Just wondering: is being a jerk an important part of “conservative thought and policy?”

Steven Hayward, The University of Colorado-Boulder’s first Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, has worked to ingratiate himself with his students and faculty colleagues.  By “ingratiate,” I mean he wrote an assy blog post for the noted conservative policy journal non peer-reviewed blog Powerline called “Off on a Gender Bender,” in which he complained about and ridiculed some diversity training in which professors were instructed to ask students which pronouns they prefer:

I’m more curious to learn whether there have been many students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun, or called by a different gender name . . . , let alone turn up in class in wardrobe by Corporal Klinger.  My guess is the actual number of such students approaches zero.

So why is this gender-bending diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days?  The most likely explanation is that it (sic) is simply yielding to the demands of the folks who dislike any constraint of human nature in what goes by the LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately) “community.”  I place “community” in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender-bending is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.

Did Professor Hayward ever participate in a study abroad program, or take an anthropology class?  Has he never been introduced to the concept of observing politely the customs of the locals before insulting and belittling them?

Hayward’s blog post and nuggets of wisdom have earned him criticism both from student government leaders and the Boulder Faculty Assembly.  (Memo to the Denver Post:  this is not an infringement of his rights to free speech.  Being criticized by others is simply the consequence of free speech.  Neither student government nor Faculty Assembly has called for any consequences other than that he should be told that his comments were “oppressive and discriminatory” and possibly “hate speech.”)

Now, I’m all for mocking and ridiculing the stupid training seminars and events that new faculty are required to attend, most of which are pretty useless in our everyday lives.  However, I can say that they’re usually an adequate introduction to the culture of your new institution.  That seems worthy of heeding, especially if one is a visiting scholar being honored by a special appointment.  That’s just basic human decency and good manners.  Who knows?  You might even have made some interesting new friends and allies there, unless  you’re determined to self-marginalize (“I’m sure I was among the only—if not the only—conservative in the room of roughly 100 new faculty. . . )

Furthermore, the notion that asking students which pronouns they prefer is hardly a violation of natural law.  I’m sure we all have our opinions about our students, but calling students by the names and pronouns they prefer is once again just basic human decency and good manners, just the way that it’s good manners when students either ask professors how they would prefer to be addressed.  (Behind our backs, I’m sure they call us lots of things they try not to call us in class, so they’ve got their opinions too.)  No one is asking you to approve of or endorse any student’s morality, sobriety, grade point average, or work-study job choice unless the student asks you for your opinion. Hayward’s attitude is very right wing in that apparently he thinks he’s the boss of his students’ gender identity because it’s such an offense to him to have to yield to their preferences–not a very conservative position, by my lights.

Since Hayward asked about how many trans students we have met in our classes, I can report that I’ve had two trans students in my classes in the past two years, and they’ve never “demanded” anything of me.  In fact, I had to instruct one young man that he didn’t have to submit his papers under the name “Linda” any longer, because I knew he used the name Nick.  (I have changed his names here to preserve his anonymity.)  It made me incredibly sad to know that Nick was probably being reasonably cautious and deferential, perhaps because he had been rudely rebuked by a proffie who had embarrassed him or called attention to the fact that his student number was attached to a female name.

Let’s try to re-write this Konservative Krusader’s nasty paragraph to make his conservative points without indulging in ad hominem attacks on imaginary queer university folk and phantom militant trans activists.  Here’s my attempt:

I’m more curious to learn whether there have been many students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun, or called by a different gender name.  My guess is the actual number of such students approaches zero.

So why is this diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days?  The most likely explanation is that they are simply yielding to the demands of their “communities.”  I place “communities” in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender ambiguity is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.

There.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?  (Of course, as a historian, I don’t believe in “human nature.”  In fact, any sentence that includes “human nature” sets off my B.S. detectors as likely ideological agitprop, but wev.  I’m all about diversity, aren’t I?)  As your mother used to say, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’d amend that to say, “if you can’t say anything without alienating a significant portion of the community you’ve chosen to align yourself with, STFU.”  Or, put more succinctly, You kiss your mother with that mouth?

