and it outrages me, too:
Indrek Wichman, 55, a tenured professor of mechanical engineering, . . . sent the message to the Muslim Students' Association of Michigan State University while it handed out free cocoa during a public awareness event about controversial cartoons that depicted Islam's founder as a terrorist. . . .
"I am offended not by cartoons, but by more mundane things like beheadings of civilians, cowardly attacks on public buildings, suicide murders," Wichman wrote.
He went on to say: "I counsul you dissatisfied, agressive, brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems to be very aware of this as you proceed with your infantile 'protests.' "
Oh, come now — what fraction of the MSA are slave-traders, what fraction endorse the slave trade, and for that matter what fraction deserves any of the other pejoratives? What fraction even endorse that? As I've pointed out before, there are very troubling strands in modern Islam, ones that can't be dismissed as a mere lunatic fringe. But that's no reason to insult MSA members, many of whom may be quite peaceful. Such insults are unfair and rude in any circumstances, but they are especially rude and unprofessional when the insulted people are students at your own institution.
The article reports that, "Reached at home Monday evening, Wichman said he had regrets. 'I used strong language in a private communication that I would certainly not have used if this communication would have gone public,' he said." I'm glad he has regrets; but I hope that he would have such regrets even about a message that had stayed private — unfair private insults are also unprofessional and wrong.
At the same time, academic freedom protects unfair and excessive criticisms of activist groups and not just polite and proper criticisms; there may be some exceptions (for instance, for in-class speech, which I think the university may properly control somewhat more), but they don't seem applicable here. The remedy for offensive speech by academics is condemnation, some of which I'm trying to offer here. Apparently the MSA and other student groups had asked only for "a letter of reprimand," and that would probably be permissible, if it was couched as an expression of the university's own views rather than as a formal punishment that would have more concrete employment implications. But any real discipline for such speech would, I think, be improper.
The university was thus right to say that "there's little that can be done to punish Indrek Wichman, 55, a tenured professor of mechanical engineering, because his comments essentially constitute free speech." But I'm troubled that they would also "caution[ the professor] that any additional commentary ... could constitute the creation of a hostile environment, and that could ... form the basis of a complaint" under the policy, Denbow said. It seems to me that Prof. Wichman should be free to criticize Islam and Islamic activist groups — even to criticize them intemperately and using vast overgeneralizations — though we should in turn be free to criticize him for it.
Thanks to Michelle Malkin and reader Charles Chapman for the pointer.