University of Oregon’s draconian free-speech policy

In his column at the Washington Post, Eugene Volokh reports on an incident at the University of Oregon (UO) that was previously covered only by right-wing websites. What happened is that a UO tenured professor of law, Nancy Schurtz, had a Halloween party at her home, and dressed in blackface and a white doctor’s coat—but not out of racism or mockery. She invited several students to her party, and some of them complained about the blackface costume. It also became a topic at the UO Law School, and, based on the complaints, the University commissioned an investigation, which yielded a 29-page report.

In the report, Schurtz explained why she dressed in blackface. She was surprisingly clueless about the implications of wearing blackface in America, and thought she was making a positive statement. This is from the report:

Shurtz explained her costume choice in some detail. She said that she had read the book, Black Man in a White Coat, which she had really enjoyed. When she read the book she felt like she related to the author, found Damon Tweedy to be an amazing man, and enjoyed his writing. Shurtz had also recently attended her daughter’s white coat ceremony as part of her daughter’s first year at medical school. Amongst her daughter’s incoming class, Shurtz had noticed a shortage of students of color, and specifically an almost complete absence of black men. She feels strongly that black men are underrepresented in higher education, and she felt that on Halloween she could be a black man in a white coat in order to represent this topic. She clarified that she did not dress as Damon Tweedy or try to look like him specifically, but that she dressed as the book, or as a black man in a white coat. She stated that she had been thinking about this book and this costume for some time. When asked if she had thought her costume was going to be controversial, Shurtz replied in the negative. She said she had thought to herself that she could represent this black man and she could talk about a black man being a professional, which are issues that are important to her. She said her intention had been to honor Damon Tweedy.

She wasn’t called out at the party, but afterwards was rebuked by a student, and apologized:

To the best of Shurtz’s recollection, there were approximately 13 students in attendance, two alumni with three of their corresponding guests/family members, three faculty members, and four other individuals, for an approximate total of 25 guests. At least two of the students in attendance from the law school community were students of color. Of all the attendees, 24 out of 25 were either directly affiliated with the law school, or were a guest of those affiliates. The interviews unanimously revealed that nobody told Shurtz during the event that her costume was inappropriate, that it was offensive, or that she should consider removing the black makeup. In addition, all those who were interviewed conveyed that Shurtz appeared to have worn the costume in earnest, and that she did not seem to understand the ramifications of her costume. Following the event and that same evening, one student sent Shurtz an email conveying disappointment over the costume, and that the costume choice may have caused offense. The following morning, November 1, 2016, Shurtz responded to this student, and copied both of her class listservs, conveying why she had chosen the costume. Another student spoke with Shurtz in person to impress upon her the fact that her costume was likely to result in repercussions. Shurtz also reached out to two students of color who were in attendance at the event to personally apologize for her costume choice.

The University also noted that at this party Schurtz was not acting as a representative of the University. Nevertheless, the report considered her actions “disruptive to the educational environment”, and even the subsequent discussions at the UO Law School, which took up class time, was considered a form of toxicity and disruptive harassment. Some minority students even said they were trying to leave the University:

. . . Actual impacts that we heard from those interviewed included shock, anger, surprise, anxiety, disappointment, and discomfort with remaining at the event. Given the number of students who were present for the event, the publicity surrounding the incident, the severity of the costume choice and the level of offense, and the significant and ongoing impacts upon both the attendees as well as the student body, it is clear that Shurtz’s costume was substantially disruptive to the educational environment. Outcomes and impacts upon the broader student body have been described at length above, but a summary of such impacts includes outright hostility and division between the students, the environment being described by some as “toxic,” class time being spent on discussing the event and the students’ reactions, the open forum, minority students feeling that they have become burdened with educating other students about racial issues and racial sensitivity, students using other offensive racially-based terminology during class times in the context of discussing this event and broader racial issues, feelings of anxiety and mistrust towards other professors beyond just Shurtz, students now avoiding spending time on campus as a result, and some students who are attempting to transfer to a different law school.

And so the University of Oregon found Schurtz guilty of “discriminatory harassment” and suspended her. Here are the report’s conclusions.

VII. CONCLUSION

Based on the interviews conducted and our review and analysis of the information obtained during this investigation, we conclude:

1. That Nancy Shurtz’s wearing of the costume at the stated event constitutes a violation of the University’s policies against discrimination. We further find that the actions constitute Discriminatory Harassment under those policies.

