Eric Rasmusen is an Indiana University business professor who is under fire over tweets and comments he made about women in academia, homosexuality, and affirmative action and race. Rasmusen, who weathered a family tragedy a decade ago when his parents and daughter were killed in a high-profile train collision, calls himself “proudly conservative.”
To Rasmusen’s critics, it’s an example of a university refusing to fire a professor for what Lauren Robel, Executive Vice President and Provost, called “racist, sexist, and homophobic views.” The dean labeled Rasmusen’s views “abhorrent.” Rasmusen openly admits such views as “saying that homosexuals should not teach grade and high school.”
Rasmusen frames the controversy as being about academic freedom, writing on his website in a section he calls his “Twitter kerfuffle page” that “academic freedom principles to which Indiana University subscribes prevent me from being legally fired, even apart from the Constitutional question.”
On his website, Rasmusen writes, “My pastor once said to me, ‘Eric, I want you to be persecuted, but I want you to be persecuted for being a Christian, too, and not just for being a conservative.’ ‘It’s just my religious faith’ is too often offered as an excuse for an unpopular belief; we should also tolerate dissident political beliefs.” His Twitter profile reads, “Econ prof, conservative, Calvinist, Uni ’76, Yale ’80 MIT ’84. Law & con, I.O., tax law, game theory. God first: fiat justitia ruat caelum.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Controversy Grew After Rasmusen Retweeted an Article About Women ‘Destroying’ Academia
The recent controversy started when Rasmusen retweeted an article on November 8, 2019 that was headlined, “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably.” It was published on a site called unz.com.
Rasmusen reprinted a quote from the article in his tweet: “geniuses are overwhelmingly male because they combine higher IQ with moderately low Agreeableness and moderately low Conscientiousness.”
He also wrote in a tweet, “I just realized – Women’s Studies and Home Ec are the same thing. They are both meant to teach a woman how to live her life. It’s just that only one of them keeps its promise.”
The retweeted article starts by outlining how, during World War I, “seven of the medical schools attached to the University of London decided to start admitting female students, as did Oxford and Edinburgh University. But by 1928, five of these London colleges had decided to stop admitting women, with the other two heavily restricting female numbers.”
It continues: “Oxford voted for a ratio of no more than one female for every six males. Male academics and students were concerned that the presence of female students, let alone staff, would ‘alter the character of the teaching’ and lead to ‘feminine government’ of universities…In other words, the ‘masculine’ dimension to academia—rigorously, unemotionally and coldly examining facts and arguments—would be wrecked by the increasing presence of emotional and over-empathetic girls. As females increasingly take over Western universities, now constituting the majority of students in the USA …it is becoming clear that these skeptics were right.”
According to IndyStar, the Women in Business at IU club has responded by selling black sweatshirts that read “Female Genius” on the front and “Support women in academia” on the back. They’ve sold more than 1,300 and the money is going to Girls, Inc. of Monroe County, the newspaper reported.
2. The University Responded That It Can’t Fire Rasmusen But Officials Criticized His Views, With the Dean Labeling Them ‘Abhorrent’
Robel’s statement says that Rasmusen has “for many years, used his private social media accounts to disseminate his racist, sexist, and homophobic views. When I label his views in this way, let me note that the labels are not a close call, nor do his posts require careful parsing to reach these conclusions.” She wrote that Rasmusen has “posted, among many other things, the following pernicious and false stereotypes:
That he believes that women do not belong in the workplace, particularly not in academia, and that he believes most women would prefer to have a boss than be one; he has used slurs in his posts about women;
That gay men should not be permitted in academia either, because he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students;
That he believes that black students are generally unqualified for attendance at elite institutions, and are generally inferior academically to white students.”
She added, “His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st. Sometimes Professor Rasmusen explains his views as animated by his Christian faith, although Christ was neither a bigot nor did he use slurs; indeed, he counseled avoiding judgments.”
However, Robel wrote that the university “cannot, nor would we, fire Professor Rasmusen for his posts as a private citizen, as vile and stupid as they are, because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so. That is not a close call.”
Robel stated that the university demands “tolerance and respect in the workplace and in the classroom, and if Professor Rasmusen acted upon his expressed views in the workplace to judge his students or colleagues on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, or race to their detriment, such as in promotion and tenure decisions or in grading, he would be acting both illegally and in violation of our policies and we would investigate and address those allegations according to our processes.”
Idie Kesner, the dean, wrote a separate statement. “The professor demonstrates a lack of tolerance and respect for women as well as for racial diversity and diversity in sexual orientation,” he wrote. “The leadership of the Kelley School stands united in condemning the bias and disrespect displayed by this professor; we find his sexist, racist, and homophobic views abhorrent.”
