Editor’s note. The following is a fairly lengthy (3,300-word) essay introducing a new case of bias against a faculty member. Professor Dennis Gouws is a tenured professor at Springfield College in Massachusetts who has run afoul of college authorities who in 2014 abruptly began to find fault with his teaching a long-established course, “Men in Literature.” In 2016, they canceled his course, culminating a long campaign of petty hostility against him because of his scholarly and professional interest in “biological maleness.”
We present this case in detail because it exemplifies a development in the campus culture wars that has not yet come into focus for many observers. The Gouws affair shows the intensification of efforts by campus feminists to use bureaucratic authority to enforce their ideological preferences on the faculty as a whole.
Professor Gouws is an academic engaged in teaching his courses, expressing his opinions through ordinary channels, and advocating for open debate over his ideas. He is not someone who was spoiling for a fight, but his department, his dean, his provost, and his president decided that his views were impermissible. This is his story.
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“The attempt to marginalize, discredit, and silence the views of faculty members who dissent from the current campus orthodoxies never stops. It happens at large universities and at small colleges. It happens in the sciences and in the humanities. It happens on big public issues that everyone cares about and on small matters that could hardly muster a quorum on a rainy afternoon.
It happens explicitly at some colleges and universities that wear their leftist commitments to “social justice” openly, like armbands, and it happens implicitly at other colleges and universities that try to maintain the pretense of intellectual openness while crushing dissenting views behind closed doors.
Put all the pieces together, and the picture of the faculty side of contemporary higher education is pretty grim. Faculty members, no matter their private views, know that the price of open dissent is very high. It doesn’t really matter whether a faculty member has tenure. There are plenty of levers besides the threat of job loss. Course assignments. Teaching loads. Promotions. Salary increases. Sabbatical leaves. Petty harassment. Departmental ostracism.
Varieties of Dissent
A few brave and thick-skinned faculty members dissent anyway. Professor McAdams at Marquette University did so and is now, rather famously, suspended without pay as his university tries to strip him of tenure. Professor Robert Paquette at Hamilton College has fared better. With the help of some financial backers, Paquette relocated his Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization off campus and has kept up a relentless series of ripostes to the enforcers of political correctness at his college. Others such as Professor Bradley C.S. Watson at St. Vincent College have managed to create domains of their own within their institutions that, because they are well-funded and highly respected externally, provide a safe harbor from the institution as a whole.
McAdams, Paquette, and Watson are rare exceptions of men willing to bear all the opprobrium heaped on those who refuse to conform to the ideological fashions on campus. There are many more cases of men and women who, however reluctantly, decide that the costs of nonconformity are just too high. They choose—reluctantly and often with deep misgivings—to play along with what the campus regime demands.
And then there are people like Dennis Gouws.
“Men in Literature”
This is mainly a story of how one small college cancelled an undergraduate English course, “Men in Literature.” The course was taught by Dennis Gouws.