Feed on

I’ve been silent for now on the entire Rush Limbaugh dustup and my excellent colleague’s insights on it. Perhaps I’ll put up some thoughts shortly, but for now, without my comment, here is the response to all of this from our University President:

I was deeply disappointed to read UR Professor Steve Landsburg’s recent blogs praising Rush Limbaugh for a “spot-on analogy” with respect to his offensive remarks about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke (although Landsburg parted company with Limbaugh for calling Fluke a “slut”).  Landsburg went further.  He stated that Ms. Fluke’s position deserved “only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered.”  He further stated that the right word for her position was “extortionist,” characterized those who disagreed with his view as “contraceptive sponges,” and added that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.

Professor Landsburg has the right to express his views under our University’s deep commitment to academic freedom.  And, of course, no reasonable person would ever assume that he speaks for the University of Rochester.

I also have the right to express my views.  I am outraged that any professor would demean a student in this fashion.  To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in this way is about the most offensive thing a professor can doWe are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.

I totally disagree with Landsburg that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.  Having been a Dean of two law schools with clinics that addressed violence against women, I am all too aware of the terrible correlation between prostitution and the physical and emotional demeaning of women.

Landsburg now has made himself newsworthy as one of Limbaugh’s few defenders.   I wish he had focused instead on the ideal of a university as an institution that promotes the free exchange of ideas and lively debate at its best in an atmosphere of civil discourse in which the dignity of every individual is respected.

I highlighted some of the areas meriting response. One day I will. I’ll just say that I 100% support Professor Landsburg here. 100%.

UPDATE: for those of you interested in THE major reason I support my colleague (aside from the fact that he is among the most reasonable people I know, who wrote a book on economics and raising his daughter that persuaded me to change careers, and who actually considers seriously all good arguments in a way I have rarely seen anyone else do and who actively seeks to learn more and be persuaded by arguments than most people) is that he is extremely, intensely, consistently, focused on trying to sort out actual arguments from non-arguments. In the case of his initial post, he makes THIS POINT far more eloquently, succinctly and better than I ever could – it is precisely the message I was trying to deliver.  Furthermore, even if every one of you guys thinks that his choice of language, even after considering what I just said, was inappropriate, do we really want to live in a world where the reaction to language is like this? I miss playing football most of all on days like today.

39 Responses to “This Deserves Comment from Me”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    I thought you knew that a university’s “deep commitment to academic freedom” and “free speech” really means leftist/collectivist/Democrat free speech, not ANY free speech.

  2. Speedmaster says:

    Further, while I’m not a Rush fan and don’t particularly care for his statements, I find the double-standard from the Left appalling.

  3. Mark says:

    Since when does sexual freedom entail forcing others to provide you Birth control? I can’t help but laugh at all the stupidity in getting so worked up Over this. If he had a heart condition and was advocating for subsidized heart medication, I would still disagree but would be far more sympathetic (which I guess is why people are flinging words around). A course of hormonal birth control is literally 9 dollars at target or Walmart, and yes you can thank the emergent order for that assholes.

    What I don’t understand is why fluke even needs birth control looking like that. There my nasty fluke joke of the day, president seligman, if you read this site and/or know who I am come get me!

  4. chuck martel says:

    Fluke is a professional activist representing an ideology, not the student body of Georgetown law school. By inserting herself into national politics she has accepted the same unkind commentary that others such as Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham, etc. have.

    Steve Landsburg’s comments are a different issue altogether. As are those of the university president, who implies, perhaps correctly, that Landsburg is advocating prostitution. There’s a contradiction in any vision of freedom that restricts the voluntary exchange between individuals represented by prostitution. That’s a common, but maybe minority view. We are more rarely made aware of the issue of sex for unattractive, repulsive men. Are disgusting men to be doomed to a life without heterosexual activity because others feel that they shouldn’t be able to pay to enjoy what other, more attractive people get for free or in exchange for drinks and dinner or a family ceremony? It’s about time someone stood up for the ugly, obnoxious element of society.

