[11/25/19] – Free Speech for Faculty

Free speech on campus is paramount to civil discourse and critical thinking. More often than not, agents of educational institutions can say most whatever they want…so long as it is not disparaging of the community. Dr. Eric Rasmusen is currently embroiled (again) in a self-made scandal related to links to articles that challenge much of the common narrative surrounding gender, sexuality, and more. Specifically, in one tweet Dr. Rasmusen mentioned the biological nature of IQ being more likely to occur in men than women. The issue at hand is not the slapdash effort to stir up controversy by Dr. Rasmusen. Rather the issue of academic freedom and the limits of free speech. When language becomes offensive to an individual and/or group, society has to question the utility of that thought process and essential wisdoms. What we also have here is a case of white privilege. Had Dr. Rasmusen been anything other than a white male, it is likely the response from the university would be different. But where do we draw the line? If one of these faculty members gets fired over trying to get internet famous, what happens to the rest of us sharing and discussing controversial topics in our classes? The limits and boundless opportunity of freedom of speech works to serve the needs of those who can communicate in the United States. This week, we explore the issues of concern in Dr. Rasmusen’s tweets, free speech, and the social construction of moral panic.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Free Speech for Faculty

Learning Objectives

LO1: Understand the fundamental ideologies both sides of the free speech on campus debate on college campuses.

LO2: Discuss how social forces like gender and race influence reactions of public to individuals inciting moral panic.

LO3: Explain how the social construction of violence against women, homosexuals, and trans communities in the United States fuels the backlash to Dr. Rasmusen’s comments.


Tenured university professor under fire for now viral sexist post l ABC News

Eric Rasmusen, a business professor at Indiana University, shared an article on Twitter arguing women may be destroying academia and quoted the article, “geniuses are overwhelmingly male.”

Indiana professor faces backlash after sexist post

Indiana University Bloomington has come under fire for refusing to oust a tenured professor for sharing racist, homophobic and sexist posts on social media. The college cited Professor Eric Rasmusen’s First Amendment rights in its decision. The outrage followed a tweet Rasmusen sent out this month that quoted an article saying in part, “geniuses are overwhelmingly male.” He included a link to the article, titled “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.”

Calls for Indiana University Professor’s Resignation Following Controversial Tweets

Eric Rasmusen is responding to backlash over one of his tweets after campus officials called his views racist, sexist, and homophobic.

Discussion Questions

What are the limits of free speech? What language is intolerable for you? Do you think that most members of your community would agree with you? Why or why not? How does this influence your perception of the value of your community and trust in your neighbors?

When do faculty members have the freedom to speak out about issues of interest to them on their campus? Why might it be necessary to have controversial figures on college campuses to drive critical inquiry? What role does Dr. Rasmusen’s race, gender, social class, and sexuality shape the reaction of the University and public to these revelations?

What would you do if one of your faculty members were to share something similar on social media? What would be the reaction on your campus? Why might the social environment of your campus predict these outcomes? Explain.

Why might this also be an issue related to gender? Why has our society normalized violent and disparaging comments about women, homosexuals, and trans community members? How do these stereotypical ideas manifest into barriers faced by these populations?

How should a campus respond when a faculty member decides to engage in controversial behavior that could jeopardize the reputation of the college? What sorts of topics are you willing to overlook? What sorts of topics would be triggering for you? How are these opinions related to your socialization?



Which of the following issues would be of most interest to a sociologist using a symbolic-interaction approach to investigate related to this topic?
a. The role of the institution in governing their faculty
b. Dr. Rasmusen’s annually salary compared to his female colleagues
c. Experiences of individual students taking Dr. Rasmusen’s classes
d. Media coverage of this case as compared to that of the impeachment proceedings

Dr. Rasumusen’s gender, race, social class, and sexuality all converged to play a significant role in the reaction of his supervisors, media coverage, and public outcry. When multiple social factors work together to create advantage or disadvantage this is know as_______.
a. Social Layering
b. Intersectionality
c. Constructivism
d. None of the above

From a sociological perspective, actions/behaviors and views/opinions that challenge the dominant narrative in society are best described as _______.
a. Problematic
b. Socially Toxic
c. Conflict
d. Deviant

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/sshepard

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