|Image from HuntFishGuide|
In a typical moralistic pissing match, University of Iowa Republican students (and their supporters) have gotten their collective panties in a bunch after a professor told them to fuck off (see the Atlantic Wire). The Republican students started the pissing match with a provocative global email to the entire college community promoting their "Conservative Coming Out Week," with events like an "Animal Rights BBQ" and "Doctors' Notices to miss class, just like the Wisconsin public employees during the union protests."
Ellen Lewin, a professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies, took the bait and wrote back: "FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS."
The Republicans, who apparently are able to dish it out, but not take it, contacted her supervisor and attempted to get her in trouble over her remark. Sadly, Lewin responded by admitting that the language was inappropriate, and apologized for any hurt feelings.
As I read it, her response was reasonable, justifiable and, if anything, far less offensive than their original email. Lewin pointed out in a later “apology” that their message was offensive to the LGBT community by appropriating the term “coming out.” It was offensive to public sector workers by trivializing their struggle in Wisconsin. And it was offensive to animal rights activists and vegetarians.
However, it is irrelevant whose message was more offensive. Free speech is free speech. The Republican students utilized a typical anti-liberal sense of humor that was meant to be provocative and offensive. Being offensive does not take away their right to express it. “Fuck You,” is no different, except that it refers to sex, which for some reason is particularly offensive to Puritanical Americans. The fact that it was expressed by a professor or an employee of the university shouldn't matter.
The Atlantic asserted that it is “unacceptable for a professor to curse out students via mass email.” However, would it be okay in the student newspaper? In person? At a rally on campus? According to this logic it is quite alright for conservatives to make inflammatory remarks in a mass email, but not liberals. It is okay for students to offend teachers, but not for teachers to defend themselves. Or, if they are allowed to defend themselves, they must only do so using rational arguments, pleasant language, and certainly no sarcasm or insults.
While the right to say “fuck you” should be seen as just as legitimate as the right to advertise an “animal rights BBQ,” the curse doesn’t really express anything except anger so, in some ways, it was a wasted opportunity. “Fuck you” is easy to say, doesn’t take much thought and is virtually guaranteed to piss people off, especially uptight, moralistic morons. If the only goal is to offend, then perhaps a better approach would be to sponsor an alternative event, say a Liberal Prayer Meeting, featuring a “Family Values Love-In.” Afterward, there could be “Tea Party Target Practice,” a “Republican Chili Cook Off” and a “Fetus on a Stick Jousting Match.”