By WARREN MERSEREAU, ’70
What does Amherst College stand for?
What does Amherst College stand up for?
The answers to these defining questions have evolved over time. And, they will continue to evolve as Amherst College’s leaders make decisions that shape its community, its values, and its integrity.
Standing for Diversity
An important part of this evolution has occurred during the past forty-five years as the College has demonstrated a commitment to diversity.
Amherst College’s student body used to be all male. Today, it is co-ed. Amherst’s students used to be predominantly white. Today, over 40% of the students are “students of color.” The majority of Amherst’s students used to be from prep schools and not receive financial aid. Today, 60% of the students come from public schools and over 60% receive financial aid. Amherst’s students used to be almost exclusively from the United States. Today, students come from over 30 foreign countries.
The faculty has also become more diverse. Once almost exclusively white and male, Amherst hired its first female on a tenure track in 1962, and today the faculty is over 40% female. While the faculty remains over 70% white, there are indications it will be more diverse going forward.
To address the needs of its more diverse student and faculty community as well as promote the benefits of diversity, Amherst now has an infrastructure that did not exist a generation ago, including:
Student groups representing different religions, ethnicities, nationalities, gender orientations, and social/justice causes.
Academic majors such as Black Studies, Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Women and Gender Studies.
Administrative support functions such as the Associate Dean of Students and International Student Advisor and the Coordinator of LGBTQQIAA.
Resource facilities such as the Amherst College Multicultural Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Rainbow Room LGBTQQIA Resource Center.
Financial aid packages that allow need blind admissions and promote economic diversity.
The Statement on Diversity issued by the Board of Trustees in 1996 summarizes Amherst College’s commitment to diversity:
The College’s commitments both to distinction and to inclusion have brought to Amherst a long line of extraordinarily talented students and scholars who have enriched our campus, our country and the world . . . We reaffirm our goal of fashioning the Amherst College community from the broadest and deepest possible range of talents that people of many different backgrounds can bring to us . . . We reaffirm our commitment to equality of opportunity, and to affirmative action under the law as a means of achieving that goal. We will continue to give special importance to the inclusion within our student body, our faculty and our staff of talented persons from groups that have experienced prejudice and disadvantage.
Standing Up for Diversity
As the Amherst College community has become more diverse, the College has found it necessary to not only stand for diversity but to stand up for diversity. For while Amherst College works to create a positive environment for diversity, sometimes internal and sometimes external influences infringe on that environment. At these critical moments when diversity is threatened, Amherst College has taken action to protect diversity.
1946 — The Trustees directed fraternities to drop discriminatory provisions regarding pledging (e.g. Making decisions based on race, religion, or nationality).
1968 — Amherst College President Calvin Plimpton appointed The Black and White Action Committee of Amherst College to receive proposals to address economic and cultural disparities at the College.
1979 — Ad Hoc Committee on Affirmative Action reported on hiring and wage discrimination against female staff and faculty members.
1979 — Two students suspended for burning a cross in front a student residence.
1979 — Students occupied Converse Hall for ten-day sit-in to protest elimination of Black Freshman Orientation and other racial issues on campus.
1987 — The Trustees voted to divest of all securities in companies doing business in South Africa.
1992 — The faculty adopted a revised statement on sexual harassment to appear in future editions of both the Faculty and Student Handbooks.
1992 — A group of students occupied Converse Hall to demand a faster pace in the hiring of minorities for faculty and administrative positions.
1993 — The College hired its first full-time Affirmative Action Officer.
1996 — The Trustees issued a Statement on Diversity at Amherst College reaffirming commitment to equal opportunity and affirmative action.
1998 — The faculty approved the revised Code of Conduct.
2003 — Amherst College President Tom Gerety coordinated a joint amicus brief among 28 liberal arts colleges supporting the University of Michigan’s race-sensitive admissions procedures
Today, the Amherst College Profile (www.amherst.edu) is unequivocal: “Diversity, as defined in its broadest sense, is fundamental to Amherst’s mission.” And, the Amherst College Faculty Handbook supports the College’s commitment to diversity with firm guidelines, including:
Diversity and Inclusion: “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.”
Academic Freedom: “Amherst College subscribes fully to the AAUP statement of principles on academic freedom published in 1940, and assumes that Faculty members know their rights and their responsibilities as members of the academic profession.”
Statement on Respect for Persons: “Respect for the rights, dignity and integrity of others is essential for the well-being of a community. Actions by any person which do not reflect such respect for others are damaging to each member of the community and hence damaging to Amherst College.”
