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Do Not Take That Arkes Class


(Liya Rechtman)– I know that smug smile and I stand unimpressed by it’s deviant, contrarian charm. This is your first semester at Amherst and you’re taking Politics, Statecraft and the Art of Ruling with Hadley Arkes. Or worse, you’re in your second or third class with him, as a junior and you’ve been waiting a year for American Constitution II. You think you’re doing something clever and you’re excited about the thick multilith of Eisenhower, Reagan and Machiavelli weighing down your backpack. You head to the Red Room a little nervous, anticipating the whirlwind course you’ve read about as a controversial highlight of Amherst College.

Don’t go. No, seriously.

By enrolling an Arkes class you are giving him the equivalent of your vote of approval. Enrollment in a college class is the student version of voting with your dollars in the consumer world. In the same way that you shouldn’t buy products made using child labor or non-sustainable palm oil that destroys orangutan habitats, you shouldn’t take the Arkes class you’re shopping.

Arkes preaches hateful and discriminatory speech that creates a community of exclusion, intolerance and cross-cultural misunderstanding. Especially in recent memory, the professor’s equation of bisexuality with necrophilia has come to light, as well as his more well known argument that if we allow homosexuality in our society, we will logically next allow bestiality. The thesis of his argument is that marriage should be an institution purely for the purpose of rearing and protecting children. While this is a conservative view that is out-dated and holds no water in courts against counter-arguments such as noting that sterile and elderly people are allowed to marry or that legalizing same-sex marriage actually protects the children of same-sex marriages within the bounds of law, my issue is not with this theoretical basis but with the examples and syllogisms that he employs.

Arkes goes much farther than this jurisprudential, political argument when he puts non-heterosexual individuals and sex acts on the same level as bestiality and NAMBLA. The conservative viewpoint is, while incorrect, certainly part of the conversation in re-defining marriage. While it is harmful and offensive to people in same-sex marriages – not to mention people of any sexual orientation in childless marriages – it does not have the quite the same violent impact on the students in his classes and in the Amherst populations as Arkes’ more radical, hyperbolic slippery slope arguments.

The legal definition of hate speech (according to Blackwell) is:

Hate speech… is a form of verbal aggression that expresses hatred, contempt, ridicule, or threats toward a specific group or class of people.

In an article for The Catholic Thing, published in March, Arkes wrote:

Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals). The term has become so elastic that, as one commentator remarked, “there is real doubt whether sexual orientation is a valid concept at all.”

Arkes here puts bisexuality (being attracted to both men and women) and a desire to have sex with animals as equal problems under law. If a man can marry another man, he writes, than why can’t a woman marry her son or a man marry his dog? To place bisexuality and bestiality on the same place is to speak in a derogatory way towards bisexual individuals. To espouse that kind of view in a classroom, given the immense power wielded by a professor and to a group of students, is an act of aggression. He is using his standing from within the academy, as a professor who teaches classes, to speak in a hateful way about a marginalized group.

It could be argued that Arkes is coming for an intellectual, academic tradition that uses a permutation of the slippery slope argument at the center of its thinking. When he was given tenure many moons ago, this line of reasoning held water in the academy and he was publishing in well-respected, peer-reviewed journals. However, what Arkes is writing today, given the both the shift in his intellectual tradition away from such modes of argumentation and given the places in which his articles are being published, provide no such integrity to back his claims and place them in the realm of respectable or responsible. The readers of non peer-reviewed mass-consumption media outlets such as National Review, Wall Street Journal, and The Catholic Thing are being published come with a different set of expectations than an academic journal. When Arkes writes that bisexuality is equivalent to bestiality in the Catholic Thing, it means and reads as something quite different than if he were to publish it in a Princeton University Press publication.

“I haven’t had a single conservative professor at Amherst, so I’m taking Arkes” you might tell me. Maybe you’re conservative yourself or maybe you just want conflict, a dialectical diversity of opinions to work through before you come to your own conclusions on any of these issues.