The dean added: “While many have called for the professor’s dismissal, there are legal reasons why the University cannot dismiss him over his postings. Like all of us, Professor Rasmusen has First Amendment rights. While his stated opinions are at odds with our individual values and beliefs and those of our institution, we cannot prohibit his freedom of expression in his private social media accounts.”
However, the dean stated that the university was taking the following steps: “…allowing students who are enrolled in his courses to substitute other courses or transfer to other sections taught by different professors. We will also implement other procedural mechanisms to ensure the biases expressed do not impact the professor’s grading or how he conducts his classroom sessions. And, we will conduct a thorough review of the courses taught by this professor for the influence of bias.”
In his own statement, Rasmusen wrote:
“To show students that they need not fear bias in grading, Indiana University’s Provost, Lauren Robel, and the Kelley School of Business’s Dean, Idalene Kesner, are condemning me, a dissident professor. Besides being condemned publicly, I am being required to use blind grading and students are allowed to opt out of my class. This, it is claimed, will make students relaxed and feel able to express their political views without fear of retribution.”
He added, “Having seen the Provost and Dean down on a professor who does not share their views, students will feel more comfortable in expressing their own views— that is, they will know what to expect if they speak freely in the classes of the 99% of professors who are (a) leftwing, and (b) exempt from blind grading. Indiana University is not discouraging bias, but encouraging it, even requiring it, as a condition of teaching. There are views you’re not supposed to express, even outside of class, and God help the conservative student whose professor checks Facebook and Twitter before grading term papers. In the pastI’ve had Christian and conservative students shyly approach me to say how happy they were to finally find a professor who was open in his beliefs. I hope to encourage them as much as I can.”
3. Rasmusen, Who Is From Urbana, Illinois, Has Degrees From Yale University
According to his website, Eric Bennett Rasmusen is a professor in the Department of Business Economics and Public Policy Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, which is located in Bloomington, Indiana. He lists these positions:
“Indiana University, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy, Kelley School of Business: Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy, 2019-present. Dan R. and Catherine M. Dalton Professor, 2005-2019. Indiana University Foundation Professor, 2001-2005. Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy, 1996-2002. Associate Professor, 1992-1996.”
He graduated from University High School, Urbana, Illinois, in 1976, and he has a B.A. and M.A. in Economics from Yale University. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984 with a dissertation titled “Essays in Dynamic Nonprice Competition.”
He was also an assistant professor from 1984-1992 at University of California, Los Angeles, John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management and a teaching assistant,Economics Department and Sloan School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982-84.
He’s held the following visiting positions:
“Harvard University, Law School (John M. Olin Faculty Fellow) and Economics Department (Visiting Professor) 2014-2015.
Oxford University, Nuffield College, visitor 2007-2008.
University of Tokyo, Center for International Research on the Japanese Economy and Faculty of Economics: Visiting Professor, 2001.
Harvard Law School: John M. Olin Senior Research Fellow in Law and Economics, 2000-2001.
Yale Law School: Olin Faculty Fellow, 1991-1992.
University of Chicago, Center for the Study of the Economy and the State and Graduate School of Business (now the Stigler Center): John M. Olin Visiting Assistant Professor of Business Economics, 1989-90.”
His research is into topics like “Incomplete Information in Repeated Coordination Games” and “Concavifying the Quasi-Concave.” Some of his research focuses on Japan, such as an article titled, “Identity Politics and Organized Crime in Japan: The Impact of Targeted Subsidies on Burakumin Communities.”
His website contains a wide variety of information from notes on “knots” to analysis of the 2000 presidential election to a page “about media coverage of different scandals. Juanita Broadderick accuses President Clinton of raping her in 1978. Many people say that such accusations should not be reported. Looking back, however, many of the newspapers saying this were very eager to report accusations of less severe misconduct supported by far flimsier evidence, when such reporting helped Bill Clinton.” He compared the coverage to coverage of Sally Hemings.
On Bush vs. Gore, he wrote, “There is an interesting philosophic difference between the Bush people, who say that a fair election is one that goes by predetermined rules, and the Gore people, who say that a fair election is one in which the desire of the majority of voters wins– in particular, that if someone misvoted, they should have a chance to vote again, or that the electoral college should be ignored in favor of the popular vote. The Gore position sounds better until you think about what it means.”
He also has a page devoted to affirmative action analysis.
He sometimes signs letters “IHS Eric Rasmusen,” which he wrote means “In His Service” or “Jesus.”
4. Rasmusen’s Daughter & Parents Died in a Horrific Tragedy When an Amtrak Train Hit Their Car
On his website, Rasmusen links to a memorial website for his parents and daughter. The page reads, “We are blessed. We have four wonderful children, and we had Lizzie for nine years. My parents lived their threescore and ten and more, and died quickly, and I was able to share fifty happy years with them. The Lord God has been good to us, and we are selfish to want more, when we have had so much. Lizzie was so sweet, helpful, and affectionate, that we worried about how people would hurt her when she grew up. She loved God better than any of us, and He has saved her from care. So many are so lucky to have known her, and we got to know her best.”