2. That the actual disruption and harm to the University resulting from Nancy Shurtz’s wearing of the costume at the stated event are significant enough to outweigh Nancy Shurtz’s interests in academic freedom and free speech.

Respectfully Submitted,
Edwin A. Harnden
Shayda Z. Le
Barran Liebman LLP

Should Schurtz have worn the blackface costume? Surely it was a very unwise decision, as almost anyone over the age of 10 knows the racial connotations of wearing blackface. But remember that it was done out of an antiracist sentiment.

Should Schurtz have been suspended or discipline? I don’t think so, for her actions were those of a private individual in her private home, and not acting in the capacity of a University professor. Perhaps she should have been subject to a conversation with the administration, informing her that this wasn’t a good thing to do for the sake of the students, but dismissing her is a violation of free speech (and yes, wearing blackface, odious as it is, constitutes free speech if it’s not done in the workplace with the effect of creating a hostile climate).

But there are wider implications for free speech at the University, as Volokh points out. Blackface seems like a cut-and-dried case because of its history of association with racism, but there are other potentially “offensive” matters that Volokh brings up:

Let’s take religion. Say a professor posts something on his blog containing the Mohammad cartoons (as I have done myself); or say that he displays them at a debate or panel that he is participating on; and say that he has invited students in the past to read the blog or to attend the panel. Then some Muslim students, both ones who are at the event and those who just hear about it, get upset. His colleagues and the administration decide to discuss the matter in detail, which fans the flames — something that could happen with the cartoons as easily as it can with Shurtz’s makeup. Under the logic of the Oregon report, such a post would equally be punishable “harassment.”

And, of course, this would be even clearer as to deliberate negative commentary on a particular group:

  • Sharp criticism of Islam.
  • Claims that homosexuality is immoral.
  • Claims that there are biological differences in aptitude and temperament, on average, between men and women.
  • Rejection of the view that gender identity can be defined by self-perception, as opposed to biology.
  • Harsh condemnation of soldiering (that would be harassment based on “service in the uniformed services” or “veteran status”).
  • Condemnation of people who have children out of wedlock (that would be harassment based on “marital … status” and “family status”).

The University’s report also said this:  “The University does not take issue with the subject matter of Shurtz’s expression, or her viewpoints, but the freedoms under this policy end where prohibited discrimination and/or discriminatory harassment begin.” Volokh responds: “Actually, to be honest, the university does “take issue with the subject matter of Shurtz’s expression, or her viewpoints,” and concludes that the offensiveness of that subject matter and viewpoints makes it “harassment” and strips it of protection.”

Blackface is odious, but its racist connotations have to be seen as somewhat mitigated in this case, and even if they weren’t, it’s clearly protected by the First Amendment. What’s more worrying is that the U of O has seen fit to punish a professor and suppress her speech when it constitutes “disruption” (seen as discriminatory harassment), although much of that disruption came about in subsequent discussion in the Law School—discussion in which Schurtz did not participate.

The greater danger, which I think is more than speculative, is that other forms of “disruption”, as given in Volokh’s list above, will also be punished and hence banned, and then we’re on the way to a complete elimination of free speech—unless that speech doesn’t offend anyone. But that upends the whole purpose of the First Amendment.

94 Comments

  1. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The astonishing thing is that nobody said anything to Shurtz at the party. The first person through the door should have taken her aside and told her “Remove that makeup now if you want to keep your job.”

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I agree. It surely could have been kindly explained to her that it was completely inappropriate. I’ve got to say I’m shocked though that a professor was unaware of this.

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I assumed immediately that she was not American. She must have grown up in some small village in the Alps, or in some Soviet satellite state in Eastern Europe, no?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          I wondered about that as well, but I can’t think of any majority-white country where the people wouldn’t be aware of this. Maybe in one of those isolated US towns where people of colour are only on TV.

          • Carl
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            It seems most likely to me that her intentions were good and noble as she explained, she was not unaware of racist implications of blackface, but never imagined people would take it in a way completely unintended by her.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            Her CV is here. Her educational credits date back to the 1960s and include Ohio State, Harvard, Norte Dame, and Georgetown. How she managed to remain so clueless with that background is a mystery.

            • Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

              Yes, with that CV it is hard to argue that she just fell off the turnip truck.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Friends don’t let friends where blackface …

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Friends also don’t let friends get away with “wear/where” mistakes.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          Friends hate that spellcheck doesn’t pick up these kinds of errors.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

          I thought the sentence was truncated and would continue “Frends don’t let friends where blackface is worn” or something like this.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          Fingers don’t go ware brain does. 🙂

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        My first thought too – didn’t any of her friends think to tell her not to do that?

  2. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The university’s position is absurd for reasons too numerous to list, but how awful that a law school should have a real example of free speech to discuss because it detracts from class time.

    Also, does a one time event not purposefully directed at a particular individual or group really constitute harassment? And does the modifier discriminatory actually make such harassment worse? UO, discuss.

    • BJ
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      These schools and the current government’s department of education have successfully redefined harassment as “anything that offends students from certain groups that we feel need their feelings protected at all costs.” Slightly negative feelings are now harassment, and words are now “violence.”

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Isn’t harassment an ongoing situation? This professor made a big mistake once, in her own home, and explained it. Everyone appears to accept that her reasons, while naïve, were genuine. The school’s position is outrageous imo, and surely unconstitutional.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Yep. The school is way out of line on this one.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        I’ve noticed a trend among people as of late. There seems to be a real desire for vengeance. If someone makes a mistake or offends a person, offended person goes out for blood. It’s not enough that the person recognizes their mistake, they want that person ruined.

        I’ve seen this trend in organizations like universities and in business relationships. It’s worrying and perhaps the downside of empathy – the Schadenfreude side.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I agree. It exposes a rather nasty, petulant, childish streak in many. Like they’ve never got past the toddler stage in emotional growth or perhaps it’s just a huge sense of entitlement. Either way, it’s something we could do without.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 31, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

            It’s funny you say that they are childish as I had described some people that way as well. I had said they were “emotionally stunted”. 🙂

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Just addressing one aspect of this event. How the Institution comes up with the crime of discriminatory Harassment is very creative and confusing. The schools own definition of this crime hardly makes sense because at the time of the event, no one said anything.

    So now, after the fact, when investigations take place, we raise our hand and say, Now that I have knowledge of this, I am offended. Really? Is that the way we understand any type of harassment? You can be harassed and not even know it until someone tells you at a later date and you were not even there when the harassment took place.

    And on top of the fact that this harassment took place in a private home and you went there voluntarily of your own decision. And you stayed, maybe even enjoyed yourself and you said nothing.

    I swear, I must be getting this discriminatory harassment every day, I am just waiting for someone to come along and tell me about it. Maybe I should go to Oregon.

    • Dragon
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Well said.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        +1. Yes, well said.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      “Now that I have knowledge of this, I am offended.”

      Isn’t that what we’re doing here? Now that Jerry has brought this case to our attention, we’re all eager to pile on and say how outraged we are by the University’s behavior.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Of course it is but is Jerry or any of us being suspended? We are simply having a discussion about a really stupid school policy. It is called free speech.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        I don’t think it is quite the same. Being outraged by an injustice someone has suffered is different from discovering you were harassed by reading about it. It’s about consequences imo. The professor did a stupid thing, but the punishment far outweighs the crime.

        It also sets a really bad precedent. Now, someone can lose their job for making a mistake in the privacy of their own home that no one tells them at the time they’re even making. No one was upset enough to tell her she’d screwed up, let alone felt offended enough to leave the situation. That’s surely not a way someone should lose their livelihood and career.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          “No one was upset enough to tell her she’d screwed up”

          Well, one of the students did email her immediately on leaving the party.

          I agree that this should not be a career-ending error. But free speech cuts both ways. Students are as entitled to express their disappointment with Schurtz as we are to express ours with the University.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

            Sure they are entitled to express their disappointment with Schurtz, who said they were not. And this would not even be a discussion if that was it. Please get real. This person was suspended. The school did this 26 page inquisition to find out just how many would be offended if we could just tell them about the event. Do you not see something crazy about this?

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              “And this would not even be a discussion if that was it.”

