Come, let us reason together....

There seems to be an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease among those who “profess” to champion tolerance these days.  Most recently, according to Newser, Ellen Lewin, a “professor” of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa, responded to a university-wide invitation to an event from College Republicans, a campus organization, with a “reply-to-all” message that read:


We had thought that someone whose “profession” centered on teaching young people the value of respecting different points of view might have considered a more measured response.  But we do admire her brevity.   She leaves no doubt about her position on the matter, or the prospect of her respecting the other side’s argument.

Alas, Professor Lewin’s  subsequent apology for this lapse failed to offer any relief, as she fell again victim to the hysteria that promoted the original comment:

“I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities.”

“Delicate sensibilities?”  Sounds remarkably similar to the kind of jeering condescension generally employed by the homophobic crowd,  doesn’t it?  The only thing missing is “man up.”  But there’s more to come.  Fifteen minutes after this ramp-up, she delivered a final e-blast:

“I should note that several things in the original message were extremely offensive, nearly rising to the level of obscenity.  Despite the Republicans’ general disdain for LGBT rights you called your upcoming event “conservative coming out day,” appropriating the language of the LGBT right movement.   Your reference to the Wisconsin protests suggested that they were frivolous attempts to avoid work.  And the “Animal Rights BBQ” is extremely insensitive to those who consider animal rights an important cause.  Then, in the email that Ms. Ginty sent complaining about my language, she referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted.  I do apologize for my intemperate language, but the message you all sent out was extremely disturbing and offensive.”

We began to suspect a hoax — a brilliant send-up.  We could not write such a near-perfect Swiftian satire; this was in our experience unsurpassed.  “Appropriating the language…” — asserting that that language can belong only to one group is very funny already, but the the accusation that lampooning animal rights is “insensitive” after yelling “f**k you” at everyone displays a level of comic genius usually not found in the social sciences.   And finally, the immediate transition to a parody of a schoolmarm scold (“she referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted.) has so many high points it provides an arpeggio worthy of a Mozart.  The finale of this sentence, in which the professor derogates her students to the role of children addressing “adults,” is really kind of a Republican thing to do, isn’t it?  The delicious irony:  to wrap herself in a cloak of dignity after bleating obscenities across the campus email spectrum!  Bravissima, bravissima, maxima bravissima!

But no.  It’s not a joke.  It is real.  What we witness here is the spectacle of a closed mind displaying its ignorance, blind bias and naked anger for all to see.

Still, it’s not a total loss — in fact, we find great value here.  Let us hope that the University of Iowa is not unique in this wealth — that all of our colleges and universities have at least one Professor Lewin — someone who will make a complete horse’s ass of of themselves, to better educate our students on the hypocrisy that often lies just beneath the surface of self-righteousness.  And in recognition of Professor Lewin’s selfless sacrifice of her dignity, her credibility and, with any luck, her job, we anoint her today’s Stupe du Jour.