Joel Seligman, the president of the University of Rochester, has, in his words, exercised his right to express his views with a dissent from my recent posts about contraceptive subsidies.
Several news organizations have asked me for a statement. Here is what I sent them. (Below the fold is a copy of my email response to President Seligman.)
President Seligman says that the mission of the university is to promote the free exchange of ideas and lively debate, and I agree. That mission is undermined whenever a member of the academic community elevates raw self-interest over the exchange of ideas.
That’s what Sandra Fluke did. She observed that contraceptives are expensive, and therefore demanded that somebody other than herself and her fellow students pick up the tab. She didn’t even pretend to be interested in debating any of the serious issues raised by the question of when some of us should pick up the tab for others’ expenses.
Sometimes we should, sometimes we shouldn’t, and there’s a lot to be said, discussed, and debated about the particulars. An emotional appeal for one’s preferred outcome, ignoring all the substantive issues, is the
exact antithesis of the free exchange of ideas that President Seligman claims to endorse.
I’ve had three blog posts on this subject, here, here, and here. The commenters have offered many bright and lively arguments and observations, some of which have led me to modify some of my views.
This is a wonderful thing. It’s also the very opposite of Sandra Fluke’s approach, which amounts to a contemptuous dismissal of the very possibility of engaging these issues through intellectual discourse. I’d have expected a distinguished academic to feel the same way.
And now, my letter to President Seligman:
Dear President Seligman:
I do appreciate your right to express your views, but I don’t think you have a right to misrepresent mine.
You wrote: “Landsburg…characterized those who disagreed with his view as `contraceptive sponges’”. This is the exact opposite of the truth. I offered several good and bad arguments for and against subsidized contraception, dissected them with respect, applauded commenters who differed from me intelligently, and in some cases bowed to their insight.
I reserved the phrase `contraceptive sponges’ very clearly and specifically for people who demand subsidies without offering any reasons beyond the fact that they’d prefer to be subsidized. In other words, the targets of this phrase are people who have not actually stated any views on the matter at hand, namely how do we know when a subsidy is justified.
People who express actual views on this matter do not deserve to be mocked or ridiculed, and I never once said or implied that they do; indeed the considerable respect I’ve shown to opposing views throughout the comments section (and in the posts themselves) belies this interpretation.
Again, my objection is to people who think we ought to draw policy conclusions based on nothing more than their own personal preferences—that is, people who think that ideas don’t matter. I’d have hoped that a distinguished academic would share that objection.