UT: Diversity or hypocrisy?Written by Douglas Oliver | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There has been much discussion regarding Crystal Dixon’s and UT President Lloyd Jacobs’ commentaries and the subsequent firing of Dixon. What is missing from this discussion is an analysis of what both Dixon and Jacobs said, in light of the First Amendment as well as UT’s mission statement and strategic plan.
The First Amendment prohibits state officials from inhibiting “the free exercise” of religion or abridging an individual’s “freedom of speech”. The First Amendment does not protect all speech. For example, private employers are allowed to regulate employee’s private speech. However, officials at state institutions are rarely allowed to regulate private speech.
When discussing the First Amendment, the Supreme Court often refers to the “marketplace of ideas.” In this marketplace of ideas, the best way to discover the truth is through a vibrant competition of ideas. Universities traditionally have been the bastions of this competition of ideas.
Today, most universities strive to achieve a high level of diversity to enhance the exchange of different viewpoints. UT’s strategic plan seeks a “greater diversity among students, faculty and staff.” Further, UT’s mission statement recognizes that one of UT’s core values is to “consider the thoughts and ideas of others inside and outside” of UT.
Consider the events that led up to the firing of Dixon in light of this background on the First Amendment and UT’s goal of increasing diversity. First, Michael S. Miller, editor in chief of Toledo Free Press, wrote an editorial advocating enactment of gay rights laws. In addition, Miller advocated domestic partner benefits for gay partners, especially at UT’s Medical College.
Miller’s editorial was answered by UT administrator Crystal Dixon, speaking as a private citizen. The following summarizes her main points:
• She opined that homosexual behavior is a choice, not a genetic trait such as a person’s race.
• Dixon cited statistics stating that the median income for gays and lesbians is substantially higher than the median for the general population. This point was made to imply that homosexuals have not been the target of employment discrimination as African-Americans have been.
• She implied that homosexual behavior runs counter to “God’s divine order.” Even so, she claims that “Jesus Christ is radically transforming the lives of both straight and gay folks.”
Two weeks later, Jacobs responded with his own editorial, stating that:
• Both he and UT support nondiscrimination with respect to sexual orientation.
• UT’s strategic plan emphasizes diversity as a core value.
• UT would “be taking certain internal actions” to “align our utterances and actions” with a system that values diversity.
Shortly after Jacobs’ article was published, Dixon was fired from her position at UT.
Reasonable people can argue for or against Dixon’s points. Regardless, her ideas should be freely debatable by UT employees.
Rather than debating the merits (or lack of merits) of Dixon’s arguments, Jacobs fired her for speaking out. This action sent a message to UT employees: they should not speak out on topics such as domestic-partner benefits — unless their opinion aligns with that of Jacobs.
By firing Dixon for speaking out on a controversial issue, Jacobs has stifled public debate by UT employees on a broad range of sensitive issues. Who knows what opinions he will find objectionable next? Jacobs’ actions have reduced the spectrum of ideas allowed in the marketplace of ideas at UT. This undermines the primary reason for UT’s goal to enhance diversity on campus.
It is hypocritical for UT administrators to boast of “diversity” while punishing those who speak out with diverse opinions.
Douglas Oliver is an attorney and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UT. While Oliver is an employee of the University of Toledo, he stresses that the views expressed are his personal views and are not those of the University of Toledo.