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.]
So, let me make sure I understand this correctly. In the interest of a “commitment to be an inclusive community” and a “respect for the opinions of others,” we should exclude Professor Hadley’s opinions from any association with the “inclusive community” of Amherst College and disrespect them as “divisive,” “destructive,” “homophobic,” and “discredited”?
Mr. Jones, I believe you have set up a straw man, one of Prof. Arkes’ favorite tactics. The argument made is merely that, because Prof. Arkes’ comments are “divisive,” “destructive,” “homophobic,” and “discredited,” he should be caused by the college to disclaim the college as a signatory to or supporter of, his comments in his outside writings. Such disclaimers are routine. The venue of his outside postings, and his subscripted description of himself containing his affiliation with the college, makes more likely the inference that his views represent those of the college, and the originators of the petition legitimately object to this implication. The request for an explicit disclaimer that his personal views represent those of the college is in fact required by the AAUP guidelines, to which Amherst college is signatory. The AAUP also decries hurtful or disrespectful speech, which his certainly appears to be. The remedies requested in the petition do not even address other issues of serious intellectual dishonesty or misattribution in his “scholarly” writings, which, in my opinion are also worthy of censure.