I support bringing people of different perspectives and backgrounds to campus to speak and teach. I agree that it is crucial to rigorous debate to have conservative and liberal professors teaching together in the political science and every other department. My issue here is not with Arkes as a conservative per se. While I am staunchly pro-choice, I think it’s important to have a pro-life voice, even a religious, Catholic pro-life voice in the conversation about a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. For my thesis I have spent weeks at a time with evangelical Christian conservatives discussing what are at times opposing, at times surprisingly similar political views and I enjoy and support robust debate between people who disagree. Arkes’ perspective is not just another perspective. As Ethan Corey so eloquently wrote:

Ideological positions that attack the full humanity and equality of members of our community don’t foster debate or academic growth; they only serve to marginalize and silence the students that they attack. Such beliefs offer nothing but hatred for our community.

I react so strongly to Arkes because I think his special brand of homophobic hate speech merits further scrutiny and consideration of how it affects the students of all sexual orientations and the campus community in which they live than just any alternate point of view.

“What? You’re going to tell him not to teach classes?” You may ask me next, armed, as you will be, with your texts on free speech and academic freedom.

We’re actually in agreement again. There is quite a large camp, particularly of alumni in the LGBTQIA OutOfAmherst listerv, who believe that Professor Arkes should be burned at the stake and thrown off Amherst campus. I am not of that camp. Arkes is a tenured professor. Craig Campbell wrote:

Arkes is an employee of Amherst College, a private institution. As a professor, he teaches college students — who are on all counts adults — about politics and the law. As an academic, he is free to publish papers that make logical arguments that cite relevant facts and precedence in order to defend a proposed thesis.

To take away tenure for him would be an unprecedented move on the part of the college. The very purpose of tenure is that allows academics a certain intellectual freedom to experiment and engage with a wide variety of topics without having to fear the pressures of publishing or censorship. To set a standard that tenure could be taken away based on Arkes speech would make impossible so much of the positive, progressive work that comes out of academia.

If not through revoking tenure, the responsibility, therefore, is on each of us as thinking, conscientious adults, to take away one vote from Arkes, to drain his classrooms of our engaged, anxious faces waiting for his seal of approval, to leave his desk void of papers and his office hours impotently waxing away. This is a much stronger message than simply cutting off the head of the beast. This is a statement of allyship: “I support my community and my friends and I will not allow your bigotry, bullying and discrimination to stand.”

If you want academic rigor, or a new perspective, there are roughly 200 other professors to choose from. Advocate for more conservative professors in hiring; take a 5-college class. Get out of the Red Room, there are better ways to learn about the constitution that saturated in antiquated hateful polemics.

About Liya Rechtman

Liya Rechtman is constantLy evolving.

18 comments on “Do Not Take That Arkes Class

  1. The Dad Dude
    September 12, 2013

    In my days, we fought other haters who had a political and economic influence. Meir Kahana, Member of Parliment in Israel was known with the battle cry “Death to the Arabs”.

    How do you fight hate? At first, yes expose it and ridicule it. But in the long and intermediate term the best thing is to leave it alone. The hating-professor Arkes will do well with you and others decrying his evil. Instead, ignoring him is more effective.

    Said another way, from Arkas’ perspective “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. Let’s not give him any.

    • Liya Rechtman
      September 12, 2013

      Where would you draw the line between publicity and awareness, consciousness-raising, “fair warning”?

      • The Dad Dude
        September 12, 2013

        I would draw the line as follows:
        1) Decide what is the objective, and time line to achieve it
        2) Highlight only the facts
        3) Broadcast the ideas to those who are most receptive to them. They’ll do the convincing work for those less receptive.
        4) Have a plan to start, do the work, and finish. It’s a limited engagement.

      • Liya Rechtman
        September 13, 2013

        I have to take issue with several of your points here.

        1) If the objective is awareness raising and facilitating discussion, writing this article achieves the objective while necessarily giving Arkes publicity. However, it couches the conversation in inaction on the part of the administration and action by absence on the part of the student body. The time line is simply consistent breakdown of support until his retirement.

        2) What are the facts? Do you think I didn’t highlight them here? The facts are a) the various articles I cited written by Arkes b) the effect of hate speech on the student body, in particular given the campus culture over the past 18 months c) the attendance record of Arkes classes (i.e. thats students do continue to take his classes).

