I was deeply disappointed to read UR Professor Steve Landsburg’s recent blogs praising Rush Limbaugh for a “spot-on analogy” with respect to his offensive remarks about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke (although Landsburg parted company with Limbaugh for calling Fluke a “slut”). Landsburg went further. He stated that Ms. Fluke’s position deserved “only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered.” He further stated that the right word for her position was “extortionist,” characterized those who disagreed with his view as “contraceptive sponges,” and added that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.Contraceptive sponges... now, that is clever.
... I am outraged that any professor would demean a student in this fashion. To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in this way is about the most offensive thing a professor can do. We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in your classroom may be one of the most offensive things a professor can do, but when a student is a political activist who testifies before a congressional subcommittee on a specific policy question that you disagree with, it's not that horrible to blog about that. (It's not the approach I, as a professor, felt like taking. If you look at my first post on the subject, I said "I've been avoiding weighing in on this subject, in part because, as a law professor, I don't like talking about an individual law student," and then my discussion wasn't about the young woman, but all the political leveraging that was going on.)
Of course, Seligman is a political actor. He's got to deal with his intra-university constituencies. I'd like to know who's been pressuring him to push back Landsburg.
Landsburg now has made himself newsworthy as one of Limbaugh’s few defenders. I wish he had focused instead on the ideal of a university as an institution that promotes the free exchange of ideas and lively debate at its best in an atmosphere of civil discourse in which the dignity of every individual is respected.Lively, but not too lively, apparently. And please don't stick out "as one of Limbaugh’s few defenders." The more people are all on one side of an issue, in Seligman's view, the more important it is for everybody to get over on that side. And Landsburg ought to focus on... what? Some abstract ideal that Seligman seems to be violating in the process of mushily stating?
Here's the Inside Higher Ed article that pointed me to Seligman's statement. Added facts:
On Wednesday, about 30 students protested Landsburg's comments by coming to one of his courses and standing between him and the class while he continued to lecture.... They left after 15 minutes but then came back at the end of the class.And the university president sides with the students... in lofty pursuit of the free exchange of ideas and lively debate in an atmosphere of civil discourse in which the dignity of every individual is respected. Okay.
"We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination." Where's the character assassination? Landsburg disagreed with the policy Sandra Fluke promoted. In Congress. Professors have the obligation to "nurture" and "inspire" her from afar by refraining from taking on her ideas? Is that some special kid-gloves treatment for women? Ironically, that would be sexist. Should we be patting the female political activist on the head and murmuring good for you for speaking up? That is dismissive. It's better feminism to react to what a woman in politics says and to respond to her with full force the way you would to a man. And that's what Landsburg did:
[W]hile Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatseover. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty....Now, Landsburg's an economist. Note the references to externalities or other market failures. He goes on to say a little something about prostitution. He goes on find the the analogy to prostitution flawed. Fluke is, he says, more of an "extortionist" — an "extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement." For some reason Seligman thought he needed to throw in his position on prostitution:
To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.
I totally disagree with Landsburg that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.Landsburg, rejecting the prostitution analogy, had written "Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)" Seligman continues:
Having been a Dean of two law schools with clinics that addressed violence against women, I am all too aware of the terrible correlation between prostitution and the physical and emotional demeaning of women.Oh, a correlation? Well, then, by all means, totally disagree with a professor who entertains the notion that the exchange of money for sex might not in itself be wrong. Because you're all about the free exchange of ideas and lively debate!