Fixing Rasmusen: What’s Indiana University To Do With Him?

As a tenured professor at the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University, Eric Rasmusen has the cred to give some gravitas to his words. And words they were.

As many of you may be aware Professor Eric Rasmusen, a member of the Kelley School faculty, tweeted a link and quoted from an article entitled, “Are Women Destroying Academia?  Probably,” written by Lance Welton. This article suggests women academics and most women students are harmful to the academy.  Unfortunately, the views espoused in this article and endorsed by this professor on the matter of gender diversity reflect similar views expressed in his private Twitter account.

Moreover, he holds similarly reprehensible views regarding other areas of diversity.  The professor demonstrates a lack of tolerance and respect for women as well as for racial diversity and diversity in sexual orientation.  The leadership of the Kelley School stands united in condemning the bias and disrespect displayed by this professor; we find his sexist, racist, and homophobic views abhorrent.

That’s pretty clear. What could he have possibly twitted to evoke such a strong condemnation?

  • 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 not 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.

To the extent one might have expected some over sensitivity on the part of a university administration, the substance of Rasmusen’s thoughts earned the most extreme condemnation possible. And yet, as a tenured prof at a public school, he had a First Amendment right to spew this crap, and to the shock and amazement of many, the school demonstrated respect for the right while leaving no doubt that the content was reprehensible.

Therefore, the Kelley School is taking a number of steps to ensure that students not add the
baggage of bigotry to their learning experience:

  • No student will be forced to take a class from Professor Rasmusen. The Kelley School will
    provide alternatives to Professor Rasmusen’s classes;
  • Professor Rasmusen will use double-blind grading on assignments; if there are components of grading that cannot be subject to a double-blind procedure, the Kelley School will have another faculty member ensure that the grades are not subject to Professor Rasmusen’s prejudices.

The reaction received applause from many dedicated to navigating respect for First Amendment rights, including those of a prof who is entitled to use the rope it offers to hang himself, and the reasonable institutional concerns that students be insulated from discrimination by a prof who publicly announces his belief in it.

The First Amendment is strong medicine, and works both ways. All of us are free to condemn
views that we find reprehensible, and to do so as vehemently and publicly as Professor Rasmusen expresses his views. We are free to avoid his classes, and demand that the university ensure that he does not, or has not, acted on those views in ways that violate either the federal and state civil rights laws or IU’s nondiscrimination policies. I condemn, in the strongest terms, Professor Rasmusen’s views on race, gender, and sexuality, and I think others should condemn them. But my strong disagreement with his views—indeed, the fact that I find them loathsome—is not a reason for Indiana University to violate the Constitution of the United States.

Problem solved? Not entirely, as Josh Blackman points out at Volokh Conspiracy. While IU didn’t fire Rasmusen, it took adverse employment action against him for speech that occurred outside his employment on a subject of public concern

Here, Rasmusen spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern. In response, IU took adverse employment actions against him–reassignment of roles and heightened scrutiny. The University likely concluded that it had an “adequate justification” to punish Rasmusen. Why? Rasmusen would cause less of a disruption on campus, the thinking goes, if students were not required to take his class. In contrast, I suspect, the University determined that it lacked an “adequate justification” to fire Rasmusen for his social media postings.

But Josh questions whether a Pickering analysis applies, and whether the fixes put in place really fix anything.

There are no allegations (as far as I can tell) that students in Rasmusen’s classes complained about his behavior in the classroom. Furthermore, the fairness of Rasmusen’s grading was never called into question. Rather, the students complained that Rasmusen’s mere presence on campus creates something like a hostile environment.

If his mere presence creates a hostile learning environment, it isn’t cured by allowing students not to take his classes. For Rasmusen’s part, he “fisks” Provost (and former dean of IU law school) Lauren Robel’s characterization of what he “believes,” providing his beliefs in his own words. They are, to be kind, very conservative.

Going a step farther, Brian Leiter questions whether IU administrators had cause to discuss Rasmusen’s views at all.

Her job is not to attack members of her faculty, however stupid or foolish they may be; her job is to uphold the constitutional rights of faculty (which she professes she will do) and insure compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other tasks.

Brian adds in what he thinks should have been Robel’s response (if any).

What should Provost Robel have said in response to the media outcry?   This would have sufficed:   “Professor Eric Rasmussen of the Business School speaks only for himself, not for the University.  The First Amendment protects his speech, whether or not the University or members of the public agree with it.  The University will continue to insure that all faculty comply with anti-discrimination laws in the classroom.”

If Rasmusen’s teaching and grading failed to reflect the prejudice he admittedly harbors, and if he’s entitled to express opinions like any other person, bad as they may be, outside of his employment, is there any fix available given the expectations that his mere presence on the faculty, on campus, will give rise to a hostile educational environment?

11 thoughts on “Fixing Rasmusen: What’s Indiana University To Do With Him?

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    Rasmusen is Sir Tim’s fault. Timmy can’t put R back in the bottle no matter how he wishes otherwise.

    All the best.


      1. Richard G. Kopf

        I think you are on to something. Bill Gates is too rich, so we should tax his ass out of existence.

        All the best.


  2. Appellate Squawk

    Lawyers should take a tip from Academia, at least as represented by Kelley B-School. Instead of calling our adversaries’ statements “unsupported by the evidence,” “based on unwarranted inferences” and similar unnecessary argle-bargle, we should just call them “reprehensible” and “abhorrent” and leave it at that. Think how much paper and breath we’d save!

    1. Kathryn Kase

      One of my favorite argle-bargles from the New York courts is “incredible as a matter of law”, which is applied to the testimony of lying witnesses, often police officers who the courts decline to name.

  3. B. McLeod

    The provost’s comments significantly mischaracterized Rasmusen’s alleged “views.” If his “views” were really inherently “abhorrent,” that should be apparent to everyone without any need to misinterpret them to extremes.

  4. KP

    In the 1960s MAD magazine had a one-pager that showed Americans driving more, walking nowhere, and eating more and more. The last panel showed skinny ‘Easterners’ invading and pushing over the skittle people who wore stars and stripes…
    The values reflected in the argument above were a non-issue back then, but the snowflakes exposed now are certainly bringing MAD’s comic to life!

    In parallel, there is a Prof in Australia calling for “more security forces” as there will be terrorists setting fire to forests instead of setting off bombs… I must be taking the wrong colour pills, I’m sure my reality is completely detached from these people!

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