Erika López Prater was an adjunct professor of Art History at Hamline University. Her course syllabus included a warning that the art to be discussed contained images of religious figures. She also advised students that if they had any concerns about the images, they should discuss them with her. (No student did so.) Furthermore, on the day Muhammed’s image was to be shown, she said that whoever might be offended by the image was free to leave before class continued. (No student did so.)
Despite the professor’s care to avoid offending anyone, one student complained to the administration and the university president reportedly wrote a letter of apology stating that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” and added that “academic freedom is very important,” but “it does not have to come at the expense of care and decency toward others.” He then reportedly terminated the professor’s appointment.
Consider a different approach the president could have taken. He could have reminded the student that a) the syllabus made clear that images of religious leaders would be shown, b) showing the image of Muhammed was consistent with the syllabus, and (c) the professor had generously offered that students could leave the class during that showing. The president might then have added that, in his judgment, the professor’s handling of the situation had not been offensive but instead exemplary. Then, as soon as the student left his office, he might have contacted the professor, expressed his sadness that the student had chosen to criticize her, praised her handling of the delicate matter of student sensitivity, and told her he wished other faculty members would follow her example.
Not only might he responded this way. He should have done so because it was the appropriate response. The fact that he chose instead to punish exemplary behavior was sufficient grounds for the university’s board of trustees to chastise him and order him to enroll in Common Sense 101. (If his university does not have such a course, they should consider initiating one.)
Did his board of trustees chastise him? Probably not. They more likely complimented him for his “sensitivity to student feelings” and “respect for cultural diversity,” which translated means “deference to wokeism.”
The problem illustrated by the art professor’s case is unfortunately common in higher education and even moreso in the general culture. (The fact that intellectual elites often show no more wisdom than less educated people is sad but true.)
Today, doing the right thing is criticized while contemptible behavior is defended. Lying and dissembling are approved while truth-telling, especially about serious matters, is frowned upon. Praying is deemed fanatical but cursing and swearing normal. Love of country is mocked but hatred of country lauded. Honoring tradition is considered naïve but disparaging tradition enlightened.
In 1865 Lewis Caroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, which included this famous line: “Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
It has taken almost 160 years, but that state of affairs has finally arrived.
Copyright © 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved