Ahhhh....the young....so idealistic and ignorant of public relations!
I might get grief for this, but...(1) Purdue University was absolutely right not to bow to student demands for the termination of professor Bert Chapman, and (2) the students, though well-intentioned, "chose poorly."
Calls for Chapman's ouster came after he posted comments about the alleged economic costs of homosexuality on his conservative blog.
The First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Too many Americans who haven't actually read the passage think "the First amendment" means speech without consequences. It doesn't.
The focus is on government stiffling free speech, not private individuals (or even groups of students). This is why I said "knock yourself out" when a bunch of good old boys with belt buckles bearing their names crushed Dixie Chick CDs with a steamroller. I said the same thing when people protested Don Imus and Lou Dobbs, as well as when conservatives boycotted the Teletubbies because one carried a purse and had a triangle on his head. (As an aside, did anyone else find it amusing that conservatives branded Tinky Winky gay while somehow missing that two of the other Teletubbies have phalluses coming out of their heads?)
Individuals and groups can protest, and they can boycott. But when they start trying to force government entities like public universities to take sides on a moral debate, they've crossed the line. In addition, if freedom of expression deserves extra protection anywhere, isn't it on a college campus, the alleged bastion of academic freedom?
Too many people in my party try to stifle dissenting views they find deplorable. We must ask more from ourselves, or we'll get trapped in the same yoke when the political tide turns. Remember the plea from The American President?
"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center-stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."
Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but I get nervous when people try to stop others from raising questions, and that's what's transpired here.
I read Chapman's piece because I didn't want to be one of those folks who criticize without first-hand knowledge. Chapman asks, in an admittedly semi-demagogic and only semi-scholarly way what we could have achieved healthwise had we not spent billions on AIDS funding.
While I say, given how the federal government's tragic inaction in the early 1980's permitted the proliferation of HIV, sums spent thereafter were necessary, isn't the most fundamental question a citizen gets to ask his government, "What was the next best alternative for the dollars you spent?"
Chapman's piece is undoubtedly anti-gay, as it classifies homosexuality as "aberrant." But it does something else that is not customary in gay-bashing screeds - it classifies all sex out of heterosexual marriage as aberrant and costly to society.
This is noteworthy because many Republicans/conservatives tend to draw the lines of acceptable conduct right at the ledge where they stand, which is why a staggering number condemn homosexuality while also being serial adulterers. Chapman seems intent not to let them off the hook, and if he cannot ask his questions on a private blog without fear of the governmental hand slapping him down, where can he?
Now, do I think Chapman's comments are wrong? Yes. But this is precisely why I do not fear their injection into public discourse. If Chapman's views are off-base, they will not take hold, we'll win on the merits, and Chapmans of the world fade into obscurity.
That didn't happen here.
My hope is that one day the self-aggrandizing who are so eager to lead protests will realize that the main byproduct of their actions is nothing but heightened publicity for the ill-formed view and its purveyor. I promise you, Chapman is now a political martyr for the right and his blog traffic has gone up 1,000 fold.
Maybe it's the students who needed to be shut up.