There is an accident page that rounds up news stories on the tragedy. NBC Chicago reported in 2009 that three passengers in a car died “after the vehicle was struck by an Amtrak train in Adams Township in LaSalle County.” Five people were in the car; Rasmusen’s dad, mom, and daughter died. The other two children in the car – also Eric’s children – were injured. His parents were in their 80s and his daughter was 9. The car didn’t stop at a railroad intersection, according to WTHR.
Rasmusen’s father, Benjamin Rasmusen, also achieved his Ph.D. and was an Associate Professor of Animal Genetics. “As a professor, he went on research leave twice, living in Edinburgh 1965-66 and Cambridge 1972-73. He twice was elected President of the International Society of Animal Blood Group Research,” his obituary says. His son Eric was one of three children.
In 2018, a local law firm announced that Eric Rasmusen and his family had agreed to a $1 million settlement with Amtrak and BNSF Railroad. The Cantlin Law page says that “Marilyn Rasmusen was driving home with her husband Benjamin Rasmusen and three grandchildren, Amelia, Elizabeth and Benjamin, when her car was struck by an Amtrak train going 81 mph at a crossing without lights or gates on BNSF tracks between Leland and Somonauk.”
Eric Rasmusen stated in that article: “Everyone knew that crossing was dangerous. After the crash, safety features including lights and gates were added to that particular crossing. I hope this will prompt the improvement of other rural crossings in Illinois and around the country. We still grieve for Grandma, Grandpa, and Elizabeth, and a permanent hole has been left in the middle of our family, but God calls each of us to be ready to leave this life at any time.”
A memorial page says of Rasmusen’s dad: “He was perverse in his politics— the ultraconservative in his university department, but arguing the liberal side often in his later years. Perhaps, like the Benjamin Rasmusen who was his grandfather, what he liked was the debate. He loved to argue with his son Eric, to the distress of his wife who worried about him getting overexcited. He fell out of that habit in his last two years, when he became very gentle. He was weakening, slowly and gracefully, in body if not in mind.”
As for Eric’s mother, Marilyn, she was described in her obit as being “accepted for graduate school at the University of Minnesota but decided instead to become a secretary for a small engineering company in the Tribune Tower in Chicago.” Their other children are a software engineer and investment consultant.
Eric’s daughter Elizabeth was described as being “known for being caring and giving, and for loving God sincerely.”
“Part of her babyhood was spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Tokyo, Japan, with a side-trip to Seoul to visit her great-aunts,” her memorial page reads. You can see photos of the child here.
5. Rasmusen Defended Himself in a Line-by-Line Rebuke of the Provost’s Statement, Declaring That ‘Sodomy Is a Sin,’ He Opposes Affirmative Action & ‘Opens Doors for Ladies’
On his website, Rasmusem countered the provost’s statement on him line-by-line. He also reprinted emails in support.
“I oppose admitting people to universities based on their race; I open doors for ladies; I say that sodomy is a sin. I am sure that is enough to qualify me for those insults under the Provost’s personal definitions,” he wrote.
As to the provost’s contention that he believes women don’t belong in the workforce, he responded, “My wife, who has degrees from the Royal College of Music and Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music, taught college student at Eastern Illinois for year back around 1995. I did not object. Nor did I object when she decided she liked being a housewife better, a very reasonable decision. If my daughter decides to become a philosophy professor, that is okay too. Academia is a vocation more compatible with motherhood than most jobs.”
He wrote that he had tweeted about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the former FBI officials who were having an affair that came out when Strzok left the Mueller investigation. According to Rasmusen, he wrote of Page, “what I think of when I hear her name is a slut who was having an adulterous affair at the office.”
As to his comments on homosexuals, he wrote, “I am on record as saying that homosexuals should not teach grade and high school. I don’t think they should be Catholic priests or Boy Scout leaders either. Back in that kerfuffle when I was widely attacked for saying that, I was careful to say that academia was different. Professors prey on students too, so there is a danger, but the students are older and better able to protect themselves, and there is more reason to accept the risk of a brilliant but immoral teacher.”
As for his comments on affirmative action, he explained, “What is clear is that *some* students are admitted because of their race— which means that other students are denied because of their race, since we have a fixed number of spots. The whole idea of affirmative action is that too few black students would get in without racial preferences, so we need to lower the standard for them and accept that they will do worse academically. Affirmative action may be right; it maybe wrong; but that’s what it is.” He also wrote that the Twitter page that retweeted his controversial tweet was @SheRatesDogs.
This story was updated to reflect the correct name of the dean, Idie Kesner.