When the Students for Life group at Purdue University tried to draw attention to the disproportionate number of abortions performed within the black community — tying their event into Black History Month — they received a predictably negative reaction. They responded on their Facebook page with a conciliatory explanation. In their statement, they made their intent clear:
Regarding the recent flyers and chalking, what we’re finding is that there has been a lot of misinterpretation and misunderstanding of our intended message, and because of that, unfortunately some people’s feelings have been hurt. In light of Black History Month, our goal is to raise awareness of the fact that abortion and the industry that surrounds it disproportionately affects and harms the black community, including, but not limited to, its unborn members. (Check out toomanyaborted.com for stats.) Those are the reasons we are currently focusing on abortions in the black community, not because we intend to attack or shame anyone.
But this wasn’t the end of it. A statement that should have prompted civil discussion instead led to a vitriolic reaction from Purdue Visual and Performing Arts staffer, Jamie Newman:
“You folks are vile, racist idiots,” Newman wrote, “who richly deserve all the opprobrium that will be heaped on you as a result of this unbelievably thoughtless, stupid escapade.”
Newman continued to respond at various points in the discussion, which as of this writing has over 200 comments. His demeanor toward those who espoused the pro-life position could generally be characterized as combative and insulting.
But according to the Students for Life of America website, the story has a darker twist:
Using his Disqus account, Jamie Newman commented on a story from Live Action News and called for the rape of pro-life women.
In our current time, Americans know that threats made online must be taken seriously. At Students for Life, we take this Mr. Newman’s words very seriously especially in light of the current controversy at Purdue, his previous posts, and the position of authority he has on the campus.
“This is intolerable behavior, period. Purdue must terminate their relationship with Mr. Newman now. For the past week, our students have been called ‘racists,’ ‘human garbage,’ and ‘ignorant c*nts.’ They have courageously stood their ground and have met with black students who were offended by their educational display to explain their event and ask for help for future events. But now the safety of our students has been put into risk. Purdue cannot let a staff member publicly call for the rape of their students no matter how unpopular their speech,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.
Campus Reform has attempted to cross-reference the accounts of the Disqus user who posted the rape comments, “jamiegnewman,” and the Jamie Newman of Purdue University who has been commenting on the Students for Life Facebook page. They believe they have found credible circumstantial evidence to link the two accounts. They also noted a sudden scrubbing of Newman’s public information on Social Media accounts.
Yesterday, inquiries to Purdue University were receiving a boilerplate response from their communications team:
“Obviously, a threat of rape is outside the bounds of any definition of protected speech. Due process requires that, before taking any action, we verify the alleged facts and give this staff member the chance to explain himself if he can. Needless to say, the statements, as alleged, are reprehensible and unacceptable in the eyes of the entire Purdue community.”
Today, however, there’s a different story. The Lafayette Journal & Courier ran a story this morning examining the timeline of events, and they are indicating that Purdue will take no discipinary action against Mr. Newman.
Purdue University recoiled but will not take action against a staff member accused of using social media to advocate rape of pro-life women.
Student and national pro-life groups had called for Jamie Newman, an accompanist in the Purdue Division of Dance, to be fired. And the Purdue police opened an investigation Thursday into whether the allegations were credible or whether the threats were criminal.
By Thursday night, Purdue closed the case, issuing this statement through Brian Zink, a university spokesman, that police had interviewed Newman and other witnesses and “did not find sufficient evidence to take action.”
“As far as the university is concerned, the speech was repugnant and inconsistent with Purdue values,” the Purdue statement read. “We don’t condone it, but at this time no personnel action is intended.”
In two comments on the Journal & Courier article, an individual posting under the name Marie Eisenstein said that her husband, Maurice — who is listed as an Associate Professor of Political Science on the Purdue website — was disciplined by the university for personal comments that he made in person and online:
Purdue has sanctioned my husband, Maurice Eisenstein, for fall less. Purdue has actually declared that comments Maurice made to another individual under the umbrella of the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana was within its purview to sanction. That is, Purdue actually put a letter of reprimand in my husband’s official personnel file because of a statement he made to another member of the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. Then again, my husband criticized Muslims……so it’s all good. That is okay to sanction. But, no need to sanction offensive language toward pro-lifers. I cannot argue that I disagree with Purdue’s conclusions – but I can and will argue that it applies its standards selectively.
