Indiana University Calls Out 'Sexist, Racist, Homophobic' Professor, but Makes Clear His Job Is Safe

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Indiana University issued a statement Wednesday criticizing one of its conservative professors for his long history of expressing racist, sexist and homophobic statements, even going so far as to mandate that the professor adhere to strict grading guidelines and allowing students to transfer out of his classes.

But what they can’t and won’t do is fire him, the Provost says.

Eric Rasmusen, a tenured professor of business and economics at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, drew attention this week for tweeting out an article titled, “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.” He pulled out one particular line: “geniuses are overwhelmingly male because they combine outlier high IQ with moderately low Agreeableness and moderately low Conscientiousness.”

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As the Washington Post reports, the Nov. 2 tweet went viral this week after Indiana alumna Maggie Hopkins responded to it.

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The social media-powered spotlight on Rasmusen prompted Indiana University Provost Lauren Robel to write to the Kelley School community calling him out for his “racist, sexist and homophobic views:”

When I label his views in this way, let me note that the labels are not a close call, nor do his posts require careful parsing to reach these conclusions. He has posted, among many other things, the following pernicious and false stereotypes:

  • That he believes that women do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia, and that he believes most women would prefer to have a boss than be one; he has used slurs in his posts about women;
  • That gay men should be permitted in academia either, because he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students;
  • That he believes that black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions, and are generally inferior academically to white students.
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But, she wrote, while the university has been “inundated” with calls for Rasmusen to be fired, the institution “cannot, nor would we, fire Professor Rasmusen for his posts as a private citizen, as vile and stupid as they are, because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so.”

But the provost also acknowledged that concerns from black, women, and LGBTQ students that Rasmusen’s biases would affect their classroom experience were “reasonable,” and put forward the following measures intended to protect them: no student should be “forced” to take Rasmusen’s class, and that the professor would need to adhere to “double-blind grading on assignments.” In instances where a double-blind procedure isn’t feasible, “the Kelley School will have another faculty member ensure that the grades are not subject to Professor Rasmusen’s prejudices.”

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Rasmusen rebutted the Provost’s letter, saying “Indiana University is not discouraging bias, but encouraging it, even requiring it, as a condition of teaching.”

“There are views you’re not supposed to express, even outside of class, and God help the conservative student whose professor checks Facebook and Twitter before grading term papers,” he continued. “In the past I’ve had Christian and conservative students shyly approach me to say how happy they were to finally find a professor who was open in his beliefs.”

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It’s not the first time a conservative professor has completely enthralled himself with the idea that he’s persecuted—even as he enjoys free license to continue making blatantly bigoted pronouncements that have no intellectual grounding. What is stunning in all this is how the media spotlight has illuminated Rasmusen’s bright, unambiguous mediocrity.

His personal webpage looks freshly exhumed from a 20-year-old version of the internet—though that’s a fairly innocuous fault given the toxicity of the views he’s espoused. An opportunist, Rasmusen leads with a nod to this week’s controversy with a “Twitter kerfuffle” page; except the link doesn’t work because the professor copy-pasted an incomplete address. The “kerfuffle” page contains an annotated response to Provost Robel’s statement, which contains profound thoughts like:

Many women don’t like the term ‘slut’. Many women *do* like the term “slut”. I haven’t figured out why there is this giant gap between women—most men are neutral, I think— but it’s worth some sociologist’s investigation. My use was perhaps hyperbole, depending on one’s definition of “slut”. The woman is certainly an adulteress; slut is more vaguely defined.

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And, on whether he thinks black students are “generally unqualified” for elite educational institutions (a rebuttal riddled with errors, as it were):

It’s hard to know what “generally” means here. Are most black students admitted because they are black, and would not be admitted if we did not give them preference for their race? I don’t know (though the Provost surely does). What is clear is that *some* students are admitted because of their race—which means that other students are denied because of their race, since we have a fixed number of spots. The whole idea of affirmative action is that too few black students wouldn [sic] get in without racial preferences, so we need to lower the standard for them and accept taht [sic] they will do worse academically. Affirmative action may be right; it maybe wrong; but that’s what it is.

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Of course, the “whole idea of affirmative action” isn’t that black students can’t get into these institutions without having their race counted, it’s that a “race-blind” system is heavily predisposed to accept white students. Students are more likely to attend better resourced high schools in wealthier neighborhoods, students who are more likely to receive the benefit of legacy admissions, students whose parents can pay for test prep or, if they’re really flush with cash, donate a sizable sum to the university in question.

These facts are well-documented and easily understood, but that’s not really the point for professors like Rasmusen who, short on academic credentials and vigorous, original ideas, embrace cheap controversies like this to stroke their egos. It’s cynical, but so much of American conservatism is. In any case, the sturdiest bastion of mediocrity is the white, tenured conservative professor: ever under fire, ever thirsty for attention, ever lazy, and ever protected.

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?