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Students: Fire Camille Paglia! University president: No, we believe in free speech here. Students: Fire Camille Paglia–and now you owe US an apology!

May 2, 2019

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You’ve got to say one thing about those University of the Arts students: They really want to get rid of Camille Paglia.

Most colleges would be thrilled to have a major public intellectual and all-around celebrity like Paglia actually deigning to teach them something instead of swirling around the TV-appearance circuit. Especially, you would think, UArts, about which the best you can say is that it’s not as expensive as Harvard and a darned sight easier to get into: a 74 percent acceptance rate. School-rater Niche gives UArts an all-around grade of B- (although an A for the party scene). Paglia, on the faculty since 1984, is by far the most famous professor–perhaps the only famous professor–ever to have taught at UArts.

But…here we are on April 9:

The University of the Arts professor and social critic, known for her critiques of modern feminism, last week had a lecture targeted by protesting students and alumni angry at comments she made in a YouTube video, posted in January about the #MeToo movement, that they contend perpetuates rape culture. They also were critical of comments that they call transphobic….

[Joseph] McAndrew, a UArts junior who is nonbinary and has been sexually assaulted, organized the protest at Paglia’s lecture Tuesday evening — titled “Ambiguous Images: Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art” — after trying for about two weeks to get it moved off campus….

McAndrew and [UArts Senior Sheridan] Merrick said about 100 protesters sat in a lobby at Terra Hall, 211 S. Broad St., Tuesday holding signs ahead of the talk. Then, some of those protesting filed in to listen. About 30 minutes into the lecture, McAndrew said, a building fire alarm went off, prompting an evacuation and moving the protest outside, where demonstrators chanted, “Trans lives matter! We believe survivors!”

Paul Healy, a UArts spokesperson, said the alarm was determined to have been intentionally pulled and an investigation into the incident is ongoing. The evacuation effectively ended Paglia’s lecture.

The next day, April 10, UArts president David Yager says no way, José:

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.

The University of the Arts is committed to the exercise of free speech and academic freedom, to addressing difficult or controversial issues and ideas through civil discussion, with respect for those who hold opinions different from our own. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ 1927 advice still holds true today: that the remedy for messages we disagree with or dislike is more speech and not enforced silence.

So McAndrew, Merrick, and their UArts student pals up the ante, with this Change.org petition:

Camille Paglia should be removed from UArts faculty and replaced by a queer person of color.

Wow: Paglia has actually been describing herself as a lesbian since the 1970s–and she has recently identified as transgender. That’s pretty “queer person”–but her Italian heritage apparently isn’t enough to qualify her as “of color.”

Furthermore, she’s not the right kind of transgender:

She believes that most transgender people are merely participating in a fashion trend (“I question whether the transgender choice is genuine in every single case”), …

Plus, she has politically incorrect ideas about self-described sexual-assault survivors:

…and that universities should not consider any sexual assault cases reported more than six months after the incident, because she thinks those cases just consist of women who regret having sex and falsely see themselves as victims.

That’s bad thinking.

The petition doesn’t stop with getting rid of Paglia (or alternatively, since she has tenure at UArts, requiring that parallel sections to her courses be taught by faculty members who show more “respect” for the activists’ claimed grievances). The UArts students are also mad as hell at Yager for standing up for free speech:

This only illustrates President Yager’s concern for Paglia’s first amendment rights, with no value placed on the same rights students hold to express and defend who they are.

So:

The University of the Arts must apologize for its embarrassing response to this situation, and specifically President David Yager must apologize for his wildly ignorant and hypocritical letter.

Furthermore, as the Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf reports, many of Paglia’s fellow faculty members are actually kind of sympathetic to the protesters:

Two UArts educators who were present described how they experienced the same event in emails to me. One wanted to voice “the frustrations of some of the students in attendance, a number of them trans and queer identifying, who under unthinkable pressures from their peer group to conform to the political agenda du jour, showed up that night not to protest but to listen, presumably out of a belief that the ideas that challenge them are often the ideas most likely to nourish them.” While they might “deplore much of what she has said about trans identity and rape culture,” the educator continued, “they also didn’t assume that Camille’s scholarship was therefore invalid or dangerous or traumatizing. It’s the studiousness, integrity, and (yes) courage like theirs that often goes unremarked upon in coverage of these campus eruptions.”

My own theory is that the UArts students pretty much know their petition won’t get far with Yager. Their real aim is probably to Bret Weinstein Camille Paglia–that is, to make her life so miserable that she’ll quit.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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