Sunday, December 11, 2005

Academic Freedom

Keep 'Adam and Steve' Out of His In-Box. Is That So Hateful? - New York Times

Mr. Daniel, who repairs printers at William Paterson University and also takes courses toward a master's degree there, was reading his e-mail before work on March 8 when he came upon a message sent in connection with Women's History Month announcing the showing of a film, "Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House." Mr. Daniel, 63, who has been a Muslim since the 1970's, had no interest in the film. He believes his religion condemns homosexuality. So following the instructions, he sent a reply to the e-mail address of Arlene Holpp Scala, chairwoman of the department of women's studies.

"Do not send me any mail about 'Connie and Sally' and 'Adam and Steve.' These are perversions," he wrote. "The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned."

Two days later, Dr. Scala filed a complaint with officials at William Paterson. It read: "Mr. Daniel's message to me sounds threatening and in violation of our University's nondiscrimination policy. I don't want to feel threatened at my place of work when I send out announcements about events that address lesbian issues." She said Mr. Daniel should be informed that he had violated university policy and that she was not sure what else should be done to censure him and "make me feel I am working in a safe environment."

What, if anything, was in this stupid woman's head? What on earth did she think that she, chair of an academic department--if you can call "woman's studies" an academic discipline--stood to gain by going after a computer tech on staff? I've seen comparable things happen and I'm baffled. It looks like you get some sort of prestige by demonstrating how weak and sensitive you are, how scared you are for your personal safety, and how loudly you can whine.

Dr. Scala, I suspect, was playing Let's Pretend. A cloistered (and I'd bet tenured) academic, she imagined herself a foot soldier in the feminist movement, a powerless woman working in a hostile environment, surrounded by big, hairy, threatening males out to get her, daring to assert herself and striking a blow for the sisterhood. And, of course, it must have been sweet to punish someone who held views with which she disagreed, particularly someone whom she believed could not fight back--makes me wonder how she deals with students who are foolish enough to take her courses and argue against the party line.

Mr. Daniel (who, being a competent technician, is probably just smarter than Dr. Scala) won his case. But I find it outrageous that silly asses like Dr. Scala can make frivolous complaints that jeopardize the livelihood of innocent parties without any adverse consequences.


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Anonymous said...

Hey H.E. No, nothing in Mr. Daniel's reply was hateful but this case is not a question about academic freedom. Mr. Daniel was not an academic - as you point out, he was a printer repairman. He was responding to something unsolicited in his email and you are right he had a right to respond to it honestly. However, your response to Dr. Scala, the "stupid woman" as you term her is quite offensive, especially because you are choosing to make this public and presumably hope to have a bigger impact on Dr. Scala's life and career.

You question whether women's studies can be an academic discipline - does this have some actual bearing on your point or is this just an opporunity to rant?

You assume Dr. Scala saw herself as "a powerless woman working in a hostile environment, surrounded by big, hairy, threatening males out to get her" - now in my experience this is not what feminists assume about themselves and their surrounding environments. In my experience, feminists proceed from the assumption that they are valid and valuable human beings, just like the other individual human beings they encounter.

From the description, Dr. Scala's response was an overreaction and one hopes that the officials who received her complaint at William Paterson were able to see this and treat Mr Daniel fairly in his situation. However, nothing is achieved by dismissing an overreaction as stupid, silly and frivolous other than entrenching said overreaction. What is the reason behind your own emotional outburst?

H. E. said...

I fail to see how anything I could say on an anonymous blog could have any impact whatsoever Dr. Scala's life or career. By contrast Dr. Scala, who as a faculty member and chair, was in a very good position to have a significant, and adverse, impact on Mr. Daniel's life by her irresponsible behavior. This is bullying, the misuse of power.

As far as my en passent remark about women's studies, while I believe that "women's studies" had a salutory effect on history and other social studies where women's and concerns were often ignored, as a discipline it has an adverse effect on women. It is an academic pink collar ghetto in much the way that home economics was. That's not a rant, that's my considered judgement.

Finally I think something important is gained by dismissing Dr. Scala's overreaction as stupid, silly and frivolous. It is important for feminists to repudiate this kind of behavior. It's girly-bratty, mean and childish. "Johnny said something not nice that I didn't like and I want him to get it. So I'm going to go crying to Mommy--Mommy, Mommy, Johnny hurt me and made me feel bad and scared me. I'm so sensitive." Girls get reinforced for this behavior, for being cowardly, "sensitive" and underhanded--they get sympathy instead of being told, "when that happens you either suck it up or fight back yourself--don't come whining to me."

I'm amazed that educated grown-up women who claim to be feminists would behave this way or show any sympathy for this behavior which discredits women and makes feminism look bad.

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