At Lund University in Sweden, the political science department has an objective that 40 percent of all reading assigned in a course list be by female authors. Erik Ringmar, who teaches a class in that department called Modern Society and its Critics, changed up his course a little this year and, with that change, removed a feminist essay by Judith Butler, who writes on gender as a societal construct.
His department told him he had to put her back on the list. Ringmar explained that he wanted to focus on primary sources written in the 19th century, and found some women to add, but he still fell short of 40 percent. He's now in a battle with the school over whether teachers should have the freedom to choose the readings they think are best for their class or if they should have to choose readings based on gender. “There is not a course committee in the world which can force me to teach Judith Butler unless I want to," he wrote on his blog.
He told Inside Higher Education that the writing simply didn't fit with his course and he would not be forced to teach something he did not want to teach:
"(The course is) a course in the history of political ideas as expressed by thinkers from Edmund Burke onwards. It is this tradition which has very few female contributions. More importantly, it seems to me that artificially inflating the importance of the few female authors that might have existed would falsify the historical record. After all, the whole point of the feminist critique is that female voices were suppressed. This suppression is important to talk about, but you can't rely on the suppressed voices in order to do so.”
When speaking to The College Fix, Ringmar was even more blunt, saying “It’s an unbelievably stupid, brain-dead, anti-intellectual rule." He continued, “thinking and learning cannot be restricted according to quotas. It’s like saying that bakers can’t use certain flour or painters can’t use a certain color paint." He said that Sweden does not value academic freedom in the way America does and thus, “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."
Ringmar said that, after being "bullied" and having "weird rumors" being spread, he has decided not to teach the course again. Will American institutions learn from this? One can hope, but not expect too much.