More on the Mansfield situation, from a Mansfield professor

Christopher Phelps, a history professor at Ohio State University, Mansfield, asked me to post his letter to the Dispatch in response to their coverage of the situation involving the anti-gay book selection for the freshman “unifying reading experience” and the subsequent harrassment charge. Here it is:


“Newspaper off base in criticism of harassment reports”

May 06, 2006

As a member of the faculty of Ohio State University at Mansfield, I write in the hope of providing a more precise rendering of a recent conflict on campus.

The campus’ head reference librarian told The Dispatch in an April 21 news article that he was accused of “sexual harassment” by the faculty for what the reporter called his “tongue-in-cheek” suggestion that a book called The Marketing of Evil be assigned to all incoming students as part of a first-year reading experience. A subsequent Dispatch editorial (April 26) condemned the faculty for requesting an investigation into sexual harassment.

In actuality, the faculty assembly in March decided not to request an investigation as a body. Two individual professors did file reports, but in reference to “harassment based on sexual orientation,” or discrimination, not sexual harassment. Such a referral does not imply judgment. It merely notifies the human-resources office that discrimination might have occurred.

Our faculty believes firmly in free speech. We believe intellectual freedom is critical to the life of a university. We do not fault investigators for concluding that no harassment occurred.

We believe, however, that The Dispatch is wrong to condemn the faculty members who made the referrals. University policy obliges anyone who knows of a possible case of discrimination to report it, for the obvious reason that secondary parties must be encouraged to refer such matters lest victims suffer privately, leaving the university liable and injustice unaddressed. The two faculty members who filed reports, neither of them gay, perceived that their gay colleagues were finding the workplace inhospitable.

Referral of the dispute to human resources was not an act of intellectual oppression. It was an attempt to restore an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance to the campus, including the freedom of consenting adults to love whomever they wish without discrimination.

Dispatch columnist Joe Blundo has done an excellent job of conveying the ludicrousness of The Marketing of Evil (“Left vs. right: All opinions should be heard,” Tuesday). Quite apart from demonstrating its unabashed bigotry, his column makes it clear that this is a book wholly unsuited to the purpose of introducing undergraduates to the life of the mind. Why would a reference librarian, entrusted with guiding students to the best possible sources, recommend such a screed?

But the news media’s coverage has missed a crucial point: the discrimination reports did not focus on the book suggestion so much as the librarian’s unyielding defense of the book, even after the revelation of its bigotry, his disparagement of faculty expertise and his forwarding of others’ e-mails to an outside organization. The claim that his proposal was tongue-in-cheek is belied by the fact that when he was employed at Lakeland Community College in 2004, he displayed an antigay book prominently, provoking controversy there, as well.

Our faculty seeks a university that is a beacon of intellectual freedom, high scholarly standards and freedom from discrimination based upon sexual orientation. I look forward to the day when we can say with assurance that our library manifests the same principles.



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