Thursday, November 19, 2009

My small response to the librarian making the case against homosexuality

By now, Bert Chapman's post on "An Economic Case Against Homosexuality" has made the rounds of the librarian blog circuit. The first time I heard of Mr. Chapman's post was via an e-mail from a colleague who suggested that I might have a thing or two to say about it. I read it, and my initial reaction was to say, "what a load of bunk." That it was written by an academic librarian made me just a bit ashamed of my profession where we (supposedly) strive for values like openness, tolerance, understanding, diversity, and kindness. That was my initial reaction. I disagree strongly with his alleged economic assertions and with his premises that somehow homosexual people are less moral or aberrant somehow.

A couple of librarians who are better skilled when it comes to writing thoughtfully have provided a couple of replies that I think summarize how to respond to people like Mr. Chapman.

  • The Free Government Information (FGI) blog has "In Response to the Economic Case Against Homosexuality." Their guest blogger, Amy West, goes over the specific inaccuracies in Chapman's post. This is the kind of work I expect a good librarian to do. To look at the claims and then do some common fact checking, something that Mr. Chapman clearly did not do, or more likely chose not to do because it would not advance his religiously influenced agenda.
  • Wayne Bivens-Tatum, the Academic Librarian, looks at the rhetoric of Mr. Chapman's claims. This is well worth reading as well, and Mr. Bivens Tatum concludes that this is not about economics but about justice. Don't take my word for it. Go read it.
The story was picked up by Inside Higher Education here. Apparently, petitions calling for Mr. Chapman to be dismissed from Purdue University are surfacing. You can read a sampling of letters from students, alumni and members of the academic community to The (Purdue) Exponent here (if you run a search using "Chapman" as the term, you will get links to more coverage in The Exponent) This only pains me more, not for him, but for the fact that Purdue is where I got my undergraduate degree. Yes, I am an alumnus, and now I do wonder about the kind of people they hire up there. In fact, I have a friend who works there (another librarian. No, I am not saying who), that I know would not agree with Mr. Chapman's views. I cannot help but wonder how she feels having to be associated with him.

At the end of the day, these are the thoughts roaming my mind:

  • Mr. Chapman's beliefs and writing are reprehensible. They are just a screed for bigotry and discrimination disguised as "an economic case" that is anything but economic.
  • However, the beauty of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that he has the right to express his reprehensible bigotry. That beauty also means that the rest of us have the right to ignore or condemn him. Therefore, he should not be acting indignant if he finds that reasonable, decent people object to what he's peddling.
  • Sure, academic librarians (and librarians in general) do have the right of expression like anybody else in this nation. We do not abdicate that just because we work in a library. Again, we should be ready to face the consequences of what we express. Though Mr. Chapman makes the usual disclaimer most of librarian bloggers make on their personal blogs, including me, that "views presented on this blog are the authors personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of my employer," he does mention his employer (Purdue University) in his biography at the blog. Directly or not, that reference will give him some weight, so to speak. There is a difference between some random guy making the "case," and an academic librarian affiliated to a very respectable midwestern university. He may not "represent" the university, but he does mention his association to it. Whether he likes it or not, people will look at his writing and say, "that librarian from Purdue" has it out for gay people (or something similar). This will probably not look good on the university, and I wonder if he even considered that.
  • Having said all that, I don't think the guy should be fired. Not for this, as bad as it may seem to those of us who disagree with his less than accurate views. Now, if he starts proselytizing at work, that would be reason to fire him. But it was written on his personal blog. This does not mean the students cannot protest and ask for his resignation or firing. Again, he wrote it, so he should have to deal with any consequences when it becomes clear that his bigotry is not going to be tolerated by society at large. He should not be shocked, surprised, or seeking sympathy when others denounce his wrong, inaccurate, and prejudiced views. As I pointed above, this will probably not look good on the university, and if he were fired or asked to resign, I would not be surprised. It is common knowledge that large institutions, like a reputable research university, would want to avoid any bad publicity or anything that could tarnish its image. Mr. Chapman is a tarnish on the image of Purdue University.
For me, guys like that just make our profession look bad. It's not because he is conservative. It's because he uses bad information, in a dishonest way, poor reasoning, and a clearly biased, close-minded point of view to promote intolerance, discrimination, and hatred, things that are against what our profession of librarianship should stand for. But for me it means I have to work harder to get good information out there to my patrons, to work on better educating my students and academic community, and to do my part, small as it may be, to make the world a better place, a world where we can embrace, understand, and learn from each other, a world where we can get justice and equality.

And that's my two cents.

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