              The evidence suggests you’re wrong about that. If the students had demanded Schurtz’s dismissal, and the University had refused, my guess is that Jerry still would have posted the story, and it still would have drawn dozens of sharply critical comments.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                If you have a shred of evidence, let’s see it. You say if and then you say refused and then you say my guess. Man, you got the evidence alright. Please do better. What your seem to be is a constant argument with just about nothing to say.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

                The evidence is Jerry’s history of posts on the subject of free speech on campus, which I assume you’re familiar with.

                My point is simply that there’s an excess of belligerence, and a shortage of charity, on both sides of this issue. Make of that what you will.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                I was mistaken…endless argument.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, they are – totally with you there. This was very badly handled all ’round, and it’s making the clean-up and how we express our opinions difficult too.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Definitely no. Criticizing the school’s behavior in this matter is qualitatively different from the school’s behavior in this matter.

    • bluemaas
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I concur, Randall.
      re this specific matter.

      Two actual crimes at when I can acknowledge,
      however, the Offended right then and thereafter,
      let alone any time later on even,
      never speaking up at all or coming forward about
      are rape and attempted rape.

      Blue

  4. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    By the way, Jerry, it might be me, but I don’t follow the intended meaning of the last sentence in the post.

  5. Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Incredibly poor judgment, but discriminatory harassment?

    U of O is a state-funded institution. Possible First Amendment case, I think.

  6. Tom
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    It still seems that many people in your Universities are determined not to use argument but censorship, which will suit their opponents on the Right to whom censorship comes naturally.
    Imagine the wonderful oppportunities the Right will be given to censor the teaching of Evolution, Climate Change Family Planning or anything else they may find “offensive”

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      We could just change the name to the United States of Hypocrisy? This way, everyone gets to play.

      • phoffman56
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Also, everyone there then gets to refer to themselves as Hypocritans or Hypocricians (not as Hypocrites presumably), and to shorten the awkwardly long name of their country to just Hypocrisy. At least the latter wouldn’t reveal geographical ignorance nor smack of the Monroe Doctrine!

    • Sshort
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Precisely. Instead of standing up for principal, the universities are laying down policy.

      The perpetually offended regressive left is unwittingly creating tools for their own future oppression.

      Very near future, I fear.

  7. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The greater danger, which I think is more than speculative, is that other forms of “disruption”, as given in Volokh’s list above, will also be punished and hence banned…

    And everybody thought Big Brother in 1984 was just a story… Admittedly the world is running about 30 years late and instead of one Big Brother there are lots of Little Brothers all conspiring together, stamping out thoughtcrime (whether it exists or not).

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      “And everybody thought Big Brother in 1984 was just a story… Admittedly the world is running about 30 years late…”

      I think it’s safe to say that almost nobody thought that Big Brother in 1984 was “just a story.” Read up a little on the Soviet Union.

      • Jay
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        And it was written at a time when the left was gaga over the Soviet Union, the crimes of Stalin were either denied or trivialized by famous lefties here such as Robeson and Seeger
        .
        The term politically correct originated with the observation that a statement in the USSR could be factually incorrect, but politically correct.

        • Carl
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          And it [Orwell’s 1984] was written at a time when the left was gaga over the Soviet Union, the crimes of Stalin were either denied or trivialized by famous lefties here such as Robeson and Seeger

          Quite true, and shameful. But some liberals (when that term had more relevance) were eloquent in their denunciations of Stalinism. Bertrand Russell and F.A. Hayek come to mind.

          • John Nunes
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

            Read about Walter Duranty for more head-in-the-sand views about Stalinism.

            It took Seeger decades to finally admit that Stalin was much, much worse than a “hard driver”.

  8. dd
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Why isn’t the ACLU or another organization bringing 1st Amendment cases against these institutions?

  9. eric
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    “…it is clear that Shurtz’s costume was substantially disruptive to the educational environment. Outcomes and impacts upon the broader student body have been described at length above, but a summary of such impacts includes outright hostility and division between the students, the environment being described by some as “toxic,” class time being spent on discussing the event and the students’ reactions…”

    So, just to be clear, UO is saying that discussing her costume, its social impcilations, and the students reactions to it, is a disruption of University learning.

    And here I thought discussing controversial topics was (one of several) things people went to University to do.

    It was a terribly offensive costume choice. And its really hard to believe that someone her age was naive about the social implications of blackface. But the aftermath is a teachable moment. UO’s response seems to be “no teachable moments here!”

    • Jbaldwin
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s a lesson in authoritarianism.

