The Nutty Professor

Apologies for being late to bang this particular gong, but it’s really quite timeless. Dateline: Iowa! College Republicans, if that’s not an oxymoron, send out an email touting an upcoming event. A professor in the Department of Aggrieved Fixation on Issues We Have Magnified Beyond Belief reads it, has steam shoot out her ears, and fires back: F You. She elaborated on the F, of course. It made news because she used the campus email system, and because we like to think professors are kindly doddering sorts who have offices stuffed with paper and a dusty bust of Goethe, not foul-mouthed harridans who drop into gutter-speak the moment someone outside their ideological bubble has the cheek to suggest that college belongs to everyone, not just Bolshevik barnacles hanging on the ivy-draped marble walls. Of course, she apologized. In a follow up email to the college Republicans, Lewin reportedly responded: “This is a time when political passions are inflamed, and when I received your unsolicited email, I had just finished reading some newspaper accounts of fresh outrages committed by Republicans in government. I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities. I would really appreciate your not sending blanket emails to everyone on campus, especially in these difficult times.” Oh, this is a time when political passions are inflamed? Today and yesterday and also last week and also a time stretching back to the founding of the first colony. But yes, things are inordinately inflamed these days, and when someone has just read about Fresh Outrages in the newspaper, it’s all you can do not to shout F YOU from the rooftops, or find someone in a cafe reading National Review, knock it out of their hands and hiss how dare you. The language, she admits, was “inappropriate,” the weasel-word the therapy culture uses instead of “wrong,” and it also suggests there’s a time when telling strangers F YOU is approprate. Perhaps if you’ve just finished reading the paper and it had twice as many Fresh Outrages “Apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities” is a howler, though; gives the game away. Translation, no apology whatsoever, because you don’t have delicate sensibilities, you morons, and your outrage is a pretense. Of course, her sensibilities were scraped raw by the letter, which used the term “coming out” to describe being open about one’s political beliefs. Those words belong to another group! That’s insensitive and inappropriate and cruel and hateful and homophobic and encourages a culture of harassment. Really:
Lewin also said she had been offended by several “extremely offensive” things in the email, including an invitation to an “Animal Rights BBQ,” disdainful references to the Wisconsin protests and the fact that College Republicans were “appropriating the language of the LGBT right movement.”
When they do it, it’s satire. When the right does it, it’s hurtful appropriation.  According to this story, it was also personally insulting:
Lewin also chastised the chairwoman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans, UI junior Natalie Ginty, for calling her by her first name in an email complaining about the vulgarity. “She referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted,” she wrote.
  Would you please call her professor? She’s worked so hard for that title. She concluded the apology: “I would really appreciate your not sending blanket emails to everyone on campus, especially in these difficult times.” Do not send me any message that may contradict my worldview if the times are difficult.  And what makes them so difficult? Because heaven on earth had been glimpsed, if only for a month or two – and then tide turned, so horribly, and now the rich have the upper hand once more, determined to carry out their plan to close Planned Parenthood, drive “Car Talk” off the air, and require public employees to write out their own checks for their union dues. It’s Kristallnacht all over again. Why does it matter? It doesn’t, in the large sense, because the great squishy middle  – the people who don’y pay attention to the tales that grip the blogosphere  – won’t be moved one way or the other. It makes the Right grin, because it validates opinions about the collegiate left; it makes the Left gnash their teeth and rend their garments, because it gives aid ‘n’ comfort to the enemy, and obscures the real issue, which is FRESH REPUBLICAN OUTRAGE you never hear from the corporate GE- controlled media. But it does reminds us of some modern truths: 1. The idea that academia is some Olympian preserve with no connection to the tedious scrum of mortal conflict is, of course, nonsense. F YOU. 2. No one who believes in reduced tax rates, and opposes a carbon tax, can expect to get a fair shake in the professor’s classroom, should she learn you hold such heretical ideas. Doesn’t matter whether they’re relevant to the subject matter in her class. F YOU. 3. The Left is pushed to these things, which goes a long way towards mitigating responsibility. Just as the Koran-burner is responsible for the riots on the other side of the world, the bulk e-mailer is responsible for the reaction of a professor confronted with heresy. F YOU. 4. In the professor’s world, the University is the perfect model of society: money comes from . . . somewhere, there’s no industry, people are properly viewed through the prism of skin color and sexual identity, art and “culture” are the pre-eminent objects of study, and tenure insulates the elite from economic realities. Everything that was done to establish the conditions under which the University of Iowa to exist and thrive are irrelevant, and possibly offensive, and can be discounted with a wave of the hand: thank you so much for building this stable civil society that permits us to train termites intent on chewing its foundation; now please be quiet, because there are patriarch-paradigms we have to undo. F YOU. Oh: and please approve our tuition increase. Thank you.  


  1. Jon Olesberg says

    Good artical Lileks. My father and I live in Iowa City, and he infact works for the U of I, as do many people in this town. (don’t stalk us, this is suppose to be a troll free zone)He actualy got the email from the Republicans,as everyone did. We love the email, as we had recently been talking about how it seemed like we were the only republicans in town(viva la’ resistance!). My favorite event was the “Animal Rights BBQ”. I said at times I felt like the snipers in Black Hawk Down, in our “we got to try to hold off, but we are probably screwed” mindset.
    Do I even need to say what would happen if it had been a gay group, let alone a Republican Professor? I think every one has the right to say words as they like, I mean 1st – freaking – amendment! And a term ment to talk about trying to find others who are like you worked very well for that email. And come on, it had to be a little edgy, most people in the University who got it are already hippys, and have wide boundries.
    Let me leave you with one last thought. This email was sent using a campus wide sending adress, meaning there was no way to reply to it. The Professor didn’t just have a bad day and send the email before she could think. She looked up the Conservative Student Group, found it’s members and leaders, and found their email. She didn’t just click reply. She went to an effort to find all this information. And who does the newpaper hear blame? The Republicans! It feels like living in the beltway. Seriously, I believe this county voted against Ronald Regan by a huge majority in his landslide victory.

    • Chris Bogdan says

      Your final paragraph provides some interesting perspective – thanks Jon.

      When I read the original story, I remember thinking that the entire affair could be summed up/explained by noting the professor’s full title;

      Ellen Lewin, professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies in the Department of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies.

      Seriously. How would you like to sit across from her at a dinner party? I can’t even come up with a quip that could match the hilarity of that combination of words, never mind the fact that they’re being deployed unironically.

      • Jon Olesberg says

        I’m sorry everyone, I made a mistake. It turns out the professor might have been able to reply, and didn’t have to look them up. I was misinformed. I hope no illrespect on the professor or any one to be mislead.