  5. Speedmaster says:

    >> “Since when does sexual freedom entail forcing others to provide you Birth control?”

    +1000 Two different issues.

  6. Steve says:

    The left is outraged because Rush was telling the truth, although rather crudely. Nothing pisses radical advocates of any stripe more than naked raw impersonal truth.

  7. mark says:

    I think some people are coming for your head (or your other appendages)

    people on Facebook are talking of printing fliers? just thought i would lets that fly out there.

    I guess the actual argument matters not, just the “symbolism” of what you said

  8. Speedmaster says:

    Hasn’t Bill Maher called many women despicable things in recent years? And I think he just donated $1mm to Obama. Double-standards?

  9. […] reposting this (I suppose). In other news (for which I am sure they’ll come after me for): GreenSpace works […]

  10. Brian Schmeer says:

    I think the President is right to be angry with Landsburg. Like Limbaugh, Landsburg seems to get a kick from using vile and nasty language to get his points across. Whether they are right or wrong about their opinions, as a Professor (or any human being), stating that a student should be mocked, ridiculed and jeered for her opinions is wrong. Landsburg, as a representative of a community, should be more sympathetic to the ideas of others, no matter how silly they are.

    As far as the issue goes, as Limbaugh properly notes, their may be good reason for government provided contraceptive measures. An analysis of the costs and benefits would be necessary. There may also be a moral reason to pay for contraceptive practices.

    The young lady from Georgetown did not give a very good argument (any argument?) in favor of gov’t provided contraceptive practice, but Limbaugh and Landsburg’s responses were in poor taste.

    If Landsburg can’t get his point across without being nasty and rude, I’d prefer he work at another school. My analysis on that one is simple, I don’t like assholes at the U of R.

  11. Anon says:

    Making a discussion about healthcare focus on contraception is perhaps the worst idea I can think of. Support for family planning and safe sex do not make someone equivalent to a prostitute, and when we let the debate move in this direction we all lose. The issue isn’t, or at least, shouldn’t be contraception. The issue is healthcare. Making support for safe sex part of our ridiculous healthcare system is wrong in the same way that making any other piece of modern medicine is wrong: it’s inefficient and and unfair. So we can and should yell all day long about the terrible state of health care in America, but the moment we conflate the issues of family planning and healthcare policy, the debate ends and the mudslinging begins.

    This is the wrong way to have the debate. A victory for fairness and efficiency is a defeat for sex education. And if that sounds like an ideal result to you, you’re thinking about sex wrong.

  12. Marc says:

    I still dont understand how anyone can actually defend Landsburg or Rush. President Seligman is right. As a university professor he should not be using disgusting language to demean another college student. President Seligman should absolutely consider firing him. Also everyone seems to forget that contraception has many other important uses besides being used as birth control.

  13. wintercow20 says:

    Blame my bad education, but I don’t understand anon’s comment, and given the anonymous e-mail cannot follow up to understand more.

  14. Anon says:

    Some people have heart failures, and I have to pay for that.
    Some people have safe sex and I’m helping pay for that too.

    I shouldn’t have to pay for either. But right now, I do. And I don’t see why I should be so much angrier about safe sex than heart disease or diabetes.

    Letting Limbaugh take the health care debate down this road opens the doors to moralist preaching and hate mongering. Why can’t we say “Safe sex and family planning are good but this is the wrong way to encourage it”

  15. wintercow20 says:

    Of course … I think the entire reason I am worked up is very closely related to your good point. None of this, as I see it, has anything to do with health or safe sex or any of that. Yikes is all I say. Yikes.

  16. Marc says:

    The main reason that I am worked up about this issue is not on the economics. It all has to do with language. People who believe that we shouldn’t be forced to pay for the health needs of others have a legitimate point. My main problem is the fact that as a University Professor I believe the derogatory name calling is extremely unprofessional. That is why I did not say that anything should happen to Rush because his comments are no different than any of the things that are said on a daily basis by people like Bill Maher and other talk show hosts.

    I was also pointing out that all the people who brand Fluke as a prostitute leave out the portion of her testimony that she described a friend who needed the contraception for a serious medical issue.