  10. Christopher
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    How soon before being an Offended Liberal is a degree program?

    I miss the good ol’ days, when it was just the conservatives trying to control what we read, watched, wore, said, did, and thought.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      How soon? It already is. It’s called ‘social studies’ or similar.

  11. Historian
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    The action of a clueless law professor has created a brouhaha on campus and perhaps she will lose her job. The blame for the ruckus falls on the college administration. First, it did not have the sense to simply counsel the professor about the foolishness of her act and tell students that the problem has been resolved. Instead, it created a committee to write a long report and thus create an official university policy, which has planted the seeds for future problems. Second, I think that the administration’s commitment to free speech is not its highest priority, despite claims to the contrary. Instead, it is most interested in maintaining campus peace, no matter what the cost. Thus, the professor was sacrificed to this end. As an ardent liberal, I find such actions spineless and politically they are fodder for the right wing.

    There has been a related campus story in the news this week. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison an instructor in the African Studies Department is teaching a course called “The Problem of Whiteness.” The Washington Post says this: “The course explores ‘how race is experienced by white people.’ But it also looks at how white people ‘consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism.’ The university has stated that the course is not intended to single out any ethnic group. This, of course, is total nonsense. This course has drawn the attention of some right wingers, who have severely criticized it. The course is an elective, so I’m not saying it shouldn’t be offered. But, can you imagine what would ensure if a white person wanted to teach a course called “The Problem of Blackness?” Riots would likely ensue.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/12/28/a-professor-wants-to-teach-the-problems-of-whiteness-a-lawmaker-calls-the-class-garbage/?utm_term=.5f950d2d5a37

    The course description can be found here:

    http://african.wisc.edu/content/problem-whiteness

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      The double standard is an example of what happens when one punches up versus punches down. I personally think this sounds like a fine course to explore these important issues, and to educate the majority about the experiences of being a minority.

      But the title of the course could be less punchy.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        From the little bit related by Historian, I agree with you on all points.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I agree with Mark, and don’t have a problem with the course.

      I agree wholeheartedly with Historian’s first paragraph though. An excellent summary – I wish I’d written something that good myself.

      • Historian
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        As I stated, I do not object to a course entitled “The Problem of Whiteness” being taught, despite the provocative title. But, I do wonder how many college administrations would support a white professor teaching a course called “The Problem of Blackness,” particularly in the face of likely mass student protests. I suspect the professor teaching that course would end up in deep trouble, even if the material taught was in actuality devoted to condemning racism. From what we’ve seem, many, if not most, college administrations would cancel the course in a flash or at minimum have its title changed.

        Regarding Professor Shurtz, it appears she is fighting back. She has hired legal counsel and the school may end up paying millions in legal fees and compensation to the professor. The article that contains this information also has posted a picture of the professor in blackface. Clueless, indeed!

        registerguard.com/rg/news/local/35115140-75/professor-who-wore-blackface-pushes-back-against-university-of-oregon-actions.html.csp

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          She’s clueless to have let that happen. I do think there’s a difference between punching up and punching down though. Therefore I think a Problem with Blackness course is problematic in a way that the opposite isn’t – that was the bit I was agreeing with. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but until racism becomes a thing of the past it is.

          • Paul
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            Who decides what’s punching up and what’s punching down?

            Will there be a central committee offering the current hierarchy of groups? Will the hierarchy vary according to place and date?

            • Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

              The problem with the idea is that the punching is still punching.

          • BJ
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            The “punching up versus punching down” idea is a problem for so many reasons. First, and most importantly, it puts the entirety of certain groups, values, and ideologies entirely off limits for any kind of comedy, mockery, or even criticism.

            Second, and just as important, is that (as has already been alluded to) someone or a group of someones has to decide what is up and down. The vast majority of the people who espouse this idea think that Islam is on the down side of things.

            Maybe Trump’s election will finally teach people that putting things beyond criticism and mockery when you’re in power is a bad idea because, at some point, the other side will take power and suddenly down will be up and vice versa. The safest and most enlightened thing is to do away with such restrictions entirely.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

              I was only talking about it in relation to an academic course. In other situations, such as those that relate to freedom of speech, I agree with you entirely. It is a wrong way to look at things for the reasons you outline, and more.

              • BJ
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                Ah, I see.

                Then again, isn’t it a problem when it comes to courses for the exact same reasons?

