Inside Higher Ed covers a spat in the blogosphere that touches on some interesting issues of free speech and academic politics.
Paul Deignan, a graduate student in mathematics and mechanical engineering at Purdue who blogs at Info Theory, has run into some trouble with Bitch Ph.D. after challenging her in the comments thread on this post about the Samuel Alito nomination. Deignan is a conservative with strongly held “pro-life” views; Bitch Ph.D. is a leftist feminist academic. After some rather heated debate, Bitch Ph.D. banned Deignan from commenting on her site, but matters didn’t end there. Another poster, University of Northern Iowa history professor Wallace Hettle, took it upon himself to email Deignan’s dissertation advisors informing them that Deignan had been “‘trolling’ a feminist academic web site with disruptive and abusive comments” and hinting that it reflected badly on them, since he was linking to a homepage that listed them as his academic advisors. Deignan was apparently called in and advised to “refrain” until he’s graduated.
What to make of this? Deignan’s numerous posts on his own site don’t exactly paint him in a positive light. He comes ascross as rather grandiose, egomaniacal, and prone to blustering; if he is, as he claims, concerned about his reputation and repercussions to his career, then he has certainly done more damage to himself than Bitch Ph.D. and Hettle have. He may well be an attention-seeker and, to be blunt, a jerk. His lawsuit threat against Bitch Ph.D. seems pretty ridiculous, and his stated intent to “out” her doesn’t earn him much sympathy, either (though I wonder if the people who are righteously outraged were equally appalled by Brian Leiter’s threat to “out” Non-Juan Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy a few months ago).
That said, a few other observations are in order.
Hettle’s behavior — tattling on Deignan to his academic superiors for exercising his freedom of speech in a manner Hettle didn’t like — is appalling, and smacks of just the kind of politically correct thought police that many conservatives believe is rampant in the “liberal” academy. Hettle later asserted that he took this action only after Deignan had sent him “threatening” email. However, a look at the chronology, compiled by Hans Gruber at Advocatus Diaboli, shows that Hettle’s initial claim to have reported Deignan to his advisors came before Deignan’s two emails to Hettle and, in fact, prompted those emails (which were perhaps somewhat obnoxious but hardly “threatening”). There is some question as to whether Hettle had actually emailed Deignan’s advisors when he first bragged about it. Either way, though, Hettle at least threatened to report Deignan to the proper authorities — clearly with the intent of causing him trouble — for nothing more than his comments in the thread at Bitch Ph.D.
It should be noted that “Bitch” and Hettle both claim that Deignan’s worst and more trollish comments were deleted from the thread at the time of his banning. Unfortunately, neither of them has given any hint as to what was in those deleted comments. (A pdf of the comments thread is posted at Heignan’s site, but it seems, at least at first glance, substantially identical to the one at Bitch Ph.D.)
Here is the post on the basis of which Bitch Ph.D. herself says, in the thread, that she is banning Deignan (the references to deleted comments didn’t crop up until later, during the brouhaha over Hettle’s running to tattle to Deignan’s advisors):
Actually, I am a researcher.
The question of the day, “Can pro-choice activists be drawn out into a rational discussion of the Alito nomination and issues even more to the core?”
The answer goes to determining character and capacity. I have marked the question as answered. Unfortunately, it looks like I will need to wait longer for my bet to come to fruition (fementation?–The $100 was in grape juice).
P.S. “Smart” people don’t worry about being called smart or proving smartness. We just think and ask questions with a point. And then we observe and think some more.
If we ask the right questions, then the results speak for themselves. In any case, the fun of it is in the chase.
Yes, I suppose you could argue that this is a flame dressed up in polite language, since Deignan is impugning the pro-choice activists’ character and their capacity to argue rationally about the Alito nomination. But the fact is that before this post, Bitch Ph.D. herself had not only permitted but engaged in overt flaming toward Deignan (whose worst “sin” until then had been to accuse her of “linking talking points w/o analysis” and making “exaggerated and misconstrued” points about Alito’s record). Here, for instance, is an earlier exchange between Hettle and “Bitch”:
Paul Deignan is a prolife troll.
It is abortion related threads that attract trolls, and in my experience the trolls always seem to be men. Wonder why that is?
No, Paul Deignan is an arrogant sexist who is determined to show how much smarter he is than the lady professor.
Which pretty much explains why trolls of that sort are always men.
And an earlier exchange between Deignan and other posters at the blog:
Oh Paul, if it weren’t for such smart and thoughtful trolls like you, how could we ever get across all these bridges to your brave new world?
It must be nice having one of those all expenses paid, live in a hotel at your think tank internships to keep you from the horrors of graduate school or the risk of having a woman boss in the corporate world. (and we all known how those corporate women bosses are …)
I’m a PhD candidate at Purdue.
You could find that out easily with a tiny bit of research (two clicks).
got any slaves?
or is your state not allowed to protect the “right” to own slaves?
I’m sure Paul is very familiar with two clicks … two clicks of his heels. Sig Heil!
This is about as blatant a display of “liberal” intolerance as I’ve ever seen. And it’s followed by a vindictive attempt to use outright intimidation to silence and punish Deignan for having the temerity to express anti-abortion views at a feminist website. To their credit, many posters at various sites who identify themselves as left-of-center have been quite willing to acknowledge that. It’s too bad that some liberal professors have chosen to defend Hettle’s exercise in left-wing “academic McCarthyism,” as Richard Bennett properly calls it.
Bennett makes another good point:
Feminists who support Bitch Ph. D. and her stances on women’s rights should support Deignan, because Hettle’s actions indicate a deeply patriarchal attitude. There was no reason for him to get involved in the spat between Bitch and Deignan; she was handling things in her own way and she’s fully capable of managing her blog. Taking the dispute into Real Life crosses a line, even when it’s your own dispute. When it’s somebody else’s, it’s completely absurd.
Scratch a “male feminist,”* and a lot of the time you’ll find a paternalist who wants to play knight in shining armor.
* Footnote: I here use the word “feminist” not in the sense of someone who believes in the fundamental equality of men and women, but of someone who believes that women in our society are an oppressed class.