UM prof’s ‘I hate Republicans’ column sparks backlash

Mark Hicks and Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

A University of Michigan professor has sparked a backlash among colleagues and GOP officials after writing a column titled “It’s Okay To Hate Republicans,” including a call from the state party’s chairman for her resignation.

The piece from Susan J. Douglas, a UM department chair and Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies, was posted Monday on the website for In These Times, an independent, nonprofit magazine.

“I hate Republicans,” she wrote in the first paragraph. “I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal ‘personhood’ ...”

Douglas wrote that her “loathing is a relatively recent phenomenon” since in the 1970s she “worked for a Republican, Fred Lippitt, the senate minority leader in Rhode Island, and I loved him. He was a brand of Republican now extinct — a ‘moderate’ who was fiscally conservative but progressive about women’s rights, racial justice and environmental preservation.”

Her column goes on to mention “an escalation of determined vilification” and how “dogmatism, rigidity and intolerance of ambiguity” could influence thinking.

The writing did not please Andrea Fischer Newman, a member of the UM Board of Regents.

“As a Republican and a Member of the Board of Regents, I find Professor Douglass’s column extremely troubling and offensive,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “The University of Michigan community rightly supports and defends a wide variety of viewpoints and a diversity of opinion on all subjects. But this particular column, which expresses and condones hatred toward an entire segment of individuals in our society based solely on their political views, fails to observe an equally important value of our University — respect for the right of others to hold views contrary to our own. Professor Douglass’s column ill-serves the most basic values of a University community.”

Bobby Schostak, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said: “The piece by Professor Susan J. Douglas is ugly and full of hatred, and it should not be tolerated by the University of Michigan. ... It’s inexcusable for any instructor to isolate students because of their political ideology, especially if they do not fall in line with his or her own. Not only does she further perpetuate the political discord in our nation today, but she’s completely out-of-touch and focusing on a life of politics she apparently left decades ago. ...”

Schostak asked UM President Mark Schlissel to address the issue and Democratic Party officials to denounce her remarks.

“The University of Michigan is a respected public institution, funded by taxpayers, and this type of bullying must be addressed by President Mark Schlissel. I am calling on Lon Johnson, Gary Peters, Gretchen Whitmer, Tim Greimel and all Democratic officials to join in condemning this disgraceful dialogue by calling for Professor Susan J. Douglas’ resignation. By endorsing the hatred of an opposing political party, Douglas has made Republican students feel vulnerable and intimidated,” he said. “Our children come first, not the opinions of outspoken, out-of-line professors.”

In a statement Wednesday night, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said: “The views expressed are those of the individual faculty member and not those of the University of Michigan. Faculty freedom of expression, including in the public sphere, is one of the core values of our institution.

“At the same time, the university must and will work vigilantly to ensure students can express diverse ideas and perspectives in a respectful environment and without fear of reprisal. The university values viewpoint diversity and encourages a wide range of opinions.”

Campus conservatives at UM joined in the criticism.

“This is blatant intolerance, and the University should take action on the behalf of intellectual diversity and all of the students who are intimidated into silence,” said Grant Strobl, chairman of the UM chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. “In the position of an instructor, she can intimidate and inhibit the student’s freedom of expression.”

While students support Douglas’ right to express her opinion, “It’s kind of frustrating being on a college campus where we have teachers who are upfront about their hatred of certain views,” said Gabriel Leaf, 21, a senior and chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Michigan.

On a college campus where students from many backgrounds have a chance to share various views, he said, such a position could “push the parties away from each other and not really allow that open discussion to happen.”