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 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?
- Letter: Does Arkes support college’s diversity policy? (terrasirradient.org)
- Craige/Mersereau: Say ‘no’ to Hadley Arkes (terrasirradient.org)
- Q&A with college president on anti-gay professor (terrasirradient.org)