A University of Rochester economics professor in New York had about 30 students stand silently in his classroom Wednesday to protest comments he'd published on his blog defending Rush Limbaugh after he called a Georgetown Law student a "slut."
Steven Landsburg wrote in a post titled "Rush to Judgement" that Sandra Fluke, while deserving "the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position...deserves none." Her belief that contraception should be subsidized, he said, "deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered."
Landsburg published the post on March 2, before Limbaugh apologized for his remarks. In the post, he praised Limbaugh's "spot-on analogy," saying "[i]f I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits."
He went on to disagree with Limbaugh's use of the word "slut," suggesting a better word would have been "prostitute" or "a five-letter synonym."
"[B]ut that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex," he said. "Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to 'extortionist.' Or better yet, 'extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement.' Is there a single word for that?"
According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Landsburg's comments created a storm of controversy on campus, with university president Joel Seligman even penning a statement of condemnation, saying he was “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 do," Seligman wrote. "We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.”
University spokeswoman Sharon Dickman told the newspaper protesting students entered Landsburg's mid-afternoon class while he was teaching.
“They formed a line between him and the class. And he continued to lecture,” Dickman said, adding that campus police officers were on the scene but did not need to intervene.
Landsburg continued teaching and only ended class about five minute early, she said.
Rochester ABC affiliate WHAM-TV reported fliers passed around campus in advance of the protest denounced Landsburg's "attempt to smear a gender with derogatory terms."
“We are dismayed that a fully tenured academic would so carelessly sully our fine institution’s name," the flier said.
In an email to the Democrat and Chronicle, Landsburg said Seligman wants the University of Rochester to be a place where ideas can freely be exchanged, but said Fluke “didn’t even pretend to be interested in debating any of the serious issues raised by the question of when some of us should pick up the tab for others’ expenses.”
Landsburg told WHAM that if a student of his were to make Fluke's argument in an assignment, he'd be "gentler" in his criticism, though would still probably fail them.
“I think I would be considerably gentler with my students, but I think a student who turned in a paper that was devoid of argument like Fluke’s testimony was, they would not get a passing grade," he said.