Some readers of Minding the Campus may have noticed the little fracas at University of Iowa between College Republicans and anthropology/women’s studies professor Ellen Lewin. You can read about it in any of the many stories listed on this Google news page.
The details are simple. UI College Republicans sent out a mass email, approved by the administration, inviting conservatives to “come out of the closet!” and join “Conservative Coming Out Week.” Events will include an “Animal Rights Barbecue” and a “sick of being stressed” request for a doctor’s excuse to miss class (just as Wisconsin public employees did).
A little sophomoric, yes, and the parody of “coming out” was bound to rile a few of the “studies” professors, but the email comprised nothing beyond the usual undergraduate whimsy. It had its effect, though. Professor Lewin received the email and fired off a quick reply: “FUCK YOU REPUBLICANS.” She signed her name, and it appeared above her position and address at Iowa, making her response not simply a private reply.
The email has circulated widely and been picked up as a news brief all over the country, from CBS to Fox News to the New York Daily News. It has spice, certainly, and such a blunt case of vitriol nicely confirms what seems to many critics on the Right the prevailing attitude of the professors toward conservatives.
The publicity helps the College Republicans make the case of liberal bias, no doubt, but in their first reaction they made a mistake. They took the customary route of demanding a public apology. (You can read all the relevant emails here. The email request was made to the head of Lewin’s department, and it assumed a tone of indignation with references to Lewin’s “vulgarity,” her “Vile” and “Demonizing” statement, and her “aimless screams of attack.”
This is too much, and it mirrors the kind of delicate offense that goes with identity politics. Lewin did offer an apology, and it contained precisely the contempt that goes with the grievance-oriented personality: “I apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities.” No satisfaction there. The College Republicans, and conservatives in general, would do better to eschew the injured-party role and instead laugh at such comments. Publicize them, yes, and let Lewin and other hot-headed individuals reply again and again. Use the replies as evidence of exactly the bigotry that you allege pervades the campus. (Lewin’s further statements only made her position look worse.) But don’t take an insult so seriously. Don’t assume the thin-skinned role. Other liberals who find such insults embarrassing or ridiculous will only appreciate you for shrugging them off.