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                Not imo, but I can certainly see why others would think differently.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

              “a group of someones has to decide what is up and down.”

              Kinda hard to tell which way is up when you’ve got your head up your arse…

              😉

              cr

              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:27 am | Permalink

                😀

              • BJ
                Posted December 30, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                “Hmmm…..If I go up, it will lead me into the intestine, and if I go down, it will lead me to freedom. ….Well, better keep going up!”

  12. Rob
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    This is what is meant by “the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law”. The university seems ignorant of this long understood principle.

    In general, I am not in favor of firing someone for the occasional stupid or unwise things they say or do. (Who would not be guilty?) Better to make it a “live and learn”, “learn from your mistakes”, a “teaching opportunity”, etc.

  13. Filippo
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    “Sharp criticism of Islam . . .
    Claims that homosexuality is immoral.”

    Gets me to wondering if any Muslim professor at Oregon or other U.S. universities have publicly advocated the Islamic position on homosexuality.

  14. Carl
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    There was one thing in this article that surprised me. “Harsh condemnation of soldiering” is now a speech crime. Amusing – veterans are now a coddled group.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      In the future, everyone will get 15 minutes of victimhood.

  15. Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Muslims are allowed to ridicule and condemn homosexuality. In fact, if they mention Israel or Palestine while doing it, the LGBTQ groups will join right in with them.

  16. Sshort
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    And as long as we are expanding the universe of harrasment, why not charge and harass every single party goer that stayed at the event for not saying anything till after the fact?

    Is that not tacit acceptance? Are they complicit in celebrating her insensitivity?

    When we find out some right-wing politician once spoke at a klan rally or attended a white supremecist event, however lightly concealed, may we not question their motives and character?

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Two points:

    1. It takes industrial-strength cluelessness for someone to make it onto a law-school faculty yet remain ignorant of the implications of blackface;

    2. Cluelessness ought not be a hanging offense. It merited a talking-to or maybe a reprimand for mopery. But nothing about this situation involved “harassment”; to treat it as though it did took a minor contretemps and blew it up into a cause célèbre. By so doing, the university has encouraged future expressions of outrage, both by the acutely sensitive and by malingerers feigning offense for their own purposes.

  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Billy Crystal and Mohammed Ali were good friends and Ali really enjoyed Crystal’s blackface impressions of him in which Crystal played a hypothetical Ali now converted to Judaism. (These were on HBO, not Saturday Night Live, though Crystal did do blackface impressions of Sammy Davis Jr, there also in blackface.)

    Ali’s family even asked Crystal to do the impression at his funeral, though I suspect that on that occasion Crystal nixed the blackface.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      It would be hard to imagine this happening now without a huge negative reaction. And it could never be done in a comedy show on a college campus.
      The natural evolution of this trend will be that many other parts of our shared culture and means of entertainment will be banned. Hairspray will be banned b/c it shows white kids emulating black styles of dancing. Vanilla Ice will be run outta town.

  19. barn owl
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Shurtz had also recently attended her daughter’s white coat ceremony as part of her daughter’s first year at medical school. Amongst her daughter’s incoming class, Shurtz had noticed a shortage of students of color, and specifically an almost complete absence of black men. She feels strongly that black men are underrepresented in higher education, and she felt that on Halloween she could be a black man in a white coat in order to represent this topic.

    I don’t know where her daughter is attending medical school, but this seems really strange to me. Wonder if she’s at OHSU up in Portland? If so, it’s very disappointing that there’s still such a lack of diversity. It can be a difficult problem, I guess, if there’s only one medical school in the state, and the state as a whole does not have a diverse population – but then they could attempt to balance the medical school classes with their out-of-state students.

    IMHO it appears to be a combination of projection and rationalization/backpeddling, for Shurtz to claim that her Halloween costume “represented” the topic of underrepresentation of black men in higher education. I’ve not read anything indicating that Shurtz has spent any time investigating enrollment of students of color in US medical schools (for example), so her explanation seems specious to me. FWIW I’m faculty at a medical school that’s a minority-serving institution.

  20. Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Frankly, I don’t see what the university has to do (euphemism…) with Schurtz’s costume in a private party at her home. Free speech is free speech. Chomsky stood up for a professor here in Lyon who denied the existence of the Dachau gas chambers (which certainly existed) and caught much flack for that. In France, free speech exists also — unless you deny the Shoah or the Armenian genocide. That is NOT what I call free speech.

