There’s been a lot of coverage (in my little slice of the world) of a medievalist at the University of Chicago who has been writing quite outrageous things about Milo the Professional Bigot. There’s more to say about Milo, but lots of folks are already saying it. Here’s my thread on the context surrounding Fulton.
My thread on Fulton, including some of her very strange writing, begins here: https://t.co/vCIwOGojfZ @Jo_Livingstone
— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) February 21, 2017
I am pretty much an absolutist when it comes to protecting “extramural utterances,” like tweets and blog posts, by academics. We’ve got to protect the right of academics like Fulton to compare Milo to Jesus (really!!!) without threatening their jobs. That said, it troubled me to see someone using their academic status to craft a nonsensical defense of Milo as a Christian visionary.
Julie Orlemanski, a brilliant medievalist (in English) at the University of Chicago, sent a letter on Sunday, February 19 (so post-Maher but before the pedophilia scandal went viral) criticizing a publication decision by Sightings, a University of Chicago Divinity School online publication focusing on “religion in public life from an academic perspective.” Sightings published an essay by Fulton, “Why Milo Scares Students,” praising his truth-telling and Christian virtue.
Orlemanski emphasizes that this essay is not extramural, but is rather a university publication with a set of standards, and publishing this material there has consequences.
I re-post the letter here, in full, with permission:
Letter to Dean of the Divinity School, to the Director of the Martin E Marty Center, and to the editor of Sightings:
I am writing as a colleague in the English department disturbed by the decision to publish Professor Rachel Fulton Brown’s article on Mr. Milo Yiannopoulos, as the Divinity School’s “Sightings” platform did on February 16, 2017 (now partially republished on Breitbart with the lede “An article published by the University of Chicago’s Divinity School….”) My objections are twofold. First, the piece falls short of the editorial standards laid out on the “Sightings” website; it fails to live up to the basic tenets of academic integrity that make our university a meaningful intellectual community. Second, the manner of publication shows no sensitivity to the inflammatory content of the article and the effects of this content on the university committee.
On this second point: It is a statement of fact that Mr. Yiannopoulos expresses xenophobic, racist, and transphobic ideas and carries out discursive violence by doxing (intimidating individuals by dumping personal information into the public domain) his critics as well as persons he identifies as undocumented immigrants or trans. The Anti-Defamation League refers to him as “a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic troll”
I would add that I invested time last week reading the 2016 Climate Report and the recent report of the Diversity Advisory Council so as to participate in one of the “Campus Conversations” about diversity, inclusion, and equity.
My first point above – that Professor Fulton Brown’s article fails to live up to the basic tenets of academic integrity that make our university a meaningful intellectual community – seems to me straightforward. The “Sightings” mission statement asserts that you publish “rigorous analysis of, and research-based opinions about, religion in the news.” The article does not meet this standard. To justify her account of who Milo Yiannopoulos is and what he stands for, she refers her readers to articles from Breitbart. But Mr. Yiannopoulos is a senior editor at Breitbart, and Professor Fulton Brown herself is listed as an author there; the site itself (as I’m sure you’re aware) is known for far-right opinion and commentary; it is not a credible source. The logic and historical basis for her claims regarding Christianity and the university are also poor. Given the straightforwardly inflammatory content of the article, “Sightings” might have insisted on a high standard of argumentation and evidentiary support, and I am disappointed that they did not. Instead, my colleagues and I are compelled to spend our time producing “more free speech” pointing out basic failures of journalistic and intellectual discourse.
To reiterate: I am writing with a sense of profound disappointment and frustration regarding how Professor Rachel Fulton Brown’s piece was published. It is my hope that “Sightings,” the Divinity School, and the university as a whole will act differently next time, by taking action to balance commitments to antiracism and antisexism with the values of intellectual exchange.
Thank you in advance for your response.