A Threat to Diversity
Against this backdrop — a commitment to developing a diverse community, providing services and programs to nurture this diversity, and standing up for diversity with policy, political, and legal actions as necessary — Amherst College is faced with the case of Hadley Arkes, a tenured professor, who repeatedly violates the College’s positions on diversity, particularly as relates to sexual and gender orientation.
The Amherst College Faculty Handbook states: “Respect for people involves each person at Amherst College. Respect needs a commitment from the institution as well as from each of us as individuals.” The Handbook then references the “Platinum Rule”: “Treat others as they would like to be treated.”
To the contrary, Arkes is an advisor to the Family Research Council, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as an active hate group because the Family Research Council is a group with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
For example, in 2012 while lobbying Congress to oppose a bill against the further criminalization of homosexuality in Ghana, the Family Research Council stated that it wanted “to remove sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council claimed in a 2010 interview on National Public Radio: “There’s no correlation between inacceptance of homosexuality and depression and suicide.” This is a falsehood. A U.S. government study, “Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide,” found that LGBT youth were four times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. As Dr. Judith Kovach, director of the Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy states: “A member of any group that experiences discrimination, stigma and oppression is going to react to that stress with higher degrees of anxiety, depression and hopelessness.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s research shows that the Family Research Council is “. . . among the chief purveyors of lies about LGBT people . . . regularly pumped out propaganda asserting that gay men molest children at far higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts — a claim that has been debunked by virtually all the recognized scientific authorities in the field . . . ”
The Amherst College Faculty Handbook states: “Each member of the community should be free from interference, intimidation or disparagement in the work place, the classroom and the social, recreational and residential environment.”
To the contrary, Arkes, in writing for the “The Weekly Standard” as the “Ney Professor of American Institutions at Amherst College and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center,” disparages homosexuals: “Do liberals want to break through conventions with ‘sex education’? Then education it should be: The life-shortening hazards of homosexual behavior should be conveyed, along with information about the other hazards of incautious sex; the record of conversions from homosexual life should be put in texts along with the inconclusive arguments over the ‘gay gene.’”
Arkes’ assertions unfairly “malign(s) an entire class of people” (e.g. “The life-shortening hazards of homosexual behavior”), and Arkes is intellectually dishonest in so doing (e.g. “the record of conversions from homosexual life”). As the American Psychiatric Association states: “There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation . . . “
The Southern Poverty Law Center points out the dangers of promoting “conversions from homosexual life”: “Conversion therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal ideation.”
If anyone doubts actual harm can be caused by platforms of disparagement such as those developed by Arkes, they need only read the letter shared on the 1970 listserv by classmate Eric Patterson. Eric wrote: “. . . and people like Hadley Arkes, his friend Antonin Scalia, his friend Rick Santorum, and many, many others who share their belief that Terry’s love for me (Eric), and mine for him, are comparable to child rape, animal rape or corpse rape, continue to treat millions of same-sex couples as inferior and undeserving of all the rights and benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted. Some may tell me to just forget about it, and some may claim that they can’t understand in what way Arkes’ statements possibly could constitute hate speech; I do not have the luxury of the indifference.”
The Amherst College Faculty Handbook states: “Amherst College does not condone harassment of any kind, against any group or individual, because of race, religion, ethnic identification, age, handicap, gender or sexual orientation.”
To the contrary, Arkes has offered an argument that attempt to mitigate the consequences of rape, an extreme act of harassment: “. . . the number of pregnancies resulting from rape in this country is miniscule . . . (since) . . . the fear induced by rape may interrupt the normal operation of hormones in the body of the woman which in turn may prevent ovulation and conception.” (“First Things: An Inquiry into First Principles of Morals and Justice”, 1986, by Hadley Arkes).
There is no scientific evidence to support this claim promoted by Arkes. Rather, research published in the “Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology” indicates over 32,000 pregnancies result annually from rape, which means about 5% of rape victims become pregnant.
However, Arkes has offered no retraction and Amherst College has unwittingly promoted Arkes’ “First Things” as recently as this (2013) spring:
Amherst College website (https://www.amherst.edu/alumni/events/calendar/rsvp/professor_hadley_arkes_event_in_ny_5.8.13)
Thank you for your interest in participating. As this event has already occurred, we hope you will join us for a future event.
AN EVENING WITH PROFESSOR HADLEY ARKES: REFLECTIONS ON FIRST THINGS
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres
This event was organized by Peter Ezersky ’82 and Kevin Conway ’80
First Things website
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 4:18 PM
The Amherst College alumni program will host:
An Evening with Professor Hadley Arkes:
Reflections on his book First Things
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 5:30-8:00 p.m.
