Lest We Forget: Double Standards Edition

by David French

The blogosphere is abuzz with the t ale of the University of Iowa professor in anthropology and women’s studies telling the College Republicans “F[***] YOU” when she received a blast e-mail describing the club’s upcoming events. After the Republicans publicized her scholarly response, she made a tepid, insincere apology, and the university president issued a statement calling the professor’s conduct “unacceptable.”

All in all, that’s exactly the way the situation should be handled. The Republicans were right to publicize her e-mail (after all, “sunlight is the best disinfectant“), and the university president’s scolding is certainly appropriate. It is more than sufficient to expose her response, and it serves to further illustrate to parents, students, and future students that modern academia seems to breed incivility and myopia. She said something stupid, it’s a “teachable moment,” and the resulting public criticism is an appropriate enough sanction.

But let’s contrast the University of Iowa’s rather forgiving response to profane liberal Ellen Lewin with the University of Illinois’ more draconian response to civil conservative Kenneth Howell. Last spring, Kenneth Howell lost his job after teaching a lecture and writing an e-mail accurately describing Catholic moral values regarding sexual morality in a class called “Introduction to Catholicism.”  He didn’t drop an “F bomb,” he didn’t berate a student, and indeed not a single student in his class complained. He simply taught his subject. But a student not in his class complained after being forwarded Howell’s “offensive” e-mail, and Howell — a recipient of multiple teaching awards — was summarily fired.

It took legal threats, a public-relations offensive, and a Facebook campaign to get Howell back on campus. Ellen Lewin, by contrast, will walk into the office this morning, take a few reporters’ calls, receive a few quiet “you go, girl” affirmations from the rest of the women’s-studies department, and go about her day.

Just another double-standard-filled day in the life of the academic monoculture. 

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