        3) I write for the whole student body with the belief that both those who agree with me and those who disagree with me can engage in conversation together with rigor and integrity to try and come to some understanding. I chose to take a less ideologically proselytizing approach in favor of a pursuit of engaged dialogue.

        4) The plan: do not take Arkes class (personally; check). Let others know not to take Arkes classes (publicly; check). What more do you suggest?

  2. Tamas
    September 12, 2013

    Could you provide examples of how Arkes’ opinions affect “the students of all sexual orientations and the campus community in which they live than just any alternate point of view”, both in the case of a student having taken a class with Arkes and the case where a student hasn’t? Or, how does him impact life on campus more than some other professor?

    Thank you.

    • Liya Rechtman
      September 12, 2013

      Sure! Thanks for asking. Allow me to explain: I have argued here, using examples from the professor’s recent writing, how he speaks in a hateful and discriminatory way about certain marginalized groups, namely LGBTQIA individuals. That kind of speech, particularly coming from a position of power as it does when uttered by a professor, has the effect of normalizing discrimination against that group. If a bisexual person is as pathologically unhealthy as a necrophiliac or someone engaged in bestiality, than why should we treat them as an equal with merit? This is the line of thinking that Arkes leads us down with his view.

      You ask how this effects students of other orientations than individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or allied with the LGBTQIA community? When we speak in a discriminatory way towards any one group of people, it allows similarly hateful speech to be uttered towards other groups of people as well. In fact, it normalizes all hateful speech and creates an environment in which it is acceptable to discriminate against people on any immutable factor that marks them as other than the norm.

      You quote a section in which I compare what Arkes says with other “alternate point[s] of view”. Why is Arkes analogy more harmful than some other alternate to the mainstream at Amherst College (say, for example, a different opinion he holds that women should not be allowed to have access to abortions)? While I personally disagree with both of those arguments – his opposition to the freedom to choose and to same-sex marriage – only when he speaks of homosexuality and other non-heterosexual sexualities does he employ hateful speech. Unlike other professor, Arkes uses hate speech to make his argument. In this way he differs from other professors. My point here was that it was the hateful speech to which I take offense and not to his conservative point of view.

      Finally, you ask for a concrete example of how his homophobic hate speech affects our campus culture. Amherst College is currently a community crawling towards sexual respect, in which we are learning how to be active bystanders, how to support and empower each other after a plethora of incidents in which students from many, many marginalized groups spoke out about how they felt personally affected by all kinds of ignorance.

      I have not taken a class with Arkes but I am a member of this community. In preparation for writing this article I spoke to many students who have taken classes with him and I also sat in on a number of his classes over the years. I argue in earlier articles that the concept that someone has to be a victim and have some sort of “standing” or “injury” in order to be able to speak about an issue wraps us in a cycle of self-victimization which doesn’t actually allow us to make much progress or engage in dialectic.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      • physphilmusic
        September 13, 2013

        When we speak in a discriminatory way towards any one group of people, it allows similarly hateful speech to be uttered towards other groups of people as well. In fact, it normalizes all hateful speech and creates an environment in which it is acceptable to discriminate against people on any immutable factor that marks them as other than the norm.

        I don’t think you’ve really given any evidence for this “normalization”. You just said it happens. I could similarly argue that the generally liberal, Republican-ridiculing tone of the general student and faculty population here in Amherst normalizes marginalization of students who hold conservative viewpoints.

  3. annacse
    September 12, 2013

    So great. I also can’t support any petition to take away his tenure and I think this is exactly the right move.

