Indiana University professor Eric Rasmusen has argued that gay men shouldn’t be allowed to teach in K-12 classrooms, that black students can’t handle the rigor of academia and that women are intellectually inferior.
Yet he continues on as a tenured professor of business economics and public policy at IU’s Kelley School of Business.
The university claims that he is protected by the First Amendment and that it cannot fire him based on his comments as a private citizen.
IU administrators are right on that count, but they must work with students to investigate any evidence that Rasmusen’s prejudices are inhibiting African Americans, women, members of the LGBTQ community — or any other students. The university should be prepared to act swiftly on such evidence to fire him.
Rasmusen has come under fire since Nov. 7, when he shared an article titled “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.” In his tweet, Rasmusen quotes the article, writing that “geniuses are overwhelmingly male because they combine outlier IQ with moderately low Agreeableness and Moderately low Conscientiousness.”
A popular Twitter account posted a screenshot of Rasmusen’s tweet, and it went viral, throwing the national spotlight on the professor for the first time. But Rasmussen, who has taught at IU since 1992, had been on the radar of university officials for years because of his misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments.
The university responded to the Nov. 7 firestorm with a sharply worded criticism of Rasmusen.
“Professor Eric Rasmusen has, for many years, used his private social media accounts to disseminate his racist, sexist, and homophobic views,” wrote Provost Lauren Robel, who teaches law at IU. “When I label his views in this way, let me note that the labels are not a close call, nor do his posts require careful parsing to reach these conclusions.”
Some students at IU, as well as social media commentators and other defenders of the rights of women, minorities and the LGBTQ community called for the university to fire Rasmusen.
But IU declined.
“We cannot, nor would we, fire Professor Rasmusen for his posts as a private citizen, as vile and stupid as they are, because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so,” Robel wrote. “That is not a close call.”
Case law supports the university’s position. While the personal viewpoints of professors who work for private schools can expose them to firing, freedom of speech for professors who teach at state universities has consistently been protected by the courts.
In her statement, Robel went on to assure university stakeholders that Rasmusen would be watched carefully to ensure that the views he’s expressed on social media are not limiting the opportunities of black, female and LGBTQ students he teaches.
It seems almost certain that his bigotry would create problems in the classroom for these students. How could he possibly evaluate them without prejudice when he believes that their skin color, gender or sexual preferences limit their abilities or render them less moral or trustworthy?
“Just sitting in his class would be almost overwhelming to me,” Alexandra Bates, a freshman from Fishers, told the Bloomington Herald-Times. “It would make me feel uncomfortable. Are we all really given the same opportunity if he has those views?”
Beyond the classroom, Rasmusen’s association with IU damages the university’s reputation. Many will interpret the university’s decision not to fire him as complicity or weakness.
But in this case, IU had to choose between firing a bigot or standing for his First Amendment rights. Now the university must be vigilant against the impact of Rasmusen’s prejudices in the classroom.