An Immodest Proposal

A conservative professor is under fire for comparing -- facetiously, he says -- Judge Brett Kavanaugh's alleged actions to "spin the bottle," and for suggesting limiting judicial nominees to rapists. Students say his words are dangerous, but he thinks he's collateral damage in the culture wars.

October 4, 2018
 
Mitchell Langbert

Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College with a self-professed “taste for controversy,” has long raged against what he sees as the liberal academic machine. But when he raged against the opposition to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination by comparing what Kavanaugh is accused of to “spin the bottle,” Langbert got more than taste of blowback.

Students and other observers are calling for Langbert’s termination, online and on campus, and they’ve organized a protest against him set for later today at the college.

Late last week, following Christine Blasey Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Langbert wrote a short post on his personal blog saying that if “someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.”

Democrats “have discovered that 15-year-olds play spin-the-bottle and they have jumped on a series of supposed spin-the-bottle crimes during Kavanaugh's minority, which they characterize as rape,” he wrote, “although no one complained or reported any crime for 40 years.”

Langbert continued: “Democrats have become a party of tutu-wearing pansies, totalitarian sissies who lack virility, a sense of decency, or the masculine judgment that has characterized the greatest civilizations: classical Athens, republican Rome, 18th century Britain and the 19th century U.S. They use anonymity and defamation in their tireless search for coercive power.”

Calling the Kavanaugh hearing a “travesty,” Langbert concluded that if congressional Republicans are going to allow “the sissy party” to use it to stop conservatism, “then it is time found [sic] a new political party.” He added that “having committed sexual assault in high school ought to be a prerequisite for all appointments, judicial and political.”

Students have spoken out against Langbert's words as irresponsible and even dangerous.

“His statements are genuinely dangerous," Corrinne Greene, a college senior and leader of the campus Young Progressives of America chapter, told The New York Post. "They clearly advocate for participating in violent crimes, and generally in discrimination against women, who are already in serious danger, statistically, on college campuses and in broader society."

Langbert said this week that his blog typically gets about 20 hits per week. So he didn’t expect this post to get much attention -- until it did. Emailed physical threats and harassment ensued, he said, and he’s since added to his blog what he said shouldn’t have been necessary: a disclaimer that the post was a satire, in the tradition of Jonathan Swift’s "A Modest Proposal." The classic piece calls for poor Irish people to sell their children for food.

“I was surprised to learn that some readers took me literally, claiming that I advocate rape,” Langbert wrote in his updated post. “Given that it is unclear that Kavanaugh did a thing, the defamation that he has suffered at the hands of the media is a disgrace. Intolerance of and defamation of anyone who does not toe the big government line are ongoing threats to freedom. The humiliation that Judge Kavanaugh has suffered is a disgrace.”

He added, “Perhaps more time should be spent on Horace and Swift, and less time on political indoctrination in college.”

Again raising the specter of political indoctrination, Langbert told Inside Higher Ed that it’s ironic how certain words today -- in this case, his -- are deemed violent but that actual physical threats against him are somehow acceptable. That argument is not original. Many conservatives had levied it against students and more liberal faculty members in the era of trigger warnings and campus protests. But asked how that notion squared with the fact that the allegations against Kavanaugh involve violence -- specifically that he pinned Blasey Ford to a bed and covered her mouth, making her worry he'd accidentally smother her -- Langbert said in an interview that he hadn't been following the case as closely as some.

“I’ll admit that it probably wasn’t all that well written,” he said of his original post. “But what I’m getting at here, first of all, is that the accusations against Kavanaugh are, in my opinion, not true. And I think that there are certain words in the English language that have been misused … There’s an acceleration of this, in how terms like ‘sexual assault’ take on a life of their own.”

As to whether he thought Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh were false, or if they simply didn’t qualify as assault, Langbert said, “If he forced her to do something, that’s wrong. But if he tried to touch or kiss her, while it’s wrong, it’s not something that is of any consequence to a Supreme Court nomination. As to what the facts are, I don’t think anyone knows.”

Langbert added that his initial reaction Blasey Ford’s decades-old claims is that they were “a put-up job by the Democrats.”

The college referred a request for comment to an all-campus memo from Anne Lopes, provost, which says that an unnamed faculty member “blogged a gender-biased and homophobic post that advocates sexual assault.”

Lopes said the post was “offensive, obviously abhorrent and contravening the fundamental values and practices of our community.” Yet the First Amendment “protects even speech that many experience as offensive,” she said.

The college hopes that students and others “will respond to abhorrent speech with persuasion and join in the conversation” via a reflection submission link, Lopes said. Details about a related forum are forthcoming.

Langbert denied that his post was homophobic or advocated assault. But he said that he appreciated the implication that his speech was protected.

Asked if he had faith that the college would continue to hold his speech as protected, Langbert said he’d already retained a lawyer. “I really don’t know what they’ll do.”

Read more by

Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.

 

 
+ -

Expand commentsHide comments  —   Join the conversation!

Today’s News from Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Quick Takes

What Others Are Reading

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
Back to Top