEVER does so, although he is surely aware that the opinions he expresses DIRECTLY contradict the stated INSTITUTIONAL posture of Amherst College.  Indeed, he always does precisely the opposite: he identifies himself with his institutional affiliation and makes no disclaimer.  It is worth noting that Professor Arkes COULD omit his affiliation to the College altogether (he has other affiliations), but I am not aware of any instance of his doing so.

It is unavailing to suggest, as President Martin claims, that Professor Arkes “has done what faculty all over the country do, which is to sign articles with their institutional affiliations, and otherwise to make no claims to represent the views of their colleges or universities.”  It is strikingly odd, to say the least, to see President Martin attempt to equate the phrase  “every effort” in the AAUP statement with NO effort.

Moreover, the professors to whom she refers are most often writing about issues which have no direct bearing on their institutions, or about which their institutions have expressed no positions. Indeed, as President Martin notes, most often “universities and colleges avoid taking institutional positions on controversial political matters.”

But that’s not the case here, as President Martin is also at pains to point out: “the College welcomes gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender students, staff, and faculty, supports a vibrant queer community on campus, and works actively to ensure that everyone here has an equal opportunity to learn and thrive in our community. We insist on what we call respect for persons and we proudly proclaim that, “Respect for the rights, dignity, and integrity of others is essential for the well-being of a community.”

Indeed, it is precisely this contradiction — between the way Professor Arkes acts through his writings and the way Amherst College positions itself — which lies at the heart of my request to the College.  When a professor repeatedly addresses a topic which is within his field of expertise, and therefore knows or SHOULD know that the positions he advocates are in stark distinction to those professed by his institution, the AAUP guideline clearly states that he should say so.  Professor Arkes never does.

Since Professor Arkes has failed to do so, the six of us requested that the College do what Johns Hopkins University did in a strikingly similar case: namely, to dissociate itself from his remarks.

There is yet another irony in the analogies that Professor Martin provides to our request: “This moment is like others on our own and other campuses—desegregation; the Vietnam War, women’s rights, and apartheid in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s; and now the extension of gay rights to include same-sex marriage.”

I attended Amherst College when the administration first refused to speak out about the Vietnam War, but later, under pressure, reversed itself and did so powerfully.  One of us noted (Attachment #6) that over the years, the College HAS, in fact, responded to  important social and moral issues that impact the College community (on and off campus) and society in general, including most of those on President Martin’s list.

I close with a last irony.  President Martin writes: “… it is also worth noting that references to sex with animals (and the rest) in a piece about same-sex marriage, whatever the intention, can easily have the effect of reinforcing negative stereotypes and feelings about homosexuality, as well as stirring hurt and anger.”  What OTHER effect could these references have?  In particular, is there ANY way that such references could contribute to “civil, intelligent, and carefully reasoned debates” or to “intellectual rigor?”

I think not, and therefore believe it is long past time for the College to use its OWN right of free speech to dissociate itself, as an institution, from the vicious and inaccurate statements of Professor Arkes.  That’s what six of us asked last spring.  That’s what I’m still demanding.

John Greenberg ’70 (
Marlboro, VT
October 8, 2013

Posted in Biddy Martin, Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letter: Does Arkes support college’s diversity policy?

As part of the campaign to have Amherst College disassociate itself from the anti-gay writings of Prof. Hadley Arkes, Warren Mersereau ’70 submitted this letter to the Amherst Student.

Warren Mersereau

Warren Mersereau

What do you make of Professor Hadley Arkes aligning members of the LGBT community with criminal predators: “The key abstraction, setting off ripples of self-deception, is that term ‘sexual orientation.’ The term is broad enough to encompass sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia . . . The notion of ‘sexual orientation’ is quite unstable: Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals) . . . “ (Hadley Arkes, Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College,

Addressing alumni during homecoming weekend, President Martin countered: “Amherst’s values are at odds with the positions that Professor Arkes took in that article.”

And, Amherst College policy is clear: “Amherst College does not discriminate in its admission or employment policies and practices on the basis of factors such as race, genetics, gender identity or gender expression, sex, sexual orientation, age, color, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a veteran of the Vietnam War era or as a disabled veteran.”  (Amherst College Faculty Handbook)

Which leads me to wonder:

  • Amherst College’s policies unequivocally support diversity: “Diversity, as defined in its broadest sense, is fundamental to Amherst’s mission.”  ( Does Arkes fully support Amherst College’s policies?

  • One student leader has urged fellow students not to take Arkes’s courses: “Don’t go. No, seriously. By enrolling (in) an Arkes class you are giving him the equivalent of your vote of approval.” ( Arkes publicly argues against equal rights for members of the LGBT community. Does he discriminate against them in his classroom and his grading?

  • The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure assigns responsibilities to professors:  “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”  Arkes’s assessments of members of the LGBT community are not at all times accurate, appropriately restrained, or respectful. Can’t Arkes at least have the decency to make every effort to indicate he is not speaking for our College by leaving “Amherst College” out of the byline of his anti LGBT commentaries?

Learn more. Get involved. “Amherst Against Homophobia.”