  4. casey
    September 12, 2013

    I’m not sure I agree entirely. You argue that showing up to an Arkes class is an implicit form of espousing his views as not necessarily correct, but at least valid in their own right. I don’t necessarily see a problem with this. The point of college is to learn how to think critically about ideas. Engaging with Arkes may give us an opportunity to consider how we might logically argue with his “conservative” views. The Amherst student body is by and large quite liberal, and often we exhibit very visceral, passionate responses to views like those of Arkes because we find them so basely wrong, as I do. Just dismissing his view eliminates our opportunity to engage critically with it. Exposing oneself to antiquated, hateful polemics gives someone who has never really considered anything but the default political stance a chance to form their logical arguments against opinions they already firmly believe are wrong in an emotional and moral sense. We clearly love to rag on Arkes, so forming arguments shouldn’t be a problem. Case in point: this article. By asking the student to take a contrary opinion seriously, they will be forced to refine their arguments against that opinion. I certainly agree with your primary sentiment that we should support our peers by actively calling out hate speech, but I disagree with your argument that taking one of Arkes’ classes is entirely useless and detrimental to the community; I think it will actually results in allies better equipped to refute hateful arguments.

  5. Anonymous
    September 12, 2013

    could you give an example of what kind of argument a conservative professor could make against homosexuality that you would not consider hate speech?

    • Liya Rechtman
      September 13, 2013

      So I actually gave that argument and example within the text of my article, if you look closely, for clarity I will include it again here:

      The thesis of his argument is that marriage should be an institution purely for the purpose of rearing and protecting children. While this is a conservative view that is out-dated and holds no water in courts against counter-arguments such as noting that sterile and elderly people are allowed to marry or that legalizing same-sex marriage actually protects the children of same-sex marriages within the bounds of law, my issue is not with this theoretical basis but with the examples and syllogisms that he employs.

      In other words, jurisprudential arguments that are not ad hominem attacks against a group of people are acceptable and are not hate speech. Speech that discriminates against and threatens a marginalized group is hateful and has broader repercussions for the community.

      Another example of an argument opposed to same-sex marriage that I wouldn’t consider hateful would be opposition to the institution of marriage as it currently stands embedded in government on the basis of the separation between church and state. There are a contingent of people (on both the right and the left) who hold this view.

  6. physphilmusic
    September 13, 2013

    Liya, while I applaud your opinion about the importance of having arguments about abortion with those on the pro-life side, I can’t help but note the possible inconsistency between your viewpoint and Ethan Corey’s for example. In the comments to Ethan’s article which you cite, Ethan seems to believe that being anything other than pro-choice is misogynistic. If Ethan instead of yourself were in charge of hiring conservative professors in order to increase intellectual diversity, he would probably not hire any conservative who is pro-life. In other words, Ethan has preemptively framed any kind of argument supporting the pro-life viewpoint as hate speech. How is one supposed to reconcile this conflict of views?

    This leads to the further point which I want to make: an awfully large proportion of ANY viewpoint which disagrees with you can be framed as hate speech of some kind, as long as your opponent is passionate enough about their viewpoint. For example, a communist might regard any sort of viewpoint supporting capitalism and the free market as “hate speech against the workers”. Similarly, a neoconservative could have framed dissent against the Iraq War as “hate speech against the American people”. Perhaps you disagree and think these proposals as laughable and ridiculous, but therein lies the main problem. It is that your conception of prohibiting “hate speech” and attacks against groups of individuals contains no clear objective standard about it; it ultimately depends on who is in power: it could be Liya Rechtman the liberal, Ethan Corey the more extreme liberal, or it could be anyone else.

    (I understand that you still support academic free speech to some degree, unlike Ethan, but still, the main issue here is your classification that some opposing viewpoints are acceptable while some others are not).

    • Liya Rechtman
      September 13, 2013

      Physphilmusic (or should I say philocompo?), we missed you! Perhaps you were abroad? Either way, welcome back to the site!

      You are correct in noting that Ethan and I do not share identical views on this issue. AC Voice aims to be multi-vocal and represent a plethora of queer-affirming (not homophobic) feminist (gender equal) perspectives. While I imagine that Ethan and I are both strong advocates for a woman’s right to choose, we do not entirely agree on the manner in which to engage in the conversation. I don’t see this as a failing either of the site or of my citing Ethan’s work, but a hat tip to the range of opinions that I hope to support.

