Memo to the University of Iowa Class of 2015: don’t get Professor Ellen Lewin angry. You wouldn’t like Professor Lewin when she’s angry. Members of the current classes at Iowa recently learned this the hard way, when Lewin, Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies in the Department of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, let her opinion of them be known in a recent email.
As professorial emails go, Lewin’s was refreshing in its brevity. No fancy academic jargon from Professor L. She got straight to her point: “FUCK YOU REPUBLICANS” she wrote. Needless to say, her use of such surprisingly gendered language raised more than a few eyebrows, and in the case of the student organization to whom she directed her suggestion, no little ire.
What prompted the professor’s outrage was a campus-wide email from the College Republican Club, exhorting
Conservatives in Iowa City it is now time to come out of the closet!
I know at times it feels like you are the only person that disagrees with this liberal town, but you are not alone! We are asking all Republicans, Independents leaning right, or just anyone slightly frustrated with the current one party controlling every level of Johnson County, and some levels of Iowa and U.S. government to STAND UP!
The club’s email was approved by the office of student affairs at the university, as required by school policy. It goes on to list a number of activities the club had planned for the coming week, and closes with an invitation to an “Animal Rights BBQ.” Undergraduate humor at its best–turning the cliches of campus life on their head, and using parody to make a deadly serious point.
Professor Lewin, however, didn’t see the humor. She saw red. When the president of the Republican Club complained to Lewin’s chair, the chair knew a losing battle when he saw one, and pretty much ordered the outraged professor to apologize for her lack of civility. So she did. Sort of:
This is a time when political passions are inflamed, and when I received your unsolicited email, I had just finished reading some newspaper accounts of fresh outrages committed by Republicans in government. I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities. I would really appreciate your not sending blanket emails to everyone on campus, especially in these difficult times.”
Pay attention, class! Note the sarcasm in the Lewin’s apology. We will return to it shortly. Note that her emotions eroded her capacity to grasp the most basic of rhetorical no-no’s when she warps into overdrive to hector the students who were “sending blanket emails to everyone.” Care for a tautology, anyone? Note her willingness to curtail the rights of a student group that had followed university policy in order to get its message out, to use the campus’s email system. And, finally, note her reference to “these difficult times.” I might apprehend this an allusion to A Tale of Two Cities. I suppose Lewin would accuse me of sexism if I did.
One of the characteristics of deep-thinking faculty such as Professor Lewin is the fanaticism with which they defend their work. This is generally a good thing for scholarship and research, but in rare instances it leads to unintended consequences. Such is the case with Lewin. Incapable of letting anyone else have the last word, profane or otherwise, and unable to keep her own yap shut, Lewin took to her computer once again, firing off a second email, to “clarify” her apology. Not being much of a deep thinker myself, I, on the other hand, always thought the words “I’m sorry” pretty much covered all the bases. But deep-thinking Lewin had to footnote her apology, just like the good scholar of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies that she is:
I should note that several things in the original message were extremely offensive, nearly rising to the level of obscenity. Despite the Republicans’ general disdain for LGBT rights you called your upcoming event “conservative coming out day,” appropriating the language of the LGBT right movement. Your reference to the Wisconsin protests suggested that they were frivolous attempts to avoid work. And the “Animal Rights BBQ” is extremely insensitive to those who consider animal rights an important cause. Then, in the email that Ms. Ginty sent complaining about my language, she referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted. I do apologize for my intemperate language, but the message you all sent out was extremely disturbing and offensive.
In other words, Professor Lewin is free to question the “delicate sensibilities” of anyone who might have been offended by her language, but herself has an attack of the vapors when a student has the temerity to refer to the Professor by her first name. Oh, the incivility! Oh, the obscenity! And if that alone was insufficient to justify Professor Lewin’s retracting her apology, then surely the “appropriation” of “coming out” a term to which, according Ellen Lewin, Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies in the Department of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered students have exclusive rights (let’s pass over lightly the appropriation of the word “gay,” lest the top of Lewin’s head blow off) is enough for Lewin to affirm that her apology is indeed the joke she intended it to be. So afraid was she that the Republican students would be too stupid to figure out her apology was just another FU, Lewin felt compelled to spell it out for them.
Do you really wonder why Republican students at the University of Iowa are in the closet?