The Charge of “Sexism”: A Means of Suppressing Free Speech


Twice now, in the span of a single week, President McClure has leveled the highly charged accusation of sexism against two males at Adams State University (ASU). One was a professor, one a student.

On November 18, 2015, during an emergency Faculty Senate meeting, President McClure pulled out a confidential email from a respected, tenured, male professor (who was present in the audience) and all but explicitly branded it as a sexist communication:

President McClure: So, the friendly fire is what has really stunned me the most and I really want to also give you another example of what friendly fire looks like. And this is from one of our male professors and I find this kind of interesting. One of these is trying to help me, uh, and this is what they would like me to do. They would like for me to meet with Danny to tell him that, something like, ‘A few administrators misinformed the president,’ that’s me by the way, ‘That led her to a bad decision banning me, being a good leader, she figured it out, fixed it and we’re all good.’ You think these students and these folks in here would think that?

The other thing that they suggest that I do is to send you an e-mail and tell you that, because I’m new to the job, and because I received misinformed advice, and then it goes on to talk about signatures that I should, again, apologize to Danny Ledonne and perhaps even shake his hand in public. I don’t have the option of doing that and to be able to sit here and look you in the eye with any integrity or to look the students in the eye and tell them the same thing – that I’m here, and one of my number one jobs is to keep you safe. And that’s the hardest thing. It’s interesting, nationwide that we have affordability and safety and affordability used to be the number one concern and now it’s safety and that’s a sad, sad fact.

On Friday our Board’s going to address the issue of affordability and they’re going to vote on and I don’t know if this is what, and approve a guaranteed tuition policy for our students. Something we think that will be not only a great recruitment tool but will also be an incentive to help them complete their education. In case we all forgot, that’s what we’re here for. And that’s what has been the most disturbing to me are the hits that I’ve taken and I find it interesting that communicating and listening and valuing shared governance, um, there’s been some push-back and I’m trying not to believe it’s because you have your first woman president but again, for me to get advice for me to tell you that I’m new and I’m sorry I just misunderstood, I just misunderstood the safety issues. I have to tell you that, um, as I told someone, my head almost exploded when I read that e-mail.

On November 23, 2015, when speaking to AS&F students, President McClure accused a widely recognized and respected student leader, AS&F Senator Nicholas Spencer, of also making sexist comments, this time explicitly. Here’s the exchange:

Senator Spencer: So last year there was a threat to campus and there was no – week or half a week – and they identified him as a threat and there was no PNG [Persona Non Grata] needed; there was a restraining order issued, there was an email sent out, and then there was no further issues from that point on. How come we didn’t take that route and now we’re taking a PNG route where basically it’s just, “Oh, you can’t come here, by the way”.

President McClure: Well, so first of all, I wasn’t here a year ago, so I have no idea what you’re talking about. But I will tell you that a PNG is issued for non-employees, non-students. So I’m not sure if the person you’re referring to is an employee or a student. I will also tell you when you talk about restraining orders, that I will tell you the truth I find that to be a very sexist comment. And the reason I do, is because so often women are forced to do that and through the court system and to stand on their own. And one of the things we want to say about Adams State University is you don’t stand on your own. We’re here as a group, we’re here as a campus.

First, let’s consider whether either of the charges levied were appropriate. Sexism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex; and as “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women.”

President McClure chose not to share the context of the professor’s email communication with those in attendance at the emergency Faculty Senate meeting. Nor did she choose to quote directly from it. Rather, she characterized it as “friendly fire” and mockingly paraphrased it, without the author’s permission and with the clear intent to publicly humiliate him in front of 80 people. She did so after earlier explicitly pointing out that she had asked for permission from a student to share excerpts from their email correspondence.

The professor’s lengthy email was written at 11:00 pm, after an 18-hour day during which he and another faculty member met intensively for a total of 10 hours with Kurt Cary to promote understanding and forge a positive outcome regarding the PNG against Mr. Ledonne. The purpose of the communication was to reflect on the day’s productive dialogue with McClure’s interim VP and included such comments as:

I feel like we made a lot of progress today and I’m very hopeful about how this will all turn out.


I just wanted to share some ideas that might be helpful.  Combined, [redacted] and I spent nearly 10 hours with Kurt today, plus we both spent many additional hours on our own working toward the best for ASU.  One thing that was very obvious is that most of that time was spent on PR / communication / messaging / framing / understanding people: students, public, faculty, staff, those who felt threatened, and Danny.  Kurt really impressed me with his sincere desire and dedication to achieving the best outcome.  However, he himself said the PR part isn’t his strength.  [Redacted] and I worked hard to brainstorm ways to approach the various people who have a stake in this situation and then turn those ideas into concrete suggestions.  I’m sure most of them were shared with you.

The reader can be the judge – does this strike you as dismissive male elitism? Was the author fostering stereotypical gender roles, or was he simply reaching out to a new university president to offer faculty support and – yes – guidance on an issue of concern to many in a respectful, deferential, collegial manner? I vote for the latter.

I also vote for a president who – rather than seeking to shame others in public – would seek instead to understand, would opt instead to discuss any concerns she may have over a communication privately with the individual in question. This is a president who may verbally promote an open door, open communication policy, but with actions like this, who would actually take her up on it? For those who criticize Watching Adams and those who elect to write under the protection of anonymity, is this not sufficient justification for doing so?

In the case of the student, Nicholas Spencer, he was openly accused of sexism for simply asking why the university chose not to utilize an established, widely recognized, and commonly used legal procedure. The question is a legitimate one and the student body would have benefited from an answer not laced with unnecessarily charged language. And just take a moment – take a step back – and think about the fact that she spoke this way to a student! Had a professor in a classroom used the same accusatory language towards a student, repercussions would probably have been felt.

In both instances, McClure was careful to accuse the individual’s comments of being sexist, not the commenter himself, but the implication is clear and the result is chilling. She is, in effect, employing the highly charged label of sexism as a speech silencer for at least half of her constituency. In doing such, she is not alone; her tactics reflect dangerous national trends. Noted feminists such as Daphne Patai (What Price Utopia? Essays on Ideological Policing, Feminism, and Academic Affairs, 2008) decry the decline of academic freedom and free speech in higher education due to the increasing politicization and conformist pressures coming from feminists and other identity groups. Inclusivity is a noble goal, but it is also far too often used as a cudgel to silence diversity of opinion.

That diversity of opinion manifested itself privately after the Faculty Senate meeting. Comments made by female attendees to the male professor who was called out by President McClure included, “I apologize on behalf of my entire gender” and “It makes me sick to be a woman.”

President McClure has stated repeatedly that Danny Ledonne’s situation is not about academic freedom, that because he continues to have access to data and continues to publish his website, academic freedom is alive and well at Adams State. In her comments to AS&F students, she stated:

And when we talk about freedom of speech, I can assure you that just because right now someone is banned from this campus, it certainly has not stopped freedom of speech. There’s still information, open records, any of those requests, we by law have and will answer. And you can see that of all the blogs, and all the misinformation, and the tweets, and the social media that’s out there, freedom of speech hasn’t at all – at all – been stopped. In fact, the only thing that’s been stopped is the access to people who were made to feel unsafe, and made to feel uncomfortable, because if – when you sit in my chair, you do not have any excuse to not listen, and more importantly not to act.

In making such comments, she is missing the larger truths. Many recognize that Danny’s banishment from campus and the incessant public assaults on his personal character have far more to do with his outspoken nature and nothing at all to do with campus safety. As such, his individual treatment has had a chilling effect on the free speech of all faculty, staff, and students at Adams State. Freely wielding the charge of sexism and lobbing at any male who dares to express a contrary view has much the same chilling effect, and is precisely the effect she desires. When Grohowski, with the backing of ASU administration, stated that “it is my duty to balance the free speech and individual rights against the public safety of the many”, the chill cuts straight through to the bone. McClure may declare that there are no academic freedom issues, no freedom of speech limitations at play, but the bracing winds tell a far different tale.

McClure’s tactic of lobbing unsubstantiated charges of sexism underscores an alarming national trend towards a victimhood mentality in modern feminism. This trend was recently skewered by Ella Whelan, staff writer for Spiked (“Why I’m Not a Feminist”):

Feminists believe that women should be protected from certain aspects of public life, including speech. Women can’t and shouldn’t deal with certain types of speech deemed sexist or offensive, feminists argue. Feminists do not want to engage in aspects of life they disagree with. Instead, they want to silence what they don’t like through censorship and criminalisation. Feminists believe that women need protection from words.
Finally, contemporary feminists do not believe that women are independent, free-thinking individuals. Feminists promote a cliquey, sisterhood mentality, but not through a collective and positive sharing of ideas. They’re the kind of group you’d encounter at school who would shun you if you weren’t wearing the right kind of hairband. Today’s feminism is opposed to criticism and nuance, refusing to allow women to form their own opinions or challenge preconceived ideas. And feminists call for the state to intervene when they want an opposing view silenced, and launch Twitter wars against dissenting views.

Many feminists are actively distancing themselves from feminist activities and organizations for this very reason. One should be able to criticize a woman without being labeled an anti-feminist. One should be able to criticize aspects of feminism without being labeled a Phyllis Schlafly. One should not be encouraged to attend a meeting to unquestioningly support a university president simply because she is a woman, as recently happened at ASU. To do so is misguided feminism at best; at worst it suppresses independent thought.

McClure has gone well beyond proclaiming herself a victim of male faculty and student sexism to using it as a tool for attacking and silencing them. In this she is also not alone. A recent article in The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind”, notes, “The recent collegiate trend of uncovering allegedly racist, sexist, classist, or otherwise discriminatory microaggressions doesn’t incidentally teach students to focus on small or accidental slights. Its purpose is to get students to focus on them and then relabel the people who have made such remarks as aggressors.”

Who is the true aggressor here?

President McClure’s charges of sexism are a cheap shot, an easy out. It is far easier – and baser – to attack a person’s character than to tackle their ideas. As our university president, as the person we’ve placed in a position of trust and power, we look to her to establish the intellectual tone of the campus. But rather than emphasize the importance of free inquiry and tolerant debate in the quest for new knowledge, she has silenced us all with labels. And the effect is truly chilling.

So when President McClure states that ASU has no free speech issues, forgive those of us who beg to differ but feel they can only do so under cover of anonymity.

Oh yeah, this was written by a woman.