There is so much denouncing taking place on college campuses, and elsewhere, these days and I am not the first to be reminded of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and its culture of accusations (here, for example).
One of the most recently denounced is of course Camille Paglia, who over the years has participated in a number of IWF events, and who is one of the most iconoclastic and original thinkers of the day. You never know what Camille will say–you only know that it will be erudite, interesting and quotable. She is a woman of insight.
Not entirely unpredictably, Paglia, a professor at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, has run afoul of the thought police. Student activists were outraged that Ms. Paglia planned to deliver a lecture entitled “Ambiguous Images: Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art.” The outrage!
A “gender non-binary creative writing major” got wind of the impending talk and objected. Strenuously. Citing Title IX concerns. (Honestly, this aspect gets pretty arcane.) Calls that Paglia be fired and replaced in her tenured position by a "queer person of color" ensued. Just for the record, Camille is a Lesbian. (Several reports have said that she "identifies" as transgender.)
Camille is a tough, brilliant woman, and the president of her university is, refreshingly, standing up for free speech. What is really distressing, however, is that college students, in going after a professor of Camille's caliber are doing themselves a disservice. They are denying themselves, and others, what the university system developed to provide: the golden opportunity of receiving a liberal education, which necesarily entails encountering ideas with which one does not agree.
As Conor Friedersdorf notes at The Atlantic, Paglia, a 30-year-veteran of the Philadelphia university's faculty, has always been controversial. Her 1990 book Sexual Personae, as Friedersdorf recalls, characterized sex and nature as “brutal, daemonic” forces, “criticizes feminists for sentimentality or wishful thinking about the causes of rape, violence, and poor relations between the sexes,” and rooted sex differences in biology.
In this instance, Paglia gave the lecture, heavily attended by security guards. A fire alarm was pulled, however, and the lecture hall evacuated before she had finished.
Friedersdorf corresponded with two faculty members who had attended the interrupted lecture.
One recalled of the evening:
In one class the students were to finish projects that they had been working on for weeks, with focused assistance. The fire alarm took them out of class for over an hour while they stood outside to listen to a group screaming “trans lives matter!” at them. What did this produce? Projects weren’t finished, the class wasn’t finished, the students lost out. I don’t care if they were black, trans AND disabled—I was there to help them learn 100 percent. And I was blocked from doing that, that night.
Yeah, the fire alarm really did a lot to further education.
Kudos to David Yager, President of the University, who has released a statement indicating that he fully appreciates what is at stake here:
Across our nation it is all too common that opinions expressed that differ from one another’s––especially those that are controversial––can spark passion and even outrage, often resulting in calls to suppress that speech. That simply cannot be allowed to happen. I firmly believe that limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy. Universities, moreover, are at the heart of the revolutionary notion of free expression: promoting the free exchange of ideas is part of the core reason for their existence. That open interchange of opinions and beliefs includes all members of the UArts community: faculty, students and staff, in and out of the classroom. We are dedicated to fostering a climate conducive to respectful intellectual debate that empowers and equips our students to meet the challenges they will face in their futures.
I believe this resolve holds even greater importance at an art school. Artists over the centuries have suffered censorship, and even persecution, for the expression of their beliefs through their work. My answer is simple: not now, not at UArts.
Fabulous statement, President Yager.