Furor Over Anti-Gay Blog

Some at Purdue want to see a librarian fired, but amid fierce debate over tolerance and free expression, university declines to do so.
November 13, 2009

Bert Chapman knows that his reason for opposing what he calls "the homosexual lifestyle" -- that it differs from his view of Biblical norms -- won't win many arguments these days in the secular world. So Chapman, a blogger who is also a librarian at Purdue University, turned to economics. And at his Conservative Librarian blog, he argues that gay people are an economic drain.

He cites the billions spent on fighting AIDS "without recognizing the morally aberrant sexual behavior ... causing its spread" and the "sad practice" of colleges and other employers offering domestic partner benefits in a way that "prevents them from providing additional coverage to those of us adhering to traditional sexual moral standards"; he goes on to say that gay people are causing economic problems in fields such as real estate and divorce law.

"Guess who has to pay for these increased costs and potentially lower investment returns? We do, regardless of whether or not we approve of the homosexual lifestyle. The next time some one tells you how wonderful is the 'progress' gays have made in recent decades ask them if they have ever thought about the multiple economic consequences of this 'progress' as described in this posting," he wrote.

The blog runs not on a university Web site, but at Townhall.com, a conservative news site. On the site, Chapman's biography notes his job as the political science librarian at the university, but also says: "Views presented on this blog are the author's personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of my employer."

But as word of the blog spread at Purdue, the campus has seen petitions and protests, with many calling for Chapman (who has tenure) to be fired. His critics say that what he writes is so hateful and inaccurate that it raises questions about his ability to do his job.

One sophomore wrote to The Purdue Exponent, the student newspaper: "That’s right. I’ll call for his job. As a student, as a lesbian, as a human being, I believe with every fiber of my being that Purdue University in no way should affiliate itself with the hateful, bigoted opinions of Professor Chapman. It would serve Professor Chapman well to know that there are quite a few 'sexually deviant' students on this campus and they just happen to pay his salary.... Imagine that Professor Chapman’s blog had been titled, 'An Economic Case Against Interracial Marriage' or 'An Economic Case Against the Disabled.' How would the Purdue administration react if they knew a professor was convinced racial segregation should still be in place or that the disabled should just stay home because building a ramp to a library would cost too much money?"

Another student wrote: "Bert Chapman surrendered his position at Purdue the moment he decided to publish such intellectual diarrhea on his blog. There are those who would defend this atrocious man by claiming that political correctness has conspired to snatch away his free speech, but this is not so. Dr. Chapman has the right to believe that homosexuals are immoral, just as it would be within his rights to believe the same about any other group of people.

"The issue is not Dr. Chapman’s views of homosexuality, bigoted and wrong-headed though they may be, but that he has abused his authority as a scholar and an expert to disseminate hate-filled propaganda. Professors are expected to use their studies to search for the truth, but Dr. Chapman appears to feel more at home making up his own facts about AIDS, prison sex and other such matters he falsely connects to what he calls sodomy. He is using these lies to extinguish the essential rights of a group that accounts for an estimated 5-10 percent of our nation’s total population. It should not be merely Purdue’s LGBT students and faculty that are offended by this, but every single decent soul on this campus. Dr. Bert Chapman is not just a homophobe, I think he’s a liar, and it’s about time he start looking for a job elsewhere."

Others -- including some who would join in condemning Chapman's views -- have said that they worry about the rush to demand his dismissal. A column in the Exponent by a self-proclaimed "libertarian-minded liberal" accused liberals of refusing to recognize Chapman's right to express himself. "Students’ outrage at Chapman’s blog is understandable, and, more importantly, merited. But once Purdue liberals proposed that Chapman be removed from Purdue for voicing his opinions, a line was crossed from democracy into fascism," the column says.

Kevin Casimer, a student who has been involved in organizing the protests against Chapman, said via e-mail that he isn't calling for the librarian's dismissal, but for a more forceful response by the university. "What I am primarily calling for is for all members of the Purdue community who think that Chapman's comments are damaging to say so publicly." He said that all of the talk about free speech -- while understandable -- is diverting attention from the need to confront and condemn Chapman's views. (Casimer details his views on the debates on his blog.)

The university has rejected calls to fire Chapman. "The university asks its faculty to make it clear that the viewpoints they express do not necessarily reflect those of the university. Mr. Chapman has gone out of his way to do this with a very clear disclaimer. He also took an extra step and posted his blog on a server not owned by the university," said a spokeswoman. "The university has a policy prohibiting harassment if it unreasonably affects a person's educational or work opportunities or affects his or her ability to participate in a university activity. This does not meet that standard. The First Amendment clearly allows him to state his opinion. The best response is to speak up, which is exactly what our students and some faculty are doing."

In a brief interview on Thursday, Chapman said he didn't want to talk about the situation at length because he wants the controversy to die down. He did say that the angry responses have been hurtful to him, and to his wife. He said that his supervisors at the university, consistent with the institution's statement, have not taken any action against him. But he said that he contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, just in case.

FIRE's Adam Kissel said that the organization is monitoring the situation and "has been pleased with Purdue's statements in defense of professors' freedom to publish their personal views on the Internet. This is a great learning opportunity for those students and faculty members who think wrongly that Purdue should censor or punish the professor."


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