Warren Mersereau ‘70

Posted in Commentary | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Letter: How Arkes could destroy LGBT protections

This letter from alumnus Eric Patterson ’70 in response to President Biddy Martin’s blog post of Oct. 1 was published in the Amherst Student on Oct. 30:

Eric Patterson '70

Eric Patterson ’70

Several aspects of the continuing discussion of Prof. Hadley Arkes’s published contentions about the term “sexual orientation” deserve critical analysis. Of particular concern to me is Amherst’s response to his contention that the term supposedly is so “broad” as to “encompass sex with animals” (or “zoophilia,” to cite his language in another part of the same publication) as well as “pedophilia, even necrophilia,” and that therefore, according to his statement, there supposedly is serious doubt whether sexual orientation is a valid concept at all (March 26, 2013.)

In her statement of October 1, 2013, President Caroline Biddy Martin observed that contentions such as these made by Prof. Arkes are a form of “legal reasoning” directed toward “testing of claims.” Although she does not explain the implications of this point, I urge readers to recognize that such contentions about the term “sexual orientation” are not merely rhetorical gestures made simply for the sake of argument, as her statement might seem to suggest. Instead, these contentions must be recognized for what they are: part of an effort to discredit the concept of “sexual orientation” and to deny its validity by associating it with behavior which is repugnant, coercive, destructive, and rightly criminalized and punishable by law.

The term “sexual orientation” is fundamental to institutional and legal protections of LGBTQQIAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies) people from discrimination, harassment, and violence. Amherst College, like many other colleges and universities, has an official institutional Non-discrimination Statement which explicitly rejects discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. An increasing number of local and state governments also now have laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrediting the meaning of the term “sexual orientation” is a step toward invalidating such institutional and legal protections, and there are many homophobic jurists, including members of the Supreme Court, who would endorse such contentions about sexual orientation. Amherst’s Non-discrimination Statement also guarantees protection from discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” and “gender expression”– will these categories be the next to be attacked as invalid, by being falsely associated with criminal actions?

I believe that the problem at Amherst is more than a question of “freedom of speech.” A faculty member at the institution is engaged in efforts to invalidate the meaning of a fundamental term used by the institution in official policy statements to identify a category of people which the institution explicitly guarantees that it will protect from abuse. I am a gay man, and I use the term “sexual orientation” in describing myself. Many other LGBTQQIAA people, including many at Amherst, also do, I am sure. LGBTQQIAA people rely on the term in their struggle to stop discrimination, harassment, and violence against them. Along with many other LGBTQQIAA people, I have actively supported the adoption of institutional and legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation. To witness this fundamental term being attacked by a member of an institution which explicitly claims to protect those who identify, and who are identified, by the use of this term is very troubling. I believe that such an attack urgently requires a public statement from leaders of the institution, explicitly addressing and rejecting arguments that seek to invalidate the term “sexual orientation.”

President Martin’s failure to explicitly reject the attempt to invalidate the term “sexual orientation” allowed the National Association of Scholars (N.A.S.), on October 8, 2013, to strongly endorse her statement regarding Prof. Arkes’s words (and reactions to them by others) under the guise of “defending freedom of speech.” Thus, by failing to disavow Prof. Arkes’s attack on the validity of the fundamental term “sexual orientation,” President Martin’s statement, whatever her intentions, has the effect of lending her name and words to the purposes of the N.A.S.

It is important to recognize what the N.A.S. is. A prominent member of the Board of Directors of the N.A.S., the wealthy financier, Thomas Klingenstein, also chairs the Claremont Institute, of which Prof. Arkes is a Senior Fellow. The N.A.S. both funded and conducted the recent attack on Bowdoin College’s curriculum and policies, presented in the N.A.S. report, “What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students” (April 3, 2013.) The N.A.S. report particularly attacks Bowdoin’s emphasis on diversity, multiculturalism, and gender equality; its commitment to environmental sustainability; its concern about problems of sexual harassment and sexual assault; and, as President Barry Mills of Bowdoin especially emphasized in his statement refuting the N.A.S. attack on his institution (April 10, 2013), its courses in Lesbian and Gay Studies.

The N.A.S. report focuses extended ridicule on one literature course which had the word “Queer” in its title, dismissing the course as supposedly not teaching students “critical thinking,” and condemning it as “altogether trivial.” The report treats Bowdoin’s efforts to challenge the marginalization of LGBTQQIAA students, particularly efforts to affirm their open and safe participation in athletics, in a manner which clearly is dismissive and contemptuous. The word “marginalization” itself is targeted for ridicule in the report. As a gay man who has worked actively for LGBTQQIAA inclusion and equality, I would be acutely ashamed if I had made a public statement that an organization such as the N.A.S. could successfully exploit, as it has President Martin’s.

I hope very much that members of the Amherst community will discuss these issues, and that the leaders of the College will address them specifically. Attacking the identity category of “sexual orientation” is not merely an insult, and it is not merely a rhetorical gesture made for the sake of argument– it is part of an effort to destroy institutional and legal protections for LGBTQQIAA people against discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Eric Patterson, ’70

Eric Patterson, B.A. Amherst, summa cum laude; M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D. Yale,  teaches American literature, American cultural studies, and GLBTQ studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

Links to publications referred to above:

Prof. Hadley Arkes on the term “sexual orientation” and on “the zoophiliac,” “pedophilia,” and “necrophilia”

President Barry Mills of Bowdoin on the National Association of Scholars’ attack on Bowdoin College

The National Association of Scholars’ endorsement of President Martin

The National Association of Scholars’ report attacking the curriculum and policies of Bowdoin College

Posted in Arkes publications, Biddy Martin, Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment