These students want to teach their professor a lesson.
Hundreds of Brooklyn College students demanded on Oct. 4 that school officials fire a faculty member over a recent blog post defending controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — or any man accused of sexual assault during high-school years.
The students gathered on the college’s East Quad and insisted that the school’s administration fire Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor at the college’s business school, who wrote that committing sexual assault in high school is part of being a man.
“If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex,” Langbert said in the post on Sept. 27.
In the same post, he said that sexual assault should be a requirement for future political and judicial appointees, and that Kavanaugh’s hearings were made a travesty by the Democrats, whom he referred to as the “sissy party.”
“In the future, having committed sexual assault in high school ought to be a prerequisite for all appointments, judicial and political. Those who did not play spin-the-bottle when they were 15 should not be in public life,” he said.
Several students voiced their disgust at Langbert’s online comments, saying that it made them feel unsafe on campus.
“My main concerns are the risk and the danger that the female students in front of him are in,” said Sumaya Javaid, a junior at the college, adding that Langbert’s beliefs could make him judge his female students unfairly. “It gives an unfair advantage where he doesn’t respect women, so I don’t think he would be fair to a female student as much as he would be to a male student,” she said.
Another student agreed that Langbert should be fired.
“I don’t think he should keep his job. He’s obviously a danger to the environment, and if you’re going to be learning with a professor like that, you’re not going to feel safe and feel like you can actually learn anything,” said Naimah Munim, also a junior.
The organizer of the protest condemned Langbert’s statements as sexist and dangerous.
“We unequivocally condemn Mr. Langbert’s sexism, glorification and promotion of sexual assault, and his calls for violence, as well as all legitimate threats of violence from any member of the campus community,” said Corrinne Greene of the student group Young Progressives of America.
Greene read out the group’s demands, which, along with him being fired, included an investigation into Langbert’s conduct during his tenure. They also demanded that the college should formally condemn the message and introduce mandatory anti-sexual-assault classes for all college faculty and administrators.
College provost Anne Lopes issued a statement on Oct. 3 saying that, while Langbert’s statements were offensive, the Constitution protects his right to make them.
“I view the post as offensive, obviously abhorrent, and contravening the fundamental values and practices of our community,” she said in the statement. “However, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects even speech that many experience as offensive, such as the faculty member’s post.”
One sophomore agreed that while Langberts comments were offensive, firing him would be a last resort, and that a dialogue would be more constructive.
“I think terminating him should be the last thing. The staff and students should sit down with the professor and have a conversation first,” said Naim Nuvel.
After the protest, college president Michelle Anderson released a statement in support of the protesting students.
“I want to add my personal voice to the chorus of condemnation of the faculty member’s blog post,” she wrote. “I find his words repugnant to our values as an institution of higher education. His remarks contravene our commitments to diversity, equality, and intellectual respect,” Michelle Anderson said in a statement.
Anderson did not say whether Langbert would be let go, but said that she met with student representatives to see what steps the administration would take.
“This morning, I met with leadership from student government, as well as student protest organizers, to discuss their concerns and to consider constructive responses we could take together,” she said.
Langbert amended his post ahead of the protest, saying that it was meant as satire, along the lines of 18th-century Irish writer Jonathan Swift, who argued satirically that the Irish should sell their children as food to the British to get out of poverty.
“I wrote the following short blog in light of the defamation that Judge Kavanaugh has suffered at the hands of his political opponents. It is intended to be taken in the same light as Swift’s claim that Irish children should be eaten. I was surprised to learn that some readers took me literally, claiming that I advocate rape,” he said in the amended post.
But students and faculty did not buy his explanation, saying that even if he was sincere about it being satire, it was still not appropriate for him to joke about sexual assault, given the current national climate, according to one staff member.
“I don’t think as a straight male he gets to make satire about sexual assault. I don’t think it is his place,” said Hasan Ozcan, an acting director at the college’s Preparatory Center.
Ozcan doubted the honesty of Langbert’s explanation in light of other posts on his blog, which argue a range of conservative ideas and rail against Democrats.
“Clearly much of his blog has similar sentiments so I neither think that he is sincere in his comment that it was satire, nor do I think it’s his place to make jokes about someone else’s pain, that people endure their entire lives,” Ozcan said.
The college president announced that the college will host two public forums next week, which will allow for students and faculty to reflect and learn from each other, according to a spokesman for the college.
Langert did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time.