Alex Blaze

The greatest librarian ever

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 13, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: academic freedom, bert chapman, freedom of speech, indiana, purdue university

Over the past few years working here at Bilerico, I've become something of a free speech fundamentalist. A few years ago I was all in favor of "safe spaces," etc., but now it all seems quaint and counterproductive. I guess helping several dozen people who disagree with you express themselves every day will do that to you.

And, as a blogger with a day job, I'm particularly sensitive to cases like this one, where a group of Purdue University students (where my brother as well as plenty of people I know went) who got a petition together to try to get rid of a professor who wrote a virulently homophobic (and patently stupid) screed on townhall.com.

"The most concrete way to protect the university's reputation against academic dishonesty and mediocrity is for him to resign," said Purdue senior Kevin Casimer, who is organizing a petition campaign against the professor.

"However, if Purdue administrators and faculty make a unified statement that (Chapman's writings) are unprofessional and detrimental to Purdue's reputation and not reflective of the university, the same effect might be made."

What we're discussing here isn't exactly free speech. It's more about the right to stupid speech in a job where intelligence is prized, because Chapman's blog post is really, really stupid.

But, then again, it's not a sign of him being stupid on the job.

Chapman's offending article starts:

As a Christian, I agree with the biblical condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle. However, we are living in a nation and world that increasingly rejects biblical norms. To defend traditional sexual morality against the encroaching threat of homosexuality and other aberrant forms of sexual expression, we need to be able to do more than cite Bible verses. Fortunately, there are plenty of economic reasons for being against this lifestyle and I think as conservatives we need to be able to articulate why our nation cannot afford the extremely high financial costs of this lifestyle at a time when we are confronting dangerously high budget deficits, national debt, and personal debt.

That's really all you need to read to know where he's coming from. Later in the article he blames "promotion of homosexuality" in the US, which seems to center around domestic partner benefits some private employers offer, for heterosexual promiscuity in Africa, high taxes, and all prison rape. And he also doesn't seem to realize that people would be gay with or without domestic partnership benefits, but then you could fill a lake with this man's ignorance.

And here's his defense of himself:

"As a conservative Christian, I firmly believe the homosexual lifestyle is morally wrong, and my blog posting sought to emphasize there are economic and public policy implications to widespread and open acceptance of this lifestyle," said Chapman, who blogs as the "conservative librarian" at www.townhall.com.

In other words: "Because I'm a Christian, I can make up facts to support my world view because my ideology is a substitute for logic and reason."

"It is sad we live in a time when truly free and open debate on controversial issues is characterized by such virulence," Chapman said. "As a country, we are in serious trouble if we reach a point when only one side on a public policy issue is allowed to be discussed."

Except it's not a "public policy issue," and Chapman's original blog post could very easily be characterized as "virulence." When you set out to attack an entire class of people, be prepared for them to get mad.

But....

Going for his job is a bad tactic. I understand that there are many students who wouldn't want to be taught by this person, especially the queer students, but if he's not discriminating against students in class or harassing them while on the job (which is entirely possible considering how bonkers his townhall.com rant is, so I suggest students who have this professor pay attention and remain vocal), part of going to college is learning how to put up with these sorts of situations and people.

Several students have written to the school paper asking for the him to resign, but several others are taking the more appropriate "give Chapman shit" route:

A statement by a coalition of West Lafayette rights groups, Pride Lafayette and the Purdue Queer Student Union said it supports free speech.

"Supporting free speech does not mean that there are no consequences for such statements," the statement said. "While it's clear that all individuals have the right to print anything they wish regardless of the lack of value or research, it's also true that statements in print (or in this case online) should be rejected and called out when they damage a segment of the community."

Jennifer McCreight, a Purdue senior from Munster, said on her own blog that Chapman's views are morally bankrupt.[...]

Yvonne Pitts, an openly gay Purdue professor and constitutional expert, told The Exponent campus newspaper that Chapman's blog should not be seen as a threat. "I hate to say it, but you need to protect people like Bert Chapman from a constitutional standpoint," Pitts told the paper.

The article doesn't get much into Chapman's actual work, and maybe he has something intelligent to say on topics that are his expertise. Or maybe not. He doesn't seem to have a strong commitment to academic rigor, but, then again, he's blogging on townhall.com. It's pretty much the exact opposite of a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Update: Oops, I implied in this article that Chapman's a professor at Purdue, which, upon reading the linked material more closely, I see he's not. He's a librarian. I changed the title to reduce confusion.

