I have argued many times on this page that there is a dangerous new rights theory gaining traction in today's college campuses. That theory holds that there exists a freedom (mostly for people in "protected" groups -- women, minorities, etc) from being offended or even being criticized, and that this trumps free speech.
For years I have supported the legality of what is called hate speech -- not because I agreed with it, but because I thought its expression, no matter how contemptible, should be legal. Free speech should have no content tests. I also argued that there was a slippery slope. If making racist remarks is illegal today, perhaps just criticizing a woman or an African American might be illegal tomorrow.
Enter Priya Venkatesan, former English teacher at Dartmouth. Ms. Venkatesan was hired by Dartmouth to teach all kinds of odd (but always trendy) socialist eco-feminist babble. Such courses seem to be a staple of colleges today. I remember a number of such professors at Princeton, but it was no big deal as long as the course were clearly labeled and one could avoid them. After all, if people really were attracted to such drivel, it just left more spots open for the rest of us in classes that actually prepared us for the real world.
The problems began, though, when Ms. Venkatesan's students refused to blindly agree with her (apparently, they did not attend the University of Delaware indoctrination course that explained why you are not allowed to criticize anyone but white males).
The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to
"problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that
most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various
eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She
counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned
my knowledge in very inappropriate ways." Ms. Venkatesan, who is of
South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by
racism, though it is unclear why.
After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came
while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in
part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave
women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so "“ actually,
empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms.
Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought
otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several
of his classmates applauded.
Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior
was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about
"intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the
Litigation, exposure of the names behind anonymous course evaluations, and email threats from Ms. Venkatesan follow. More from Lubos Motl.
Postscript: By the way, it is just astounding to me that anyone with an over-room-temperature IQ could passionately believe that technological progress is bad for women. One might argue that way society is organized still under-utilizes women and/or puts artificial roadblocks up to a woman's progress, but get some perspective!
Pre-modern life for women was horrible. Because of the biological complexities of child-rearing alone, they died young far more often than men and their physical vulnerability caused them to be marginalized in virtually every society of every culture of the world until at least 1750 and really until 1900. The whole women's movement is built on a platform of technology that only begins with the pill and encompasses a thousand things from automobiles to computers that reduce the importance of size and physical strength in getting ahead in the world.