URI’s Unsafe Intellectual Environment

Although it has attracted international attention, the University of Rhode Island’s entry into the trans-wars has not made much of a splash in Rhode Island, yet.  Nonetheless, as a graduate, I felt obligated to let College of Arts and Sciences Dean Jeannette Riley know where I stand as an alum, a parent, and a Rhode Islander, and I encourage others to do the same (jen_riley@uri.edu).

Good afternoon, Dean Riley.

As a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a degree in English, as well as the father of four Rhode Island students, three of them still in elementary and secondary school, I was disheartened to observe the difference with which the university has handled statements made by its professors depending on ideology.

In the autumn, History Professor Eric Loomis expressed the view that “the police is shot through with fascists from stem to stern,” and that he has no moral qualms about “kill[ing] a fascist,” whether police or private citizens. As an academic with a background in English, you’ll easily spot the ridiculous ambiguity of the passive voice in the following: “The University strongly condemns statements or actions that may be perceived as encouraging or condoning violence or harm to others.”

There was no “may” involved. Professor Loomis explicitly condoned violence. Naturally, your press release proceeded immediately to the big “however” that absolved you of the responsibility to make “strong condemnation” mean anything more than an ambiguous press release.

By contrast, the university’s more-recent statement concerning a well-articulated essay by Professor Donna Hughes — which cut across, rather than with, the grain of the all-but-homogeneous dogma of academia — contained no ambiguity. Your release specifically articulated a position contradicting her own and reaffirmed your activism against her point of view. Moreover, the university made sure to offer a dark warning about the limits on “a faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights.” In the terms of the university’s statement, those rights “are not boundless.”

The notion that Professor Hughes’s lengthy essay did not “exercise critical self-discipline and judgment” or “appropriate restraint,” as the statement implies, is laughable on its face and profoundly disturbing in what it suggests about URI’s intellectual standards.

Reviewing the two official statements that I’ve described above, the clear impression is that the university does not believe Professor Loomis’s tweet-level justification of murder based on others’ points of view approached the non-boundless limits of academic freedom. Meanwhile, the university does believe Professor Hughes skirted the acceptable line with her well-considered opinion that an ideological movement is harming children. (Imagine that she’s right and is bullied into keeping her qualms to herself! What a dreadful light that would cast upon an institution that participated in the bullying.)

Inasmuch as my own views cut across the grain of academic dogma, I suspect you will devalue my status as a graduate of the university, even my status as a human being. Nonetheless, I think it is important that you, as an administrator, know the effect of the institution’s posture on at least some of the residents of this state.

Even during my time at URI, some two decades ago, it was already clear that, while they would tolerate us and might even enjoy sparring with us from time to time, a growing number of faculty members did not consider the university really to be *for* those who came to different conclusions on social and political matters. At this point, given the radical turn one may readily observe, I cannot say I’d be confident in the safety and well-being of either my male or female children should they attend the alma mater of both of their parents.

This is a grievous state of affairs, and an organization that took seriously its responsibility to represent the community in whose name it is incorporated as a public institution would take clear and conspicuous action to understand how it has come to that state and to figure out what it can do to repair it. A full and fair handling not of the controversy of what Professor Hughes wrote, but of the warning she is sounding, would be a good place to start.

Justin Katz, ‘99

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