      Perhaps I don’t understand your point, though. I would hope that in decisions for hire we do continue to support a variety of professors with different backgrounds and ideological positions in all fields. I’m an English major and I advocate for professors who have both traditional and experimental writing backgrounds, who have secondary knowledge in fields from black studies to economics to philosophy, who identify as first generation college students themselves, who are queer-identied, who are Republican and who are anarchist… If I were a Political Science major I imagine I would advocate for quite the same things. The fact that Ethan and I differ on this point probably means that ideally there would be people who represent both of our positions (along with others) on any search committee to create a balance between them.

      I don’t disagree with you on your second point and I don’t see it as a problem. We should always be rigorous and intentional with our speech. As for the slippery slope of hate speech – I think we always have to be wary about that too. I don’t think that pointing out that something hateful speech and actually creates pain and suffering in our community means that no one can talk about anything ever for fear of it being construed/felt as hateful. It does mean that people should be conscientious and aware. Like any slippery slope argument, the response is always moderation.

      I don’t just support academic freedom “to some degree”; I support it fully. However, there are some types of speech which are harmful and illegal and fall outside of the realm of free speech and academic freedom.

  7. Starlight
    September 13, 2013

    Are people not allowed to have their own opinions? Arkes is expressing his OPINION of what marriage is. His OPINION of what sexuality is. Why are Catholics and Conservatives attacked all the time? Liya. When you say, “The Conservative viewpoint is, while incorrect, certainly part of the conversation in redefining marriage.” Well. I beg your pardon, but who are you to say what viewpoint is “correct” or “incorrect?” Who are you to say that the Conservative viewpoint should not be a viewpoint at all and it is “outdated?” Arkes does not proclaim that homosexuals are bad people and we should shun them. With the way you’re writing, it’s as if Conservatives and Arkes should be shunned immediately for their nonsensical viewpoints and hate. Let me ask you something. How often is traditional Conservatism hated upon? How often are Catholics rejected and insulted today? The answer is pretty often. You want people to respect you? You should go straight to Arkes and have a conversation with him about what you feel. A respectful and mature conversation. Don’t attack the other side until you walk a mile in their shoes. Arkes should pay the same respect to you. If he doesn’t, then we’ll talk. Conversation not conflict, my friend. Conversation is key. Sorry if I came across as harsh in the beginning of this post. I think you’re an incredibly gifted and intelligent young woman who knows what’s up. I’m just suggesting that you take this a step further and get to know the true Arkes and what he really stands for (and please don’t say you already do, because the man is complex as heck) before you make your attack.

    • Liya Rechtman
      September 14, 2013

      I think you miss the point of the article if you come away from it frustrated by my understanding of conservative catholic perspectives on abortion. The purpose of the article is this: given that Arkes preaches hateful and discriminatory ideas, we as students should take a stand and exercise contentious choice by being allies to our peers in the community and not taking Arkes classes.

      You ask who I am to say “incorrect”? I am a pro-choice feminist. From that standpoint conservative Catholic views on a woman’s right to choose are incorrect. The purpose of that sentence is that even though I don’t agree with them and I think they are wrong, I will defend to the death their right to say what they want because I believe in freedom of speech.

    • The Dad Dude
      September 14, 2013

      I disagree that the professor is stating his OPINON and nothing else. At some point he should be held accountable to his opinion, here’s why:

      1) He’s an educator. His opinions are not merely stated in the public square, they are stated in a classroom where great deference is warranted to the teacher, and in fact, he has great influence. With that power comes responsibility.

      2) The so-called opinion is very actionable. Would you defend him more if you’ve learned that some gay beating has occurred because of his sentiments? If the answer is no, would you defend cyberbullies for the death of their victim? Ney, the hate-mongering professor is not just saying his opinions, he’s inspiring violent actions.

      In light of these observations, I conclude that his speech need not be stopped, simply ignored by choice. How to ignore the hate speech? Let’s start by avoiding his classes.

  8. Pingback: Action: A Response To BSU | AC VOICE

  9. Anonymous
    October 11, 2013

    Please learn the distinction between “affect” and “effect” before publishing a piece that is associated with Amherst College.

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This entry was posted on September 12, 2013 by in Amherst College Losses, Politics, Queer, Religion.

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