    • Carl
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      I agree, the French approach here is misguided. Let the deniers identify themselves by speaking out, and don’t encourage the wingnuts in their coverup conspiracy theories.

  21. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Jesus Christ on a bicycle! It was a private party, FFS. Nobody at the party felt offended enough to leave or even say anything, let alone feel ‘unsafe’. Her feelings towards blacks were well-intentioned, not malicious.

    How many ways is this brouhaha incredibly stupid and utterly misguided? And absolutely not the business of the university.

    cr

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      “Nobody at the party felt offended enough to leave or even say anything”

      Again, not strictly true:

      Following the event and that same evening, one student sent Shurtz an email conveying disappointment over the costume, and that the costume choice may have caused offense.

    • Filippo
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      “And absolutely not the business of the university.”

      I wonder if universities making such things their business is related to and proportional to the increasing corporatization (corporate fascism) of universities.

  22. José
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I am from spain and I am completely lost here… because in the article and in the coments everybody is asuming wearing a black face is wrong, but I can’t figure out why it is so…

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      Cultural taboo. Sort of like asking about Franco or Catalunya independencia in Spain, but worse.

      • José
        Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        I still don’t understand.In Spain these twoo things are not taboos that could get someone fired, they are at most controversial.

  23. nay
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    “Blackface is odious” – I’m w/Jose (22) here, and I’m American. I grew up watching old movies on TV where minstrel shows were performed in blackface by the stars. I consider it part of the times and, as such, authentically American and not insulting in any way. Is this perhaps the new offense of cultural appropriation they are reacting to? By the way, I’m AJA (American of Japanese Ancestry). I was called a Jap (once) and also watched old WWII movies showing horrible Japs versus honorable white Americans – so what? Why take offense? The two offended people probably didn’t want to cause a scene or hurt the hostess’ feelings at her party, but they should handled it on a personal level with her, not gone to the administration to complain after the fact. My take is it’s the administrators who should be fired for spectacular failure to do their job.

    • José
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      I don’t think is the same. Is not that I don’t consider them offensive. Is that I can’t even imagine why everyone considers them so, and maybe i would too if somebody explained it to me.

      • huthuk
        Posted December 31, 2016 at 4:43 am | Permalink

        Same here, José and Nay. The statement “blackface is odious” brought me up sharp because I don’t understand what’s odious about it. I’m European too: British.
        I just don’t get why wearing make-up to a party in order to represent, with a good motive, a person whose skin is a different colour from one’s own is a bad thing to do. Actors play characters other than their own all the time. What’s the difference between changing one’s accent (c/f for example Hugh Grant in ‘House’), or dressing up in historical costume as, say, Queen Elizabeth the First, or some Shakespearean character, so as to appear like someone one isn’t for the purpose of communicating something through dramatic effect, what’s the difference between that and dressing up as a black medic in order to make a valid point?

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 31, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          Wikipedia has a long article on blackface, which I encourage you to read if you’re curious.

          The executive summary is that the blackface tradition in the US originated in the South when African-Americans were still slaves. Black characters were played by white actors in blackface, with the makeup applied to comical excess, and the characters portrayed were invariably demeaning stereotypes, people of low intelligence and low moral character. That’s the historical context in which blackface is perceived today.

          As an analogy, imagine if female actors were barred from the British theater, and female parts were played by men wearing silly wigs, too much makeup, and ludicrous amounts of padding at bust and bustle. Imagine further that there are no competent or admirable female characters, no Lizzie Bennets, just Lizzie Bennet’s scatterbrained mother and her ilk as exemplars of mature womanhood in British drama. Imagine how women today would feel about that state of affairs and you’ll have an inkling of how African-Americans feel about blackface.

          • huthuk
            Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:12 am | Permalink

            Thank you, Gregory. That puts an interesting light on it and I can see now why it’s such a problem in the US. However, I still don’t think blacking one’s face to ‘play’ a black person is intrinsically wrong. It was the principle I was talking about, and it sounds as if the prof who ‘acted’ as a black medic was not doing anything insulting–quite the reverse. Why can’t people see that? Context does matter.

  24. W.Benson
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    OU has become just another government agency invading people’s bedrooms.


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