On August 1, 2005 we published the article "My Name is Michael Vocino and I Like Dick" by Nathaniel Nelson. Nelson discusses how he enrolled in Prof. Michael Vocino's course “Political Philosophy: Plato to Machiavelli” in the fall semester of 2003 at the University of Rhode Island. The class was supposed to be about the “Major political philosophies from Plato to Machiavelli and their influence on such key concepts as justice, equality, and political obligation.” But, as Mr. Nelson described, it ended up centering around Prof. Vocino's sexual preference, social beliefs, and vendetta against Christians and political conservatives. We received an e-mail from Dr. Michael Vocino on August 12, and David Horowitz replied to it the next day. We have not heard from Dr. Vocino since then -- despite sending him a follow-up e-mail saying that if we did not hear from him, we would post this exchange. Below, we reproduce Professor Vocino's e-mail to us and David Horowitz's response. -- The Editors.
Name: michael vocino
Date: 8/12/2005 3:13:35 AM
I don't suppose you are interested in hearing my side of the issue, much less publish it, but you might want to read this if you are interested in the "truth": MY NAME IS MICHAEL VOCINO AND I LIKE NATHANIEL NELSON (even though his political views are different from mine.) Nathaniel Nelson was a student of mine when he was in his junior year at the University of Rhode Island. Nathaniel was an articulate student who opposed at every turn my attempts to present a gay-positive perspective on one the most pressing political and social issues facing the nation and covered heavily in the national and local media, gay rights. Nathaniel was a joy to have in class because he was more than willing to oppose my perspectives on gay rights. When I teach, I don't punish students who disagree with me, as Nathaniel certainly did. What is important to me is that a student's arguments counter to my own as a professor are stated with clarity, intelligence, and conviction. Although Nathaniel opposed my positions, he did so articulately when stated, and with concise and precise clarity when written. It was for this reason that Nathaniel earned an "A" in my classroom. He was, though misguided and certainly wrong in his perspective on gay rights from my position as a gay man, one of my better students. I am sorry to read and hear again that Nathaniel sees our educational interaction as such a negative. I personally think his experiences in my classroom and his need to face opposing political viewpoints were a positive for him, and I certainly know that our conflicting opinions in my classroom and how they were expressed were certainly a positive for me and the other students in the class.
M Vocino 4 August 2005
August 13, 2005
Dear Professor Vocino,
Your letter (sent on August 12) has just been brought to my attention.
If you take a good look at our sites (www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org and www.discoverthenetworks.org), you will see that we are always interested in what our subjects and political opponents think (an attitude that has rarely been reciprocated by them). Thus I am responding to your letter and will post it along with your response this one, if you decide to reply.
I don’t think we portrayed you as a teacher who uses the grading system to enforce his prejudices, political or otherwise. We are happy that Nathaniel, who is obviously a bright individual, received an appropriate grade for the course. But this doesn’t change the pedagogical issue raised in the FrontPage article (or the profile we have posted in www.discoverthenetworks.org).
The course, as I understand it, was listed as a course on the development of political philosophy in the West in antiquity and the Middle Ages. It was not a course on gay rights, not a course on modern issues at all. It seems a betrayal of your professional obligations both to the university and to your students to turn it into one. Is this also your practice in the course you teach on “The American Presidency?” On “Contemporary Italian Politics?”
And while we are on this issue, what is your academic qualification for teaching any of these courses? Inquiries to your school have established that you do not even have a Ph.D., let alone a record of scholarly publications. By what process, then, did you receive an actual tenured full professorship in Political Science (even as a joint appointment) when you are still working on your dissertation? And when that dissertation is not in political science but in Cultural Studies, on the TV cartoon show “South Park?” And it isn’t even completed?
I understand that gay rights are important to you, and I agree that the humane and respectful treatment of gays is important to our society, as well. But these are not the subjects of the courses you teach or of the course that Nathaniel signed up for. To use these courses as a soapbox for this issue and for your personal agendas is unprofessional conduct, and deprives your students of an educational opportunity they, their parents, and Rhode Island taxpayers, have paid for and expect.
There is also a separate issue here concerning your persistent sexual harassment of students, which is not addressed in your e-mail. Respect is a two-way street. Have you had no second thoughts about your sexual advances — beginning with your preposterous self-introduction to your class? And this is a class on ancient and medieval philosophy! Have you no shame for your hostile attacks on Christians and conservatives in that class? Your treatment of Nathaniel was disrespectful to him as a conservative, as a Christian, and as a self-respecting individual. Would you not be offended by a professor who made comparable remarks about gays? Are you claiming in this communication to us that “attempting to show the gay side of things” means allowing yourself to ask men to kiss in your class? Are you denying that happened? And what does showing the gay side of things — or asking male students to kiss in class — have to do with medieval political philosophy? With Machiavelli?
I think that Nathaniel and his classmates are owed an apology by you, and that the students who are coming your way this fall are owed professional classes in the subjects they sign up for. What is your response to this?