34 thoughts on “Just wondering: is being a jerk an important part of “conservative thought and policy?”

  1. So, just for the sake of argument, if Steven Hayward were not choosing to align himself with that community, you have no objection to his saying what he said? Because I believe he is, as you put it, determined to self-marginalize. Or rather, his title, scholar of conservative thought, is already marginalizing. Or rather, he is assuming there is no possibility of aligning with that community.


  2. Which community do you mean? The university community, the LGBTQ community? The conservative community? Whichever community, I object to the way he expressed himself in such belittling language (the “Klinger” comment, the LGBTQRSTUW stuff, etc.) I re-wrote his comments to demonstrate that he could express his ideas without being such a big jerk. (I disagree with his ideas, quite strenuously, but I don’t object to him expressing them so long as he does it with a degree of respect for the people he’s writing about, especially because he’s writing as a member of a faculty.

    People who join university faculty have an obligation to understand the values and policies of the institution they serve. I’m a radical feminist who used to teach at two different Catholic universities. I didn’t agree with a lot of the policies there, but I never spoke disrespectfully about the Catholic church or the religious orders who ran those unis. I understood that accepting employment there was a choice.


  3. I meant which ever community you meant.

    I object to anyone being a jerk, even a small one. That objection has nothing to do with whomever they are being a jerk to. I commented just because it looked like you were objecting to his comments on the grounds they were made to a particular community, rather than because he was being a jerk. I think people have a duty to not be a jerk to any institution or community, regardless of whether they belong to it or not.

    That said, I suspect Mr. Hayward believes that the people who require diversity training are being jerks, and so he feels no obligation to treat them with respect. Just as you feel no obligation to treat him with respect, since you think of him as a jerk.

    Or to put it in terms of your last point, Mr. Hayward regards diversity training as ideological agitprop. And so diversity training is not worthy of any respect. All that raises the question, I suppose, whether there can be a jerk community. Which would be, as such, not worthy of respect. And if Mr. Hayward regards his new job as requiring him to join a community of jerks to which he owes no respect, why would he do that?


  4. Well, but Steve, it’s not “diversity training” that Hayward is treating with disrespect.

    It’s anyone not cisgendered / heteronormative; or rather, it’s anyone who believes (as he does not) that treating LGBTQ people as humans is an act of respect. He seems to reserve a special amount of contempt for Trans people.

    Those people — not the administrators who required him to undergo a training episode — are the ones he heaps his scorn upon.

    Your point about Historiann treating him as a jerk is quite different from Hayward speaking with hatred and contempt for Trans and other students. Historiann is reacting to something Hayward has said. Hayward is reacting to what those students *are*, not to anything they have done.


  5. Fucken right-wing scumbags like this fucke are destroying our country. How can this despicable piece of shitte even sleep at night knowing how morally and intellectually degenerate he is?


  6. I’ve had lots of trans students, but of course I first taught at Sodom College and am now teaching at Gemorrah U. That said — why are conservatives always wanting to be the only one? I can’t tell you how many times someone would be railing (usually the President) about how there no conservatives at Wealeyan, and I would be like, “Come to a faculty meeting and throw a tennis ball in any direction, you’ll hit one.”


  7. Well, but Dr. Delagar, while I can see your indignation, I believe our comradde has made clear where this sort of exchange leads. Next a good war?

    I don’t at all see why Mr. Hayward cannot be heaping scorn upon the administrators and those people, as you refer to them.

    I think you misunderstand contempt. Contempt is reserved for humans. By showing contempt Hayward shows he thinks those people are humans.

    As for your last point, I’ve always been of two minds on identity. Is it chosen or determined? Created or found?


  8. I’m sure Hayward is making other contributions to the university community, and he’s probably inspiring some thought and intellectual effort in his students. So why would he write a provocative blog post that insults some of the CU students as well as the culture of CU? That’s the trick of someone who wants to play a conservative pundit or a teevee conservative.

    I’m of course not against blogging by proffies, natch. But when one signs one’s name to a blog post there are different rules, in my view, as to what’s cool to write and/or complain about. Longtime readers will note that I never kiss up and kick down. I never write about my students unless it’s to brag on them or compliment them. Ditto for faculty colleagues. I do write critically of the Baa Ram U. administration from time to time, but that’s about kicking up, not down.

