Prof. disciplined for letter to the editor
On February 18, 2000, Professor David Deming picked up The University of Oklahoma’s daily newspaper. That day’s edition showcased a syndicated article by gun control advocate Joni Kletter, written in a matter that immediately chafed with Deming. Current gun laws, wrote Kletter, allowed “criminals, youth, and the mentally disabled to quickly and easily kill as many random people as they want.”
“MY ATTORNEYS ARE TO BE THANKED FOR DOING THE ENTIRE UNIVERSITY A SERVICE BY DEFENDING THE UNIVERSITY’S VALUES BETTER THAN IT DID.”CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION (QUOTING PROFESSOR DAVID DEMING)
Deming dashed off a letter in response that was printed three days later. “I just want to point out,” he wrote, “that Kletter’s ‘easy access’ to a vagina enables her to ‘quickly and easily’ have sex with ‘as many random people’ as she wants.” The professor tought his satire was clear enough, but that was before he came close to losing his job.
In the days after Deming’s letter was published, more than 25 students filed complaints with the U of O administration. Aggravated in part by the title given to the letter by the Daily (“The vagina just as threatening to society as firearms can be”), the students, as well as the director of the Womens’ Outreach Center accused the professor of “polluting the world with his knowledge” and violating U of O’s sexual harassment codes. Deming hadn’t harassed anyone personally, but the accusation that he had created an offensive enviornment carried weight at the college. Deming criticized the activists and students for having “no more respect for the first amendment than they do for the second.”
“IT’S IRONIC THAT DEMING’S ACCUSERS, WHO APPARENTLY BELIEVE THAT THE FIRST AMENDMENT AFFORDS NO PROTECTION TO SPEECH WHICH SOME FIND SEXUALLY OFFENSIVE, WERE AMONG THE PARTICIPANTS AND SUPPORTERS OF THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES.”HETERODOXY MAGAZINE (QUOTING CURT LEVEY)
Deming contacted CIR in the first weeks of March and agreed to ignore media attention. On March 16, he checked his mailbox to find a letter from the University absolving him of any redress for writing the letter to the editor. The University confirmed that he had not violated any harassment policy. But after a number of calls for Deming to apologize, the Dean of the College of Geoscience, John Snow, wrote a letter reprimanding him. Deming’s future, wrote Snow, was “unclear.” Deming was called to an “informal discussion” on April 27, its proceedings classified confidential.
CIR questioned the decision to bar lawyers from speaking at the April 27 hearing. In response, the University set up a hearing for May 5. There, in a public forum, OU and general consul Joseph Harroz dropped all complaints. CIR pressed for an apology and a pledge that letters would never again be susceptible to sexual harassment proceedings.
On October 25, the University signed a CIR settlement and dropped all charges against Professor Deming.