  17. Anon says:

    Well then I guess I have a question:

    Limbaugh is a bigot, he’s hateful and he lies. And right now, he’s correct about the absurdity of our healthcare.
    But Landsburg’s article didn’t say that. Landsburg ignored the reality of who Rush is and what he represents.

    Not just that. I can accept Landsburg calling Fluke is a whore and an extortionist and I can even tolerate his suggestions about privacy. I don’t care why Landsburg wants to throw in his hand with a dogmatic reprobate like Limbaugh. What I do care about is your “100% support” of Landsburg. In saying that I think that you ignored values that you believe in. I think you sacrificed your own self-consistency.

    Say you don’t agree with Fluke. Say we should have the right to choose what we do as individuals and the freedom to choose what who we do and don’t support. Say healthcare in America is a deranged monster. But to stand in line behind Limbaugh and say “This man is correct” is not something you have ever needed to do to be right and I don’t know why you did it.

  18. Marc says:

    Also when i said President Seligman should consider firing him I was not saying that I believe he should be. I don’t. I think this is going to cause some problems in the future with some people refusing to take classes taught by him which is a problem since he teaches classes crucial to completing the Economics major. I would never advocate firing someone for expressing an opinion. What I was trying to say, and I did not say it well, was that President Seligman needs to decide if this statement will cause significant damage to the school in the future and then make a decision.

  19. wintercow20 says:

    But I’m not standing behind Rush. I did not blog why I agreed, there’s a reason I did so without comment because I knew what it devolves into. My support comes from two places:

    (1) I think we ought to respect people’s right to be a jackass, if that is how folks’ comments are to be taken. I get called more names than anyone, I should know. If we walk down the road of doing anything more than trying to persuade one another that jackassed-ness is a bad thing and should be shunned I begin to get really worried.

    (2) One can make a point without having to sign up hook, line and sinker for everything a person might say. So, for example, John Locke once wrote a document that attempted to enslave the local people in the Carolinas (I don’t have the story entirely straight off hand) … so does that not mean it is OK for me to use his thoughts on original appropriation to talk about property distribution? I fear that is where a lot of the discourse is going … look back to a post I put up a week or so ago for an illustration of this (it was from an e-mail i excerpted).

  20. Anon says:

    “One can make a point without having to sign up hook, line and sinker for everything a person might say.”
    I think that’s not only admirable, but necessary for any academic pursuit. But then why say your support is 100% for Landsburg? It looks bad, it really does.

    In any event, I think point (1) you mentioned is much more important (and interesting) than any politicking or a discussion of Mr. Limbaugh’s cavernous faults.

    Does it seem to anyone else that Seligman’s open criticism of Landsburg is slightly hypocritical? If a university is supposed to be a place of learning and openness, that means students like Fluke can be wrong openly and shouldn’t be punished. But doesn’t that mean Landsburg can be a jackass openly and not be punished? Honestly, that’s a much more interesting discussion to be having.

  21. wintercow20 says:

    That’s precisely the discussion I wanted to be having. I support Steve for the reason I cite above, but also read through the comments of his several posts, and the entirety of his work – I’ve never met a single person who is a more honest truth seeker and I’ve seen him persuaded far more often than I ever seem to see myself persuaded.

    But I think a more important point is that “looks bad” is not exactly the kind of thing that makes for good discourse. If it looks bad of me to say that I think people do not understand Steve, then I am guilty. If it looks bad to suggest that the argument here has nothing at all to do with anything Steve literally wrote down, then yes again I am guilty. But what does “looks bad” mean? Does it mean I am a sexist, racist, etc.? If that’s the world we live in, then I really ought to be more cynical than I already am.

  22. Anon says:

    I think “looks bad” is the by-product of posting support without posting your thoughts. I think “looks bad” is the result of inference about uncertain information. And I think “looks bad” doesn’t mean “is bad” and that’s why I’ve been posting here for the last hour instead of studying: because I want to know that they aren’t the same thing.

