A tenured professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business is under fire for disseminating racist, sexist, and homophobic views through social media, prompting widespread calls for his firing. The university, however, says his views are protected by the First Amendment — but they are taking steps to isolate the incident and the professor, and officially reject his statements.
Eric Rasmusen, 60, a professor of business economics and public policy at the Kelley School, ignited a firestorm of criticism from students, school officials, and others earlier this month when he tweeted an article titled “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.” Rasmusen highlighted a line from the article positing that “geniuses are overwhelmingly male because they combine outlier high IQ with moderately low Agreeableness and moderately low Conscientiousness.” The tweet was only the latest in a long line of statements by Rasmusen that go beyond controversial and enter the realm of repugnant, according to a statement issued to the Kelley School of Business community on Nov. 20 by Lauren Robel, IU executive vice president and provost, and a statement from Kelley Dean Idie Kesner.
In her statement, Robel notes that Rasmusen is no stranger to “pernicious and false stereotypes,” pointing out that he “believes that women do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia, and that he believes most women would prefer to have a boss than be one,” and that he “has used slurs in his posts about women.” Additionally, Rasmussen believes “that gay men should not be permitted in academia either, because he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students,” and that “black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions, and are generally inferior academically to white students.” She wrote that labeling Rasmusen’s views racist, sexist, and homophobic is “not a close call, nor do his posts require careful parsing to reach these conclusions.”
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“Ordinarily,” Robel writes, “I would not dignify these bigoted statements with repetition, but we need to confront exactly what we are dealing with in Professor Rasmusen’s posts. His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st. Sometimes Professor Rasmusen explains his views as animated by his Christian faith, although Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs; indeed, he counseled avoiding judgments. Rhetorically speaking, Professor Rasmusen has demonstrated no difficulty in casting the first, or the lethal, stone.”
Rasmusen’s controversial tweet about women destroying academia drew hundreds of replies this month, including a viral response from Hoosier alumna Maggie Hopkins, as documented in the Indianapolis Business Journal: “This article suggests there should be far fewer women at universities,” wrote Hopkins, who said she had served with Rasmusen on the Indiana University Bloomington Faculty Council. “I am deeply offended by this tweet, and my ability to feel that offense does not diminish my intellect.” Rasmusen responded by saying Hopkins’ response was “anti-intellectual.”
Students have not been silent about Rasmusen’s racism and sexism. One Kelley School club, Women in Business at IU, raised more than $7,000 through the sale of hoodies emblazoned with the words “FEMALE GENIUS” on the front and “SUPPORT WOMEN IN ACADEMIA” on the back. The funds were donated to Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization that “equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and look toward a future where girls and women are empowered and part of an equitable society.”
Kelley Dean Kesner also made clear that the school’s leadership is united “in condemning the bias and disrespect displayed by this professor; we find his sexist, racist, and homophobic views abhorrent. As a female academic, dean of the school, and a Kelley alumnus who cares deeply about our school,” wrote Kesner, “I find the remarks and the beliefs presented in the papers cited and tweets by this professor reprehensible.”
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Rasmussen has fired back on his own website, referring to the controversy as a “2019 kerfuffle in which the Woke crowd discovered my Twitter tweets, retweets, and such like and got very excited, and my Dean and Provost immediately overreacted,” wrote the professor who describes himself as “proudly conservative.” Rasmussen notes that his Twitter followers have risen from less than 400 to 833 from November 18th to 21st.
“I don’t judge my students on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, or race, whether it’s to their detriment— or to their benefit,” he claims. “Isn’t the one as illegal as the other? And of course if I do grade students or evaluate colleagues unfairly, I ought to be punished. One thing we can all agree on is that professors should be fair.”
Robel says IU will not fire Rasmusen for the statements he makes as a private citizen, “as vile and stupid as they are.” But the university is taking steps to ensure that students “not add the baggage of bigotry to their learning experience” — among them that no student will be forced to take one of Rasmusen’s classes, with the Kelley School offering alternatives, and students who do take his classes will have their assignments graded in a double-blind procedure to ensure fairness. “If there are components of grading that cannot be subject to a double-blind procedure, the Kelley School will have another faculty member ensure that the grades are not subject to Professor Rasmusen’s prejudices,” Robel writes.
“If other steps are needed to protect our students or colleagues from bigoted actions, Indiana University will take them,” she adds.
“The First Amendment is strong medicine, and works both ways. All of us are free to condemn views that we find reprehensible, and to do so as vehemently and publicly as Professor Rasmusen expresses his views. We are free to avoid his classes, and demand that the university ensure that he does not, or has not, acted on those views in ways that violate either the federal and state civil rights laws or IU’s nondiscrimination policies. I condemn, in the strongest terms, Professor Rasmusen’s views on race, gender, and sexuality, and I think others should condemn them. But my strong disagreement with his views—indeed, the fact that I find them loathsome—is not a reason for Indiana University to violate the Constitution of the United States.
“This is a lesson, unfortunately, that all of us need to take seriously, even as we support our colleagues and classmates in their perfectly reasonable anger and disgust that someone who is a professor at an elite institution would hold, and publicly proclaim, views that our country, and our university, have long rejected as wrong and immoral.”