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Rochester professor sets off debate on Rush Limbaugh

Debating Prof's Defense of Limbaugh
March 8, 2012

Rush Limbaugh has faced widespread criticism in the last week -- even from some who agree with his hard-right politics -- for calling a Georgetown University law student a slut and a prostitute for her advocacy of employee health plans covering contraception.

Limbaugh has since apologized, but one of his rare defenders -- a University of Rochester economics professor -- is facing criticism on his campus (and a protest in his class on Wednesday) for his blog posts that said Limbaugh was absolutely correct in his criticism of the law student.

"[W]hile Ms. Fluke [the law student] herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatseover [sic]. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty. I expect there are respectable arguments for subsidizing contraception (though I am skeptical that there are arguments sufficiently respectable to win me over), but Ms. Fluke made no such argument. All she said, in effect, was that she and others want contraception and they don’t want to pay for it," wrote Steven Landsburg, the professor, on his blog, The Big Questions.

"To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If 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. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself."

Joel Seligman, president of the university, issued a statement in which he focused not on the policy questions of health insurance, but on the tone with which a professor had attacked a student at another university. "I am outraged that any professor would demean a student in this fashion," Seligman said. "To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in this way is about the most offensive thing a professor can do.  We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination."

"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," added Seligman.

The Rochester president further noted that "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."

On Wednesday, about 30 students protested Landsburg's comments by coming to one of his courses and standing between him and the class while he continued to lecture, The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported. They left after 15 minutes but then came back at the end of the class.

In an e-mail message to the newspaper, Landsburg defended his right to speak out, and said it was consistent with Seligman's calls for open debate. The law student he criticized "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."

 

 

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