  23. LE says:

    I think a point we’re forgetting about the merit’s of Professor Landsburg’s comments is that they have gotten a lot of people to have this discussion who otherwise wouldn’t. I walked past two different groups of people on campus talking about what he said, and I think that’s a good thing.

    Also, I think the irony of the national dialogue is being seriously underplayed. The logic used by Limbaugh/Lansburg sounds an awful lot like Elizabeth Warren’s argument for why the rich should pay more taxes…she argued that when society confers benefits on individuals, individuals should share they cost; L/L said that when individuals impose costs on society, society should share the benefits. It doesn’t seem to me like you can consistently agree with warren and disagree with L/L

  24. Rod says:

    I wonder how many people at universities and colleges around the country actually have listened to Rush, and of those who have listened, how many have listened long enough to develop an informed opinion about whether Rush is a bigot and wrong about the facts most of the time. I don’t know how demanding college work is these days, but when I went to college, watching TV and listening to Jean Shepherd (he used to be on nYc’s talk station, WOR) had to go by the wayside. I had better, more important things to do: surviving chemistry and chem labs, learning 300 French words a week (I had taken Latin in high school, and I was one of a very few that had had no French before taking French 101-102) and finding time to chase women who were interested in sharing a beer or five.

    At any rate, I am sure Rush regrets his choice of words. Frequently, he constructs deadpan arguments that push absurd views to the edge of absurdity, and this time it would have been better not to tangle with Ms. Fluke, an activist who must be used to people pronouncing her name incorrectly (it’s not pronounced like the word for the tail of a whale.

    What’s really going on in reaction to Rush is a campaign to silence him in an election year when Republicans fear being branded racists if they disagree with the president. Rush is outspoken, and he’s right on the facts 97 percent of the time (he hires a fact-checking company to verify just that). That’s why he has a huge audience, not because he makes routine personal attacks on people. Indeed, many of his listeners listen because they want to know what’s hot in politics. While some leftiish pundits appear to relish the possibility that Rush might lose advertisers and be driven off the air, the radio stations that carry him have advertisers lined up to take the place of anyone who drops the show, and they also know how his program brings money to the bottom line.

    Now, on to the University. Colleges and universities used to take pride in their devotion to academic freedom, a principle that used to be summed up by the statement, “I may disagree greatly with what you have to say, but I will always and forever defend your right to say it.”

    Back in the olden days, communist university professors demanded tenure so that they would not be fired for sticking up with Stalin. Now, however, we live in the Politically Correct age, when any misstatement that might be interpreted as offensive to certain groups of people can spark demands that the offending perfesser be hanged on the goalposts or be fired. Meanwhile, college curricula include courses like “Human Sexuality Workshop: Discovering Erotic Devices That Run on Batteries.”

    Let’s all take a deep breath. What began as an assault on religious freedom has not become a debate over whether ALL insurance companies offer free contraceptives with no co-payments, even. This debate illustrates the very danger of the “individual mandate,” where the government can demand that you buy health insurance. If the government can do that, it can demand anything that pops into the head of a government bureaucrat. It’s a short step from that to authoritarian government. Fasten your seat belt.

  25. Harry says:

    Has anyone asked why MS Fluke has chosen not to buy a policy to cover her birth control pills? Does she have a low-deductible policy on her car, or a big DC apartment, and decided not to insure her out-of-pocket drug expenses? As an adult, she should take care of herself.

  26. Anon says:

    Harry, does that help us do anything but attack Ms Fluke? We already know she’s wrong about healthcare, all knowing about her spending habits can do is show us that she’s more wrong and hypocritical. As far as I can tell hat doesn’t make us any more correct, it’s just looking for more to hate.

  27. Ben says:

    What I enjoyed most about your Econ 108 class was your seeming openness to new ideas and being challenged. I therefore find it extremely disheartening that you 100% support a professor who says that a woman expressing different viewpoints from his deserves to be ridiculed, mocked, and jeered.

    And by the way, Sandra Fluke never says that she wants you the pay for her contraception. She instead told the story of a classmate who needed birth control medication to control ovarian cysts. Birth control does more than prevent pregnancy. Can you at least recognize that Landsburg got this particular fact wrong and lower your support at least a few percentage points?