Update 2: Someone in the comments pointed out that he's both a librarian and a professor of library science. So there we go.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 13, 2009 2:55 PM

Very well done Alex. Just like the ministers he listens to on Sundays he starts from his prejudice and works to find facts to support it.

Purdue is a great place for a homophobe to live, hide, work and even prosper. Considering that virtually all men I knew in library science when I was there were "cast members" I am sure he will be well watched. And yes, free speech is the property of even the idiotic.

As with Alex, I am a big supporter of free speech. A standard caution is that freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from responsibility for that speech. So yes, it is appropriate to hold someone accountable for saying vile and irresponsible things.

But having read Prof. Chapman's article, I don't think anyone needs to be concerned about his thoughts on the economics of homosexuality. They are so poorly thought out as to be an embarrassment to the university, if not to himself.

"As a Christian, I agree with the biblical condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle."

Hmmm, now where have I heard that before?

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 13, 2009 3:50 PM

As a Purdue grad ('61) andfervent believer in the widest possible interpretation of the First Amendment, sometimes to the chagrin of well-meaning folks in the LGBT community who think that the righteousness of our cause justifies a little encroachment from time to time, I second what both Bob and Lynn say.

Let this guy wander freely through the aisles in the free marketplace of ideas unfettered by either Government or public university administration (so long as he makes the proper disclaimers, which apparently he has, concerning his views not representing that of his employer).

He might just get too close to a poorly stacked display of canned pickles, or maybe even fresh fruit.

John Pavelec | November 13, 2009 4:07 PM

I'm a gay man from the East Coast who hates to admit this but Alex is right. This nut job has the right to say what he would like on his own free time. Our compatriots at Purdue should, however, ask the University's administration to distance itself from professor's opinion by committing itself to the freedom, equality, and respect for all people, gay included, even as it upholds his right to speak.

Couple of things,

First, the goal on campus is not to get Professor Chapman fired. The goal is for the Purdue student body and faculty to condemn his remark; including the President.

Second, he is a Professor. Check his Bio Page (where his blog is also linked). http://www.lib.purdue.edu/hsse/facultyandstaff/bibliographers/b_chapman.html


I think that Purdue students should not register for his courses, so that they (and hopefully the prof) will be dropped. Does he teach any required course? If so, it would be intolerable to have LGBT students subjected to his grading.
Just like sexual harassment is unacceptable, I believe that hate speech in this situation should be also because of the unfair burdens that it places upon the students, who are subjected to this person in power. It is an abuse of his authority over them.
Do you think that an "outed" KKK member should be on a faculty, grading blacks and Jews?
Someone so motivated to publish his hate speech on-line is not a casual bigot.
I wonder if there is some "Faculty Code of Conduct" which has been violated, concerning this situation.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 13, 2009 5:17 PM

Drake, I certainly agree with you that if there were demonstrated instances that self-identified LGBT folks were being discriminated against by this professor, it ought to be cause for immediate discipline if not dismissal.

As to your observation "Do you think that an "outed" KKK member should be on a faculty, grading blacks and Jews?", I think the answer given our history and current state of public attitudes, "NO", but whether we like it very much or not, public sentiment equating statements by "Christians" concerning their beliefs simply is not perceived to rise to the same level. Maybe at some time in the future they will be, but not crrently. It may make us feel better to say that, but it doesn't change the realities of public perception at the present time.

I agree with you Alex, but only because Purdue is a public university. If this were a private university, I'd say the students should try to get him fired. The First Amendment is about the government abridging speech; private employers can (and very frequently do) censor the speech of their employees. Historically, that's been used against us (through the firing of LGBT folks), so if Purdue were private and amenable to canning a known homophobe, I'd say "let's do it."

On a lighter note, I'm impressed by the students and their consideration of conflicting interests in this situation. As the son of Ball State and IU grads, I never thought I'd say this but.... Go Boilermakers!!!

i guess i am in the minority but i think he should lose his job. i get the first amendment. i get how idiotic his viewpoint is. but i truly feel that he and his ilk should not be near institutions of higher learning. my career for over 20 years was education. i may be stubborn about certain issues but none so much as being over protective of the students. most of the students will see him for what he is but if just one single student is hurt by his words or by whatever the next vile article that he decides to 'share' then there is a failure of action. the only way to teach these people anything is through pain in the wallet.
regards
peace
steel