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Students: Censure NY college professor Steven Landsburg for rape blog

10:05 AM, Apr 4, 2013   |    comments
Trent Mays, 17, (left) talks with one of his defense lawyers, Brian Duncan before the start for the fourth day of his and co-defendant 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond's trial on rape charges in juvenile court on Saturday, March 16, 2013 in Steubenville, Ohio
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Rochester, NY (Democrat and Chronicle) -- University of Rochester students have started an online petition urging UR President Joel Seligman to censure an economics professor at the school, Steven Landsburg, for comments he made regarding rape in a recent blog post.

Students also plan to protest outside Landsburg's class on Monday.

"We want to give the university a chance to express its outrage. There are many people who have not signed the petition but nevertheless want to protest his remarks as insensitive, irresponsible and and even dangerous," said Daniel Nelson, a UR graduate student who drafted the student petition.

A national group, WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend), has launched a campaign demanding the firing of Landsburg. It issued a call to action Wednesday saying that "Landsburg's hypothetical 'dilemma' ignores material reality in a hateful attempt to further his sexist beliefs."

In his blog - "Censorship, Environmentalism and Steubenville" - Landsburg raised various questions and referred to a recent case in which two high school students in Steubenville, Ohio, were convicted of raping a female acquaintance who was unconscious, incapacitated by alcohol.

"As long as I am safely (unconscious) and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn't the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?" wrote Landsburg.

He also wrote, "If we legalize the rape of unconscious people, we will create an incentive to render people unconscious."

Landsburg, in an email Wednesday, said that his blog post is part of an ongoing discussion with his readers and the academic community about whether the law should recognize "purely psychic harms" and that "we all understand how horrible rape can be." The blog, he added, is about "abstract inquiry."

In a new blog post on Wednesday, Landsburg said: "A few posters have asked if there's anything I regret saying in this post. Of course there is." He said that the post "seems to me to be a somewhat subpar effort, primarily because it consists only of questions with no useful answers."

On Saturday, UR spokesman Bill Murphy issued a statement saying that Landsburg, in his personal blog, poses some hypothetical questions about an unconscious rape victim.

"The university's answer is that rape is abhorrent. It is and should be a crime," says Murphy.

In his introductory remarks on Wednesday at UR's conference on sexual assault, UR President Joel Seligman didn't mention Landsburg by name but told of the difficulty in balancing UR's commitment to provide a campus as free as reasonably possible from a hostile work environment with the college's commitment to free expression.

Statements, even if offensive to many, will violate UR standards only if they reach the level of making an individual or group feel demeaned and are "so severe, persistent, or pervasive as to disrupt the living, learning, and/or working environment of the individual or group."

Seligman also said that statements made on a private blog and not directed at the university community "in all likelihood do not violate these standards."

But Seligman added that he cannot overstate his hope that "our focus will be on preventing future instances" of sexual assault.

A year ago, Landsburg found himself at the center of criticism from students and Seligman for blog entries directed at a Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke. She had testified before congressional Democrats that she wanted her college health plan to cover birth control.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh had called Fluke a "slut." Landsburg said he disagreed with that characterization and that a "far better word might have been 'prostitute.' "

But Landsburg added back then that word doesn't fit Fluke, either: "She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. The right word for that is something much closer to 'extortionist.' Or better yet, 'extortionist' with an overweening sense of entitlement."

Nelson said the the UR student petition was put online Monday and as of Wednesday evening had about 425 signatures.

The petition says: "Judging from his recent speculations on the legality of rape, it would appear that Professor Landsburg's 'thought experiments' are becoming more and more aggressively offensive."


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