A course intended to engage students in a higher discussion of "cultural freedoms," particularly free speech laws regarding hate speech and blasphemy, was abruptly and "reluctantly" canceled on Sunday, just days after one angry student got into the professor's face for using the N-word to illustrate a point.
"I have reluctantly decided to cancel this year's offering of Anthropology 212, Cultural Freedoms," wrote Prof. Lawrence Rosen in a message to students on Blackboard. "I think it only fair that you be free, before too much of the semester has passed, to move ahead in another course of your choosing." Offering no specific explanation for why he had canceled the class, Rosen explained that he will leave the syllabus and course readings online in the hope that students will continue to pursue their interest in the subject. He concluded by urging students to continue "to listen, to converse, to grapple with the categories by which we create our own experience." (Screenshot of the full message.)
The Weekly Standard's Adam Rubenstein spoke with the administration and multiple students in the class to try to unpack exactly what inspired Prof. Rosen to inform his students that a class he's taught for years is over. The evidence suggests that Rosen's decision was prompted by an alarming moment in the classroom that occurred last week.
"What is worse, a white man punching a black man, or a white man calling a black man a n****r?" Rosen asked students last week.
In response, some students walked out; two minority students responded particularly strongly, students said, including one male student of color, who reportedly got "inches" from Rosen's face. Rubenstein reports:
One student in the class tells TWS that he believes the course’s cancelling may have had something to do with an interaction that happened “about halfway through the first seminar.” A male student of color stood up, inches from professor Rosen’s face and shouted “FUCK YOU,” this witness claimed. Just before that, a female student of color had shouted at Rosen, as the first was approaching, “do you feel safe right now.” “There was no physical contact,” this witness claims, though at the time the student feared there might be. During that class, “nobody except Rosen defended Rosen,” the student told me. Another student in the class confirmed this account to TWS.
The school insists that the decision to cancel the course was entirely Rosen's, telling Rubenstein that there was "no pressure from the University." Indeed, a few days before he canceled the class, his department chair penned an op-ed defending him (see below).
"Now that Anthropology 212 has been cancelled, Princeton students have learned a powerful lesson about free speech, though perhaps not the one Rosen intended," writes Rubenstein.
Below is a screenshot of Rosen's message to students via Rubenstein:
When the controversy first erupted last week, Princeton's' Department of Anthropology chair, Carolyn Rouse, defended Rosen's attempt to engage students in the complex discussion of free speech and "hate speech" in an op-ed published by The Daily Princetonian. Below are some key excerpts:
The students signed up for a course about hate speech, blasphemy, and pornography, so Tuesday’s class introduced them to the topics of the course. Like every semester, at Princeton or Columbia Law, professor Lawrence Rosen started the class by breaking a number of taboos in order to get the students to recognize their emotional response to cultural symbols. By the end of the semester, Rosen hopes that his students will be able to argue why hate speech should or should not be protected using an argument other than “because it made me feel bad.” ...
In the last two years academic institutions have been caricatured as liberal bastions for snowflakes. Actually, that has never been the case. In the Department of Anthropology, for example, our entire pedagogical mission has never been about reaffirming the political points of view of the day, right or left. Our goal is to get students to move beyond their common sense to see how culture has shaped their beliefs and emotions. If our students leave our classes knowing exactly what they knew when they entered, then we didn’t do our jobs. Rosen has used the same example year after year. This is the first year he got the response he did from the students. This is diagnostic of the level of overt anti-black racism in the country today. Anti-American and anti-Semitic examples did not upset the students, but an example of racism did. This did not happen when Obama was president, when the example seemed less real and seemed to have less power.
I feel bad for the students who left the class not trusting the process. Rosen was fighting battles for women, Native Americans, and African-Americans before these students were born. He grew up a Jew in anti-Semitic America, and recognizes how law has afforded him rights he would not otherwise have.