  28. Interested says:

    Is Landsburg being punished? Is Seligman preventing him from being a jackass, or is he just saying he disapproves? If the former, then he is being extremely hypocritical…if the latter, then he is just as free to show his disapproval of Landsburg as Landsburg is to show his of Fluke.

    As a truth seeker, wouldn’t Landsburg have served his own interests better if he had made the same points without the crude name-calling? Couldn’t he have provoked a passionate discussion, like the ones being held right now, about the legitimacy of subsidizing contraception, rather than about rhetoric and academic freedom?

  29. Harry says:

    And no I do not think it is my or anyone else’s business to tell her how to spend her money. If she decides not to buy insurance that covers cheap pills, that is her job to decide. She has a lot to decide for herself as a grown-up, so she does not become a burden on others. Moreover, we should not pay a social worker to interview her on what kind of car she drives, how much she spends on smartphones, lattes, etc.

    And she should not get food stamps or free anything unless it is freely given.

  30. Student says:

    We all have a right to speak our minds and I don’t think many people here would disagree with that. Also, I’m probably not the only person here who thinks that we should speak our minds if we feel we have something important to say.

    However, if you want your message to be received I think you must consider how your audience is going to receive it (this stands for anyone: Limbaugh, Landsburg, Seligman, whoever). There is a lot that Landsburg has to say (especially what he discusses in his follow up post to the one that is under fire) that is a very valuable addition to this contraceptive discussion. Unfortunately, all of the uproar right now about choice of language is muddying up the conversation to a point where it really isn’t happening at all; with Seligman’s comments, we’ve just seen more name calling thrown in.

    Perhaps there is a time when one must consider saying what is considered outside the realm of “civil discourse” because society has moved so far away from accepting a point of view that it is near impossible to discuss it in a “civil” way; however, I don’t think that time is now and I think more could have been done by everyone involved here to spread the message they want to spread without it being lost in endless argument.

  31. Harry says:

    Student, this is not a discussion about contraception.

    There are two main questions here, among others: 1) Is academic freedom a value that should be promoted? 2) What is the proper role of the state?

    On question #1, let me rephrase it: Should any university president try to intimidate a professor for politically incorrect speech, while at the same time paradoxically defending academic freedom?

    The principle of academic freedom, as I was taught by my Hungarian medieval history teacher, goes back to Renaissance days, when professors might be burned at the stake for uttering heretical sentences. (This fact has been documented by Michael Palin in Monty Python’s depiction of the Spanish Inquisition.)

    Since then until recently, there arose a noble tradition in the academy for tolerance of controversial opinions. Not that everything that turned out to be a good idea had to come from the font of the university, but rather that this free exchange of ideas, plus the pursuit of knowledge, would help prepare the Newtons of the world.

    We tolerate, as opposed to burn at the stake, professors such as Ward Churchill, who some think a fool, because we do not want to muzzle others who may wish to challenge his idea about the world. It is a bargain that means it works both ways.

    Now, I have read Professor Landsberg’s blog and find it full of new ideas, or let’s say new ideas about old ideas. I read WC’s blog because it is full of the same. Since I do not want to spend my time as a scholar of economics, they do some of my reading and writing for me.

    Most of the time when WC raises a legitimate question, there is the sound of crickets, where there should be either agreement on the point, or a reasonable counterargument. Checkmate, or I’ll keep playing.

    Instead, in this case, where Steve Landsberg makes a qualified (don’t use “slut” in your term paper about St. Theresa) and all hell breaks loose. He should not talk about any student being a slut, not what he did, and the student was not even at the U of R., and he was not talking about “green” sex devices.

    No, Student, this has nothing to do with contraception.

  32. Harry says:

    Meant to say, “…a qualified defense of Rush”

  33. Anon says:

    Harry, I disagree with the idea that this can only be “about” one thing. You can say that it isn’t about contraception, and I think that when it comes to the interesting, productive elements, you’re right. But to say no one involved had contraception on their mind seems presumptive.