In fact, Purdue subjected my husband to no less than 11 official investigations of harassment for calling Mohammad an idiot on Facebook. Yes, that’s right. He did not even direct that comment to anyone in paricular. But that did not stop Purdue from spending 3 whole months investigating him for harassment. Again, the double standard is blinding. Offend Muslims, have your career turned on its head. Offend pro-lifers – the first amendment reigns supreme. I agree with deference to the first amendment. But it should be applied consistently, not just when it is politically correct to do so.
Is this evidence of a double standard?
In September, 2015, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) awarded Purdue University its “highest free speech rating” for “eliminating all of its restrictive free speech policies”. Could this be the reason why the University has chosen not to take action? Did Purdue decide, after their dealings with Maurice Eisenstein, that policing the speech of its faculty and staff was more trouble than it was worth?
We may never know. Whatever the case, the situation seems far from resolved:
Anna Held, a Purdue graduate, is a regional coordinator for Students for Life of America, covering 145 campus groups in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. She has been working with Purdue Students for Life.
“As pro-life activists, we know not everybody loves what we’re doing, right?” Held said. “We are not strangers to having people say mean things about our work, to be sure. So, the comments he was making on (the Facebook page) were rubbing up against free speech, but as soon as you start making comments threatening to rape women, it’s absolutely taking it too far.”
Hernandez compared the situation to the student protest over the fliers, which she called civil, considerate and effective, leading to this week’s apology from Purdue Students for Life over the tone and placement of anti-abortion messages aimed at black women on campus.
Newman said the allegations amounted to defamation.
“As for the idea that I actually threatened to rape some random stranger’s wife and children — well, that’s also a complete fabrication, but one built on a fragment of a much longer conversation,” Newman said. “You could view the whole conversation over at liveactionnews.org, except they took down my side of it. Makes it so much easier to spin when all relevant context is removed.”
Held said her group had asked for “appropriate action from Purdue.” Meaning?
“They can’t have someone on the payroll at the university who is publicly talking about raping women,” Held said. “We’re asking that they remove him from his position.”
After Purdue announced its findings, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, responded via email.
“It is an awful precedent. So employees of Purdue University can go around saying they are going to rape people online, and that’s OK with them?” Hawkins asked. “My question: Will those on the other side of the abortion issue, those feminists who claim to be for women, now speak out and join us to say that rape threats are never tolerable?”
Mr Newman’s statement appears to be an implicit admission that he was responsible for making the comments about rape. His attempts to minimize it notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine a context where saying “let me make my intentions quite explicit: I did in fact offer to rape Tom’s wife/daughter/great grandmother” could somehow be construed as acceptable behavior.
As for the question about whether feminists will choose to support an abortion advocate who allegedly threatened rape or those women who were threatened — unfortunately, we all know the answer.
We encourage you to contact Purdue university to offer your own opinion on the matter: [email protected]
UPDATE: Just after publication, we were informed that an on-campus protest of the University’s decision to retain Mr. Newman as an employee has been scheduled for next week.
UPDATE 2: After making a request for comment on the matter, we received this statement from Purdue University:
The following is a statement from Steve Schultz, Purdue legal counsel, on the recent controversy related to an online post by a part-time Purdue staff member:
“As we’ve already indicated, a threat of rape is outside the bounds of any definition of protected speech. And if it appeared that Mr. Newman had any such intention, he would have been terminated immediately. But the police investigation tells us that there was, and is, no real threat to the campus community. That finding does not foreclose the possibility of other employment-related actions based on Purdue’s internal complaint processes.
The disruption we’ve endured as a community is entirely due to Mr. Newman’s online posts. Anything other than a full apology and explanation from him about the intent of his statement will be insufficient to cure the harm he’s done.
It’s fortunate for Mr. Newman that he works at a public university both obligated under the First Amendment and committed by principle to protect free speech — even speech as abhorrent as his. Had he uttered such an outrageous and vulgar statement while working for a private college or other private employer, he would almost certainly have been fired on the spot. Mr. Newman’s obnoxious rhetoric is an embarrassment for Purdue, but our special obligations as a public institution impose a much higher threshold before condemnation can be extended to punishment.”
UPDATE 3: Jamie Newman has voluntarily resigned his position at Purdue.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.