University of Oregon Professors Get Slammed… Say Something “Wrong”, Expect Consequences…
In December 2016, a new policy was enforced upon University of Oregon faculty members. If faculty said anything regarding race, religion, sexual orientation, or any subject that people could find offensive, that staff member could be suspended and may be fired. This includes even tenured faculty persons. Such statements are not limited to personal insults or deliberate bigotry and racism.
How did this rule come into place? Somewhat ironically, in fact. A tenured U of O law school professor Nancy Shurtz hosted a Halloween party. She invited some students and non-students, telling them she would be “going as a popular book title”, but didn’t tell anyone what book it was. The recent acclaimed book entitled “Black Man in a White Coat,” described a black doctor’s “reflections on race and medicine” as stated by the subtitle.
Shurtz’s “costume incorporated a white doctor’s lab coat, a stethoscope, black makeup on her face and hands, and a black curly wig resembling an afro.” The university’s report said Shurtz was “inspired by this book and by the author, that she greatly admires [the author] and wanted to honor him, and that she dressed as the book because she finds it reprehensible that there is a shortage of racial diversity, and particularly of black men, in higher education.”
However, many people find it to be offensive when a white person puts on makeup to look like a black person. The university stands behind this viewpoint by stating, “Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin”. Adding that, “wearing tattered clothes, the performances mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs”. Yet Shurtz claims she was not mocking black behavior or playing the stereotypical race card for laughs.
Nevertheless, her costume outraged many students at the law school, prompting talk of this incident during lectures. Other faculty members and administrators also discussed the matter extensively, even in classes. With the wide-spread disapproval on campus, the university suspended Shurtz.
The next week, a report was released stating that Shurtz’s speech was, in fact, subject to discipline. The report concluded that Shurtz’s actions were considered “harassment”, which violated U of O’s policy. “Discriminatory Harassment under the University’s policies is directly comparable to racial or sexual harassment under Title VI or Title VII. ‘[T]he existence of a racially hostile environment that is created, encouraged, accepted, tolerated or left uncorrected by a recipient also constitutes different treatment on the basis of race in violation of title VI.’”
Usually the word “harassment” brings up thoughts of sexual extortion or targeted insults and behavior. Yet “harassment” now has become a much broader term according to U of O. Just by wearing a costume that offends people based on race is now considered “harassment” because it causes a “hostile environment” as stated by the university’s report.
This is not limited to just costumes and black colored makeup. A list from University of Oregon report included:
- 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”).
All these could be considered punishable “harassment” according to University of Oregon’s new policy, if the statements cause enough controversy from the students. Even if the statements are general, and not specific to an individual, the expression of certain views is forbidden to the professors. The report states “the University supports free speech with vigor”… so long as it does not include certain topics.
An environment free from harassment is paramount to any university’s success in educating students. The delicate balance between freedom of speech and protection against harassment can be difficult to find. Some say that students should be in an environment where they feel protected and safe, where they are free to expand their mental capacities. Others argue that professors should be able to educate students on topics that are difficult, even controversial, with the ability to state opinions that are held by different groups in a manner that is professional.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Leave your comments below:
Sources: The official university’s report; Shurtz has questioned some of the factual assertions in the university’s official report, you can read her opinion by clicking the link in her name.
This release was also first featured on The Washington Post.
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(This article may include thoughts or opinions which are not officially held by Oregon Daily)