A male student at Reed College—a private liberal arts college in Oregon—says he was told not to return to his Humanities 110 discussion because his opinions about the prevalence of campus rape offended other people in the class. His professor, however, disputed that characterization of events in an exclusive statement to Reason.
Reached by email, the student refused to answer my questions and made the weirdest demand I've ever heard. More on that in a minute.
First, the details. According to BuzzFeed, 19-year-old Jeremiah True told his classmates that the oft-cited 1-in-5 statistic about sexual assault was an exaggeration (an opinion with which I happen to agree). This and other politically incorrect opinions led his humanities professor, Pancho Savery, to ban him from attending discussions. In an email to True, Savery told him that these opinions made his classmatess—survivors of sexual assault among them—"extremely uncomfortable." He wrote:
"There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape," Savery wrote to True. "The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes. I, as conference leader, have to do what is best for the well-being of the entire class, and I am therefore banning you from conference for the remainder of the semester."
The story, first reported by BuzzFeed, was picked up at National Review and The Daily Caller. Both outlets criticized Savery for caving to hypersensitivity. NR's Kat Timpf complained that the recitation of a fact (that the 1-in-5 statistic isn't valid) could get a student in trouble:
Yes — he was banned for pointing out that a deceiving statistic was misleading. It's based on a survey of senior undergraduates from just two schools, both large public universities — hardly a sample that represents the entire country. And it didn't even ask the participants about "rape" in particular. Rather, it asked them if they had ever experienced any "unwanted sexual contact" — including "forced kissing" and someone "rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it's over your clothes."
Savery is known for being an ardent defender of free speech, which makes his apparent decision to remove True from class all the more baffling. While Reed College is a private institution not bound to follow the First Amendment or extend free speech rights to its students, this certainly seems like another incident where feelings-protection trumped open dialogue and violated the ethos of the law. If students can't debate cultural issues and facts in a classroom discussion, what kind of education are they getting?
All that said, I was curious about the context of True's remarks. While students should be able to speak up about controversial subjects, they aren't allowed to hijack classroom conversations and steer them wildly off track. If True was rowdy, interrupted other students, or veered off topic, that would be another matter.
Savery declined comment to BuzzFeed, but I was able to reach him via email. He confirmed that he was a "strong believer in the First Amendment," and maintained that the student's views were not the issue.
"He was not banned because of what he said but because of a series of disruptive behaviors," Savery told Reason.
I also reached True via email, and asked him whether he had been rowdy or disruptive in class. He responded by making a bizarre request. This was his email back to me:
Before I interview with you, you must agree to make "nigger" be the first word in your article.
I declined this ultimatum, and he declined to answer my questions. Needless to say, I've grown a lot more skeptical of True's side of the story. If I find out anything more that backs up either person's assertions about what happened, I'll update this story.