A political science professor in Sweden is under international scrutiny for refusing to teach literature written by an American queer theorist and gender activist.
Erik Ringmar, who lectures at Lund University in Lund, Sweden, recently removed author Judith Butler from the syllabus of his “Modern Society and its Critics” course. Ringmar, in accordance with department policy, reported the change to the syllabus to a social sciences committee.
In previous incarnations of the course, Ringmar taught about postmodernism, but decided against it last year.
“I took away that theme because it really didn’t work with the other material and it was really very difficult for my students,” he said, according to Inside Higher Ed. “I removed that topic and, with that, this reading by Judith Butler
But the committee refused to approve the omission, citing a requirement that 40 percent of all reading material for every course must be written by women. Ringmar persisted nonetheless and last fall taught his course without Butler and thereby missed his gender quota.
Students became upset after the class’s second meeting and university administrators chalked the bounced Butler book up to a violation of student’s rights. The professor soon received widespread media attention in Sweden, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Judith Butler, whose books include Undoing Gender and Giving an Account of Oneself, is a gender theorist and third-wave feminist scholar. She’s credited as one of the founders and leading voices of contemporary “queer theory.”
In an interview with Swedish magazine Kvartal about the course, Butler said, “I am not in favor of my work being imposed by quotas.”
“I have never thought that ‘counting’ is the best way to insure gender equity,” she added.
Speaking to the College Fix, Ringmar, who holds a PhD from Yale University and has taught in Britain and China, defended his decision and blasted the Swedish education system as being under “unbelievably stupid, brain-dead, anti-intellectual rule.”
“No one in Sweden seems to understand the American tradition of academic freedom,” Ringmar said. “University teachers and students all seem prepared to have the government determine what should be taught. I’m appalled.”
“You can’t be seen [to] question the importance of gender issues and expect to have a career in this country. There is no way to explain to anyone here that academic freedom was my only concern,” he told College Fix.
“Assigning, say, Karl Marx doesn’t mean that students are taught Marxism. It means that we use Marx as a starting-point for thinking about society. The class might end up with strongly anti-Marxist conclusions…I can assign reactionary patriarchs, and end up with a super pro-feminist course. This is how the intellectual process works.”
Image: Erik Ringmar (left) and Judith Butler
Chadwick Moore is a journalist, political commentator, and editor-in-chief of DANGEROUS, currently working on his first book. He tweets at @Chadwick_Moore.