Correction: Rasmusen did not write the article about which he tweeted. An earlier version said that he did.

“I have never ever ever seen a university statement like this. My god.”

That’s what Tressie McMillan Cottom, a writer and associate professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, tweeted when she read the message issued by an Indiana University dean about a professor who has made sexist, racist and homophobic comments. (You can read the message in full below.)

As my Washington Post colleague Michael Brice-Saddler reported, there are mounting calls for the resignation of 60-year-old Eric Rasmusen, a tenured professor of business and economics at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, after he tweeted about an article titled “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.”

He is referring to a Nov. 2 essay published in the Unz Review, that says “geniuses are overwhelmingly male because they combine outlier high IQ with moderately low Agreeableness and moderately low Conscientiousness.” The Unz Review is a website that says it spotlights “interesting, important and controversial perspectives."

Lauren Robel, executive vice president and provost at Indiana University, issued a statement on the university’s website, which you can see in full below, that says authorities know Rasmusen has made “racist, sexist and homophobic views” on social media, but they can’t fire him. His speech is protected by the First Amendment, Robel said, adding that Rasmusen has posted comments on social media saying:

  • “That he believes that women do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia, and that he believes most women would prefer to have a boss than be one; he has used slurs in his posts about women;
  • “That gay men should not be permitted in academia either, because he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students;
  • “That he believes that black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions, and are generally inferior academically to white students.”

The university said it will not force any student to take his class and will institute a new grading policy for students who do choose to be in his class.

A similar story has been unfolding at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, where students have long called for the firing of a professor who has said, among similar things, that the United States would be “better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.”

Law professor Amy Wax, who has taught at the school for nearly 20 years, has long made controversial statements, which university officials then roundly condemn. But she has kept her job anyway.

Last month, scores of students marched in front of the law school to protest. The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported that last July, Wax spoke on a panel about immigration at a conference of conservatives and said that immigrants “are too loud” and that this country is “better off if we are dominated numerically … by people from the First World, from the West, than by people who are from less advanced countries.”

Read the astonishing message from Indiana University:

On the First Amendment
This message was sent to the Kelley School of Business community Nov. 20, 2019.
Professor Eric Rasmusen has, for many years, used his private social media accounts to disseminate his racist, sexist, and homophobic views. 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. He has posted, among many other things, the following pernicious and false stereotypes:
* That he believes that women do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia, and that he believes most women would prefer to have a boss than be one; he has used slurs in his posts about women;
* That gay men should not be permitted in academia either, because he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students;
* That he believes that black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions, and are generally inferior academically to white students.
Ordinarily, I would not dignify these bigoted statements with repetition, but we need to confront exactly what we are dealing with in Professor Rasmusen’s posts. His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st. Sometimes Professor Rasmusen explains his views as animated by his Christian faith, although Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs; indeed, he counseled avoiding judgments. Rhetorically speaking, Professor Rasmusen has demonstrated no difficulty in casting the first, or the lethal, stone.
His latest posts slurring women were picked up by a person with a heavily followed Twitter account, and various officials at Indiana University have been inundated in the last few days with demands that he be fired. 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. That is not a close call.
Indiana University has a strong nondiscrimination policy, and as an institution adheres to values that are the opposite of Professor Rasmusen’s expressed values. We demand tolerance and respect in the workplace and in the classroom, and if Professor Rasmusen acted upon his expressed views in the workplace to judge his students or colleagues on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, or race to their detriment, such as in promotion and tenure decisions or in grading, he would be acting both illegally and in violation of our policies and we would investigate and address those allegations according to our processes. Moreover, in my view, students who are women, gay, or of color could reasonably be concerned that someone with Professor Rasmusen’s expressed prejudices and biases would not give them a fair shake in his classes, and that his expressed biases would infect his perceptions of their work. Given the strength and longstanding nature of his views, these concerns are reasonable.
Therefore, the Kelley School is taking a number of steps to ensure that students not add the baggage of bigotry to their learning experience:
No student will be forced to take a class from Professor Rasmusen. The Kelley School will provide alternatives to Professor Rasmusen’s classes;
Professor Rasmusen will use double-blind grading on assignments; if there are components of grading that cannot be subject to a double-blind procedure, the Kelley School will have another faculty member ensure that the grades are not subject to Professor Rasmusen’s prejudices.
If other steps are needed to protect our students or colleagues from bigoted actions, Indiana University will take them.
The First Amendment is strong medicine, and works both ways. All of us are free to condemn views that we find reprehensible, and to do so as vehemently and publicly as Professor Rasmusen expresses his views. We are free to avoid his classes, and demand that the university ensure that he does not, or has not, acted on those views in ways that violate either the federal and state civil rights laws or IU’s nondiscrimination policies. I condemn, in the strongest terms, Professor Rasmusen’s views on race, gender, and sexuality, and I think others should condemn them. But my strong disagreement with his views—indeed, the fact that I find them loathsome—is not a reason for Indiana University to violate the Constitution of the United States.
This is a lesson, unfortunately, that all of us need to take seriously, even as we support our colleagues and classmates in their perfectly reasonable anger and disgust that someone who is a professor at an elite institution would hold, and publicly proclaim, views that our country, and our university, have long rejected as wrong and immoral.
Lauren Robel
Executive Vice President and Provost