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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On the chopping Block

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 8:45 PM

Walter Block, Loyola economics chair and former adviser to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, is no stranger to incendiary opinions. I interviewed him for my Gambit article “Safe or Sorry?”, about a proposed piece of legislation that would allow guns on college campuses, because of his widely-known, staunchly libertarian views. In discussing the role of firearms on campuses he also brought up, interestingly enough, feminism:


"Where the hell are the feminists (regarding this issue)?" he asks. "They're always taking about, you know, women are exploited and they aren't equal and this and that and the other. Well, the gun's a great equalizer. Men are taller than women, men weigh more than women, men have more testosterone than women, men are more likely to fight and rape than women. That's what [feminists] would affirm, that women are powerless — they need to seize power. Well how better to seize power than to seize a gun? That's a very powerful implement."


(Later in the article appears a quote from Loyola sociology professor Marcus Kondkar — who conducted a campus-wide study last year on rape and sexual coercion — refuting this claim, saying that the majority of sexual assault instances occur among acquaintances and dating partners.)


Now Block is under fire for his views, which also involve women — and also, African Americans. 

During a recent visit to Loyola College in Baltimore, Block attributed the existence of the wage gap between men and women (women generally make 79 cents to every dollar a man makes) to lower productivity among females.


And even more incendiary: In a post-lecture question and answer session when someone asked about the wage disparity between blacks and whites, he cited the same reason. The proof?:


"The politically correct answer is that lower black productivity is due to slavery, Jim Crow legislation, poor treatment of African-Americans in terms of schooling, etc. The politically incorrect explanation was supplied by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book 'The Bell Curve': lower black IQs."


Potential problems with such statements run abound. For instance, Block fails to mention the institutional aspects that contribute to the wage gap — most notably, the lack of legal, paid maternity leave in the country (America is the only industrialized country without a uniform policy). As for the “Bell Curve,” that theory — that blacks are fundamentally less capable than whites due to IQ differences — is outdated and has been mostly rejected by scholars.


Rev. Kevin Wildes, Loyola president, wrote a letter to editor to the Times-Picayune about a week ago, basically saying that Block does not speak on behalf of the university. Meanwhile, many members of the Loyola community feel embarrassed, misrepresented and are calling for Block’s tenure to be overturned. Also, many parents of current and prospective Loyola students are vowing to revoke support of the university, or to dissuade their children from enrolling.


The question is: When it comes to academic freedom and First Amendment rights, what crosses the line? Also, Block and Wildes both agree on one thing – that the views of one professor don’t reflect those of an entire university. Is that the case, especially since former Harvard president Lawrence Summers was recently removed for some similarly disparaging comments. 


(Click here for James Gill’s Times-Picayune column on Block, as well as — as you may expect — a host of intelligent, articulate reader comments.)



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