The University of New Hampshire's Teachable Moment

Posted: Sep 13, 2006 11:47 AM

It will probably come as a surprise to most readers that my speech in April at the University of New Hampshire ranks as one of the three I most enjoyed giving on a college campus. The speech, which was laced with sentences even more awkward than the opening line of this column, was almost as much fun as the speeches I gave at the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University.

The reason I so loved the speech at New Hampshire was that many of those who came to protest actually ended up agreeing with most of what I had to say. I complained bitterly about the increasing racial segregation on UNC campuses only to notice that people were nodding in agreement throughout the audience.

Later in the speech, when I asked those in the audience who “think that segregation is absolutely wrong” to raise a hand, it seemed all 250 people present did just that. The seating capacity was only 225 but the police, security, and a few reporters pushed the number to about 250 people with decidedly un-diverse views on racial segregation. I guess that sometimes a lack of diversity is a good thing.

In another portion of the speech I talked about a case at UNC-Greensboro involving the hiring of a convicted pedophile to work in the Office of Student Life. I compared the OSL decision to hire a pedophile - and to hire a porn star as a “sexual health expert” – with their refusal to fund any conservative speakers. I argued that self-proclaimed moral relativists really do see themselves as morally superior beings.

Later in the speech, I talked about my involvement in getting the convicted pedophile fired from his job at UNCG and expelled from school – he was also a student at the university. After highlighting some of the details of his criminal record, I asked those in the audience who “consider pedophilia to be absolutely wrong” – the UNCG case involved collecting pictures of eight year olds being raped – to raise a hand. Again, everyone present did, in fact, raise a hand.

Unfortunately, just five months after my speech, the subject of pedophilia is a hot topic at UNH. An internet sex crimes task force has established probable cause to arrest a 49-year old engineering professor on charges of soliciting sex from a minor. Following his arrest, he has been suspended from his duties at UNH. And members of the UNH community are expressing shock that such a seemingly good and certainly well-liked professor could (allegedly) do such a thing.

When I contacted UNH this week, here’s the official statement they offered:

As soon as we learned of the arrest of Professor David Watt, he was notified that he was on leave, effective immediately. He also is prohibited from campus. The UNH Police Department has cooperated with the Hollis Police Department and will continue to do so. This is a matter appropriately in the hands of the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.

Judging by the response of both the UNH community and the administration, it appears there is a universal feeling that pedophilia is wrong and that pedophiles are dangerous persons who need to be kept at a safe distance from the university population. But given the emphasis on tolerance, diversity, and moral relativism in recent years on campuses like UNH, such unified condemnation is confusing.

Therefore, I am asking the Office of Campus Diversity at UNH to use this unfortunate arrest as an educational tool to help clarify the seeming contradiction between tolerance of alternate lifestyles and the universal condemnation of pedophilia. I have put together the following questionnaire to be used as a guide in the event that UNH opens a formal dialogue on this touchy subject:

1. Does our subjective repulsion in response to pedophilia serve as an adequate basis for the moral condemnation of pedophiles?

2. If you answered “yes” to question number one, how to you respond to those who have a similar revulsion towards homosexuals or trans-gendered persons who are not pedophiles?

3. If society can come to accept homosexuality, why