During an organized protest on Monday, April 8 in front of Hutchison Hall, approximately 25 UR students gathered to express their concern with Professor of Economics Steven Landburg’s recent blog post regarding rape.
The students, who touted signs and distributed flyers displaying the professor’s comments, assembled during Landsburg’s Principles of Economics class.
In a March 20 blog post, Landsburg posed several questions in light of the recent trial involving two students raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.
“It is, I think, a red herring to say that there’s something peculiarly sacred about the boundaries of our bodies,” Landsburg wrote. “As long as I’m 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?”
Landsburg added a note on April 5 to his initial blog post. He said his goal was to discredit the argument that anything a person does can be legal as long as it does not cause anyone else direct physical harm.
“The reason rape gets mentioned here is because rape is particularly bad, so we can be quite sure we don’t want to adopt a rule that might allow it, even in the extreme hypothetical case with no physical damage,” Landsburg wrote. “In other words, it’s mentioned because it’s horrible.”
In an interview, Landsburg echoed that sentiment.
“The physical damage from rape, even when it’s extreme, is not the only reason to prohibit rape — that is, that the violation in and of itself should be prohibited for reasons that go beyond that physical harm,” Landsburg said. “If that intuition is correct, then rape is a counterexample to the proposition.”
On the same day, a statement from Landsburg appeared on the UR homepage.
“I am particularly sad because many readers got the impression that I was endorsing rape while my intent was to say exactly the opposite,” Landsburg said in the statement. “The horror of rape is so great that we should rethink accepted principles of policy analysis that might sometimes minimize that horror.”
However, the apology was notenough for protestors.
“Rape is not a hypothetical situation,” protestor and junior Kami Green said. “I think it’s grossly offensive that he had to bring in the Steubenville case when this is a girl that has been publicly vilified and receiving death threats for something she was a victim in.”
In a recent petition on change.org, protest organizer and graduate student Daniel Nelson called for President Joel Seligman to censure Landsburg for his comments. The petition has 691 supporters as of Thursday morning.
“We started the petition because we were concerned that Landsburg’s comments were not just insensitive and irresponsible, but even dangerous,” Nelson said. “They’re sending a message to the campus community that it might be OK to rape women when they’re passed out. So we want the University to make it very clear that they wouldn’t permit their professors to send that message.”
The petition articulates many students’ concerns with Landsburg’s statements.
“Professor Landsburg’s thinly veiled justification of rape is not just a perverse and repulsive feat of sophistry,” the petition reads. “At a time when colleges and universities across the country need to escalate their efforts to prevent the rape and sexual abuse of students, Landsburg has chosen to subvert such efforts — not by directly opposing them, but by sophistically undermining their logic.”
Nelson stands in firm opposition to Landsburg despite the latter’s apology and explanation.
“There’s a crucial difference between thought experiments or opinions and condoning or excusing violent and criminal acts,” Nelson said. “We believe Landsburg crossed that line, and when he did that, he forfeited his right to the protection of the First Amendment and academic freedom policies.”
Green explained that she attendted the protest on the basis of a personal reaction.
“I think the post and the edits were along the lines of ‘I’m sorry you got offended,’ which doesn’t work as an apology,” Green said. “It’s completely disregarding what was being said in the argument against it, and I was horrified when I read it. As a woman, I don’t feel safe, and it’s just not right.”
Landsburg said the post was meant for his blog’s usual audience, not for the general public.
“I didn’t point anyone to [the blog] and therefore assumed I was writing primarily for the sort of policy geeks who come to my blog on their own,” Landsburg said. “[They] already understand the context in which these questions are being posed and are used to the idea that raising a question is not the same thing as voicing an opinion.”
On Monday, the University released a statement regarding the controversy.
“Professor Landsburg made his post on his personal blog. It has no direct connection to the University,” the statement reads.“His views are his own; he does not speak for the University. The University disagrees with the content, which does not reflect its views or values.”
Fox is a member of the class of 2013.