Penn Club 30. 44th Street W New York, NY
Hadley Arkes, a member of First Things’ advisory council, is the Ney Professor in American Institutions at Amherst College.
The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, to which Amherst College subscribes, states: “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.”
To the contrary, Arkes is not “at all times” “accurate”, exercising “appropriate restraint”, showing “respect for the opinion of others”, or making “every effort to indicate that they are (he is) not speaking for the institution.”
With regard to Arkes’ being inaccurate, classmate John Greenberg offers the following:
“. . . Arkes’ recent contribution concerning the oral arguments in the Proposition 8 case: “Marriage in the Court” by Hadley Arkes (http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/344001/marriage-court-hadley-arkes) Again, let’s examine 2 sentences (written by Arkes): “The main point of concern for traditional-marriage advocates was Kennedy’s musing about 37,000 children living in households headed by gay or lesbian couples: Were their parents to be denied the standing of marriage, and they in turn branded as offspring of some sub-legal ménage? But of course the question is no different here from the plight of children in polygamous unions.”
Here, Mr. Arkes, a tenured professor of political science equates polygamy, which is illegal, to marriage, which isn’t, without mentioning the difference, in the context of the 37,000 children about whom Justice Kennedy expressed concern. These are the children who HAVE been adopted — perfectly legally under CA law — by gay parents in civil unions, whose fate WILL be affected by the Court’s decision, however narrowly tailored. Arkes’ dismissive phrase: “But of course the question is no different here from the plight of children in polygamous unions” not only conflates all these things and is completely false from a legal standpoint, but totally ignores the gaping differences between the legal issues of same sex vs. polygamous marriage. The give-away here is that slipped-in little phrase: “of course.”
Note too that the REASON Justice Kennedy raised the issue is that it was prominently discussed in the lower court, where, after listening to voluminous testimony, Judge Walker concluded: “The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology.”
With regard to Arkes not showing restraint, his inference that homosexuality is similar to heinous, illegal acts is anything but restrained:
“…[T]he key abstraction, settling [sic] off ripples of self-deception, is that term ‘sexual orientation.’ The term is broad enough to encompass sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia …
[T]he notion of ‘sexual orientation’ is quite unstable: Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals.) …
How is anyone’s marriage affected if two men or women are allowed to marry?
A while back, a 42-year old woman was barred from living in Stafford, Virginia with her 19-year old son as man and wife. And Philip Buble in Maine was denied a marriage license for himself and his 37 pound dog Lady.
Now how would anyone’s marriage be impaired if these people were allowed to marry as they wished?”
(From “The Supreme Court Hears the Cases on Marriage”, www.thecatholicthing.org , March 26, 2013, by Hadley Arkes, the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College)
With regard to Arkes showing disrespect for the opinion of others, he is again willing to dismiss rights for members of the LGBT community by inappropriately comparing them to illegal extremes:
“We will leave to another time the account of why marriage simply could not preserve its coherence and durability if the notion of marriage were stretched out of shape to encompass same-sex marriage. We have already seen the claims emerging for polyamorous groups, whose loves are not confined to couples, and indeed, once we admit gay marriage, we would not stand on any principled ground for confining marriage to two people or fending off the claims for all of the exotic ensembles of people who insist that their love, too, ought to be recognized in a marriage.”
(From “Gay Rights and Federalism”, National Review Online, August 6, 2001, by Hadley Arkes, a professor of American Institutions at Amherst College & an adviser to the Alliance for Marriage.”)
With regard to Arkes not making every effort to make it clear that he does not speak for Amherst, the citations throughout this paper demonstrate that Arkes regularly uses his affiliation with Amherst College as his primary credential when presenting his homophobic views and he does not provide any qualifying language (e.g. “The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not represent those of Amherst College”) to indicate that he does not speak for Amherst College.
When is Enough Enough?
In April (2013), Dr. Ben Carson, a tenured faculty member at Johns Hopkins University mimicked Arkes while being interviewed on national television. In response to a question about gay marriage, Carson said: “Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition. So, it’s not something that is against gays, it’s against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications.”
What followed was a swift, public reprimand from Dr. Paul Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine and Dean of the Medical Faculty, which said it part: “Controversial social issues are debated in the media on a regular basis, and yet it is rare that leaders of an academic medical center will join that type of public debate. However, we recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution . . . Johns Hopkins Medicine embraces diversity and believes that the same civil rights should be available to all regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation . . .
While his recent comments are inconsistent with our core values, Dr. Carson has the right to participate in public debates and media interviews and express his personal opinions on political, social and religious issues . . . It is clear that the fundamental principle of freedom of expression has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect . . . Commitment to diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression is at the heart of our standing as a world leader in medical care, research and education.”
Dr. Carson then apologized and withdrew as Johns Hopkins’ commencement speaker, offering: “As you know, I have been in the national news quite a bit recently and my 36 year association with Johns Hopkins has unfortunately dragged our institution into the spotlight as well. I am sorry for any embarrassment this has caused. But what really saddens me is that my poorly chosen words caused pain for some members of our community and for that I offer a most sincere and heartfelt apology. . . “
Whereas Johns Hopkins quickly admonished its faculty member for “hurtful, offensive language” that was “inconsistent with the culture of our institution”, Amherst College has done nothing to denounce Arkes or distance itself from Arkes as he has engaged for years in developing a broad, public platform, including organizations and communications vehicles such as “First Things”, “The Catholic Thing”, the “Family Research Council”, the “Ethics and Public Policy Center”, and the “Alliance for Marriage”, to disseminate his homophobic and defamatory commentaries using his affiliation with Amherst College as his primary credential.
In addition, Arkes, unlike Carson, has issued no apology for causing pain to members of the Amherst College community. Rather, Arkes has been comfortable throughout:
“Yes, I’ve been quite at odds politically with the currents at Amherst. But if it’s suffering, it has been stylish suffering: I’ve been sustained by the affection of friends who are not exactly with me on the issues of the day, and I’ve been supported generously by this College, even though its President has had to fend off, even now, the complaints of alumni who think that a self-respecting liberal college should not have to suffer my presence.” (From “Scenes from an Academical Life,” The Catholic Thing, June 4, 2013, by Hadley Arkes the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College)
Consciously Causing Pain and Conflicting with Amherst College’s Values
There is little reason to doubt that Arkes recognizes that his homophobic commentaries both conflict with Amherst’s community values, including diversity, and purposely hurt members of the LGBT community. In “Swastikas, Burning Crosses, and ‘God Hates Fags’” (Published by Public Discourse: Ethics, Law and the Common Good, October 13, 2010), Arkes explores legal interpretations of classes of speech that have and have not been given protection under the Constitution.
In this article, Arkes quotes Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy (1890 – 1949) on speech that is not protected: “These (classes of speech) include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words — those which their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of peace.” Arkes then writes: “’Chaplinsky’ (the case Justice Murphy was writing about) was simply based on that common sense about language, and with that sense of things we were able to give juries of ordinary working men and women these instructions: Convict only when people used gestures and words clearly understood as terms of assault. In case of doubt—if the words are less clear or at the borderline of derision, just hold back from convicting. I’ve found in my own experience that people never suffer doubt in applying that rule to a list containing words of this kind: Kike, bastard, nigger, faggot, meter maid, urologist, hero. People in Washington may stop for a while at ‘meter maid,’ but they have no trouble in recognizing the terms clearly established as terms of insult.”
Certainly, therefore, Arkes knows that he is assaulting Amherst College’s values by inflicting injury on members of the LGBT community when he states: “…[T]he key abstraction, settling [sic] off ripples of self-deception, is that term ‘sexual orientation.’ The term is broad enough to encompass sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia …[T]he notion of ‘sexual orientation’ is quite unstable: Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals).”
The Need to Stand Up for Diversity Today
So, what is Amherst College to do about Arkes?
Stand up for diversity today.
Amherst College has developed a set of values for its community. These values include diversity and the guidelines necessary to support diversity. These guidelines include demonstrating respect for all members of the Amherst community.
Arkes violates Amherst College’s values by being disrespectful to members of the College community. He does this willfully and knowingly, including linking Amherst College directly to his disparaging and injurious commentaries.
In repeatedly and publicly linking Amherst College to his assaults on the LGBT community, Arkes further violates his responsibilities as defined under the auspices of academic freedom.
As Amherst College has evolved over the past almost two hundred years, it has increasingly made a commitment to diversity. And, at times, Amherst College has been called to take firm, public stands to protect the diversity it embraces.
Today, Amherst College is called to take another such stand; this time involving one of its own. It is time for Amherst College to:
Publicly denounce Hadley Arkes’ assaults on Amherst College’s values.
Demand that Hadley Arkes no longer reference affiliation with Amherst College when he writes commentaries on social issues that disparage members of the Amherst College community.