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) http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/274/357/case.html  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 (jsg1@copper.net)
Marlboro, VT
October 8, 2013

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About Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart, a 40-year journalism veteran, is publisher and an editor of the "Erasing 76 Crimes" and "76 Crimes en français" blogs. More profile information on Google+. Colin Stewart, un vétéran du journalisme de 40 ans, est éditeur et rédacteur en chef des blogs "Erasing 76 Crimes" et "76Crimes en français." Plus d'informations de profil sur Google+.
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