    Student’s point wasn’t that this discussion is wholly centered around contraception, rather that the direction this discussion comes at us from is contraception, and that it’s a rocky field to be standing on.

  34. Harry says:

    Neither WC nor Steve Landsberg were talking about contraception. That may be what you wish to discuss, but it is off point.

    All of a sudden we discover the need to use words wisely, and launch fire at someone, or in this case multiple targets, ad hominem.

  35. Harry says:

    And, Anon, I said that professors L & WC had two central questions, and others in mind. My interpretation is that they think a discussion of contraception is uninteresting and off the point. You should go back and read what they wrote carefully. Most importantly, you should not rephrase your interpretation of their ideas into something that is convenient to attack. I am sure you know about that fallacy.

  36. Student says:

    Harry, I agree that WC and Landsburg want to have a discussion about academic freedom and I like much of what you wrote about the topic in your response. Academic freedom is very important to me and I can understand that the comments by Seligman do call into question the level of academic freedom permitted at the UR.

    You also mention that there is a second main question here: “what is the proper role of the state?” I agree with you; this is an important question brought up by both professors. When I said that I think this is a discussion about contraception, I suppose what I had really meant is a discussion about the role of the state, but the current context is about government mandated contraception coverage.

  37. Rod says:

    This entire discussion/debate online and in the news media arose when the Obama administration decreed that the Roman Catholic church had to offer employees at Catholic colleges and universities specific benefits in their health insurance that ran counter to some of the most important precepts of the Church. When this mandate was shown to be in conflict with the First Amendment, Kathleen Sibelius came up with a compromise that nonetheless did not address the unconstitutionality of the mandate, and it appeared for a while that the mandate might lose President Obama some Catholic votes in the upcoming presidential election.

    Sensitive as the president is to political liabilities, his political advisors and their allies did their best to turn the discussion in a direction that would favor the president. Thus it became a “women’s issue,” where the straw man of your typical Republican was someone opposed to women (and men) using contraceptives. It turns out that even Rick Santorum does not object to other people using contraceptives, but the facts in this case did not get in the way of the loudmouthed objections of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the DNC. Ms. Fluke also joined in with her assertion that all health insurance plans should pay the entire cost of contraceptives, which according to Ms.Fluke costs her three grand over the time she spends in law school. Thus now many supporters of socialized medicine and President Obama think they can keep the media amused with a public relations campaign over free contraceptives and the “rights” women have to them. From President Obama’s point of view, that beats the hell out of having the media focus on high unemployment, a depreciating dollar, a war against fossil fuels and pipelines that carrying them, the prospect of the Israelis bombing nuclear arms development sites in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood taking over in Egypt, Europe on the edge of financial collapse, Attorney General Eric Holder in hot water for the Justice department giving guns to narco-terroristas and the prospect of gasoline prices going up to five or six bucks a gallon.

    What? Me worry?

  38. Harry says:


    Perhaps you have been lucky as I was to walk into WC’s office. One notices he has a schedule for office hours that is filled up.

    To get to his office, you walk by posters of great economists’ lectures at the U of R.

    A minute after shaking hands with him and his TA, who is absorbed with preparation for a Macro class, one gets down to business, which is the next idea WC has on his mind.

    Student, whoever you are, you made good comments, showing your interest in learning. My impression is that Professors WC and Landsburg have the same interest, and they have channeled that interest into teaching you, teaching me, and spreading their ideas around the world in their blogs, for the noble purpose of ensuring liberty for us all, including the Wintercow herd and all.

  39. Just for the Lulz says:

    Before posting criticism, may I suggest that you “Lurk Moar” ? Here is a good place to start:
    As a matter of fact, to all people that are Pro-Seligman in this thread, instead of reading the college news or whatever they post on the U of R campus to get your facts, I suggest reading the Big
    questions Blog where you will read the real opinion of Dr. Landsburg. And yes I support Wintercow20 and Dr. Landsburg take on this case and I also condemn the UofR for using Double Standards and for being disconnected from its faculty and its students.

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