    That’s why Hayward’s post seemed so nasty to me: he seems to be kicking down (as an endowed faculty chair) to some of the most vulnerable members of the student population, not because he had been asked to do anything burdensome, just recognize their pronoun preferences. Look, I’ve got my opinions on lots of students and the appropriateness of their behavior and choices of self-presentation. But I don’t write about it here (or anywhere) and I don’t single out a particular subset of vulnerable students.


  9. Hayward seems to be angry at the fact that he and his ilk no longer have the ability to define “proper” community and human nature unchallenged. His insistence on the term “gender-bending” instead of trans suggests that he does not want to recognize the right of trans people to name themselves. Only traditional authorities (educated white straight men) have the right to define categories! I think that much of the rage of these conservatives comes from being challenged from directions they never thought possible.

    Plus the jerk factor. My college has its resident lone, embattled noble conservative. It’s a good cover for the fact that he doesn’t know how to get along with other human beings.


  10. Them aren’t natural, them being the enemy, them not real Americans (French, Russian), Tha Clintons and others common exclusionary tactics are used by right to left and the center.

    Not a big surprise here.


  11. That’s why Hayward’s post seemed so nasty to me: he seems to be kicking down (as an endowed faculty chair) to some of the most vulnerable members of the student population, not because he had been asked to do anything burdensome, just recognize their pronoun preferences.

    “Kiss up, shit down” is not a bug of conservative thought; it’s a key feature, baked into the right-wing DNA. In fact, this is what is so appealing about ideological right-wing conservatism to its vicious, bitter bible-thumping racist, homophobic, misogynist base: it validates their nastiest, most despicable emotional impulses as morally justified.


  12. I wonder how he’d do in online space, where sometimes one doesn’t know the gender of one’s students at all (either because the student has an androgynous name drawn from a familiar-to-the-instructor cultural tradition, or a name that may well be clearly gendered, but is unfamiliar to the instructor). I, at least, find that the gender hypothesis I form in such situations is wrong a substantial proportion of the time (I eventually have one-on-one conferences, virtual or face to face, with online students, so I usually eventually learn a bit more about students’ gender identity/presentation toward the end of the semester than I know at the beginning and middle). I find the whole process to be an interesting indicator of, and check on, my own assumptions.

    Interesting side note: I had one student last semester in a face to face class with pretty traditional masculine presentation (and, I’m pretty sure, xy chromosomes), but/and a name that is much more often given to girls, at least in the U.S., these days. Despite knowing him in person, some of his fellow students referred to him as “her” in online discussions.

    I don’t ask for a preferred pronoun, in part because I don’t really use pronouns in referring to my students all that much. But I do ask, when first calling the role, that students let me know if I’m mispronouncing their name, and/or if they’d prefer to be called something other than the computer spits out. I hope that opens up room for “Mary” to ask to be called “John,” or vice versa, if need be. So far, the answers I get mostly involve students of varying backgrounds preferring a nickname or middle name, and students of non-Anglo ethnicities preferring to use an anglicized version of their names. One trend I find disturbing is the number of Mohammeds who prefer to be called something else. They seem to outnumber others with Arabic names preferring something else by about 2:1. That’s sad.


  13. I’m not clear why it matters whether he was ordered to do anything burdensome. Surely kicking anyone vulnerable is not justified for any reason, whether or not one singles out a subset or not. And kicking those who are not vulnerable is easily justified.

    But I thought he spoke to precisely that point: he denied any students are asking for this, he denied that the reason for diversity training had anything to do with students. He claimed rather that it is a result of demands made by powerful special interests.

    Seems to me there is plenty of vicious, bitter rage to go around.


  14. Steve, just one correction: he didn’t *deny* that any students had requested accomodation, because he doesn’t know and doesn’t present any proof. He wondered how many students for which this is an issue, and then “guess[ed]” that the “actual number approaches zero.” I think he’s right that it’s going to be a pretty small minority of students who identify as trans on any campus, but based on my recent experience at my uni, it’s not zero students.

    He doesn’t explain the contradiction in his blog post that a constituency “approaching zero” somehow has the coercive power to force gender and trans sensitivity training on entire universities and colleges.


  15. Thanks for the correction.

    But again, he does deny that it is the students who are forcing diversity training. He says it is a particular special interest.

    A special interest which, I’m guessing, he thinks is powerful enough to bring about changes in the law. For example marriage law. And therefore strong enough to force sensitivity training on entire colleges.


  16. Hayward’s observations are, well, exactly as you describe them, Historiann. But I was surprised to read the chair of U Colorado’s Faculty Assembly, Paul Chinowsky, saying that “If any [other] faculty member said this, we would find ourselves in a dean’s office or possibly on suspension for writing this.” A faculty member should not face discipline for comments like Hayward’s, and even if Chinowsky’s prediction is wrong, I’m disappointed that he would refer to such a possibility so complacently.


  17. I think civil rights should be of interest to all Americans, whether they’re our rights or someone else’s rights. I’m all for everyone’s civil rights, and that’s the American way to think.


  18. I think justice is of interest to all human beings. I am in favor of justice for everyone. I do not think that is any more American than it is, say, British or French. It is human.

    But it is also human to disagree over what justice is. That is politics. And the parties that disagree try to persuade one another and their fellow citizens. In so doing they become organized, raise money, run for elections, etc.

    I have noticed that it is now a common rhetorical move to accuse one’s opponents, not of having an opposed understanding of justice, but of being against justice as such. The presupposition being it is obvious what is just, and so disagreement must be a willful choice for injustice.

    I just wonder whether that assertion ever persuaded anyone to change their mind, or appeals to those who have yet to make up their mind.


  19. I think a lot of straight people have changed their minds about civil rights for gay & lesbian Americans in a very short number of years.

    EngLitProf: Chinowsky’s point seems over the top, and yet there have been several tenured CU faculty in recent years investigated and even fired for their alleged pedagogical practices and online writing. Ward Churchill was one, and Patti Adler is another. I agree that admonition and criticism is the remedy in Hayward’s case, rather than an “investigation” and “discipline” by the university, but I read Chinowsky’s comments as merely describing, rather than endorsing, the poor state of academic liberty at CU.


  20. Yes, they have, but not because they decided they were “Fucken right-wing scumbags like this fucke” or because they decided they were “vicious, bitter bible-thumping racist, homophobic, [and] misogynist” and so should change.


  21. You seem kind of obsessed with everyone’s tone, Steve.

    Surely the justice or lack of justice to an argument has nothing to do with whether the speaker is “indignant” or “enraged” or whatever term you’ve decided to scold us with.

    (By the way, as I’m sure you know, this is a tone argument, and a typical tactic of those who want to derail arguments. For more on tone arguments, in case you’re actually not aware of what you’re doing: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument)

    As for your contention that no students are asking for this, that’s just not the case. I myself (teaching in Arkansas, at a not-very-liberal university) have had more than one trans student. And yes, they do care what pronoun you use, though they are very tolerant of those who screw it up.

    So at the most basic, Hayward needs to educate himself. But I suspect that Hayward is not actually this clueless. What he is really saying is that he doesn’t care to be civil to anyone who isn’t het and cisgendered.


  22. So just to be clear, being civil is not in any way a matter of tone? Because I thought your original post was a tone argument. I think people should in general be more concerned with their tone. Less heat and more light.

    It seems to me that scolding is a matter of tone. But I was just responding to the accusations of rage and hatred in the comments here which seem to me to be motivated by rage and hatred. Whether or not the justice of an argument is affected by the passions that move one to make it, the passions of the speaker may affect the effectiveness of the speech, as the passions of the audience may affect whether they are persuaded. But I suspect that rage and hatred may move the base to turn out. Even if it doesn’t persuade anyone not already persuaded, it arouses the passions on behalf of justice necessary to vote.

    To be perfectly clear, it is not my contention no students are asking for this, it is Hayward’s. I have no idea how many students are asking for this at Colorado. Maybe more should than already are. I’m more reluctant than you to judge based on my own experience. It is my contention that Hayward is denying that the cause of diversity training is demands by students. He may be wrong about that. He did say he was guessing.

    If he is wrong about that, and he knows what he said is wrong, then he is simply a liar. But I suspect what you are really saying is you don’t care to be civil to anyone who is not civil to those not het and cisgendered. I suppose you’ll tell me I’m scolding again. What if I add: no justice, no peace!


  23. I read the article you linked to concerning tone arguments. I do think accusations of incivility have been treated as if they are refutations. I have seen ridicule and accusations of hatred and fear used the same way.

    I don’t think that passion, even perhaps in science, but certainly not politics, has nothing to do with truth and nothing to do with the content of statements about justice.

    Rather passions like anger should be addressed as reactions to perceived injustice. The linked article makes the same point.

    The problem of the misuse of concerns over tone and civility cannot be solved by simply labelling all concern with tone and civility as illegitimate.


  24. Hayward is pandering to degenerate right-wing scumbags. Wait for him to appear on the teevee angry old white people grievance circuit railing against political correctness. Fucke this guy and his lying bullshit.


  25. students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun

    Even before he gets to the insults, Dr. Hayward sets up a false power structure in his argument—students demand—that speaks volumes. The framing that people who are seeking equitable treatment are the real oppressors is of course nothing new.

    More substantively, this is a weird question to ask. The whole point of diversity training is that we don’t live and work in communities where students would necessarily feel safe discussing preferred pronouns or names with faculty or other members of the campus community. Lack of requests does not mean lack of desire for respect.


  26. It’s interesting to see that the trans* inclusivity is what Hayward chose to highlight as the unreasonable top-down demand of his new employer — that trans* and genderqueer students preferences are scoffed at by an older white male faculty member (however marginalized he might feel as a conservative at the university).

    As gay and lesbian Americans basic legal rights to mainstream institutions like marriage, housing, employment, become increasingly protected and people with gay and lesbian identities are recognized by more and more people, we find ourselves living in a reactionary period for gender identities and presentation. As E.J. Graff so perceptively pointed out in Newsweek last year the “gay” rights movement needs to — and in some corners is — turn its attention to peoples’ right to a full spectrum of gender expression and sexualities that are not male/female and straight/gay.

    As trans* rights move from margins to center one baby-step at a time, it’s interesting to watch conservatives react to the idea of gender/sex/sexual flexibility and the importance of respecting others’ self identities and presentations rather than imposing our own notions of self upon others. Interesting, and also sad and frustrating to see them “punch down” against those who have little structural power but seem so threatening to individuals like Hayward. I am sorry for students who are experiencing a classroom wherein their professor is so dismissive of their agency as fellow human beings whose ideas and wishes he might actually care to listen to and respect.


  27. Good points, Anna & truffula. The blog post may offer insight into his pedagogical practice. (I think he’s more the “sage on the stage” type than the “guide on the side.”)


  28. The irony of this is that the reason most employers provide ‘diversity’ training is because of douchebags who failed to treat their colleagues with basic respect and ended up getting their employers sued. The motivation for these at least originated in a protectionism by the employer to reduce their liability in such suits, even if they have advanced since then to be more about creating workplace cultures.

    Hayward might be interested to know that moaning about how dreadful they are is actually something he has in common with many feminists – not because we don’t want them but because they are often so out of date or are extremely reductionist (so that sexual harassment becomes pinching someone’s bottom, homophobic bullying is calling people offensive names etc). (Having done quite a few of these now) I’m sometimes amazed that universities don’t appear to bother to consult their experts in gender/race/sexuality studies when making these things.


  29. “they are often so out of date or are extremely reductionist (so that sexual harassment becomes pinching someone’s bottom, homophobic bullying is calling people offensive names etc). (Having done quite a few of these now) I’m sometimes amazed that universities don’t appear to bother to consult their experts in gender/race/sexuality studies when making these things.”

    Yes. This.


  30. What does everyone think about the fifty-six gender options to choose from on one’s Facebook profile? That’s too many, right? “Cis man” as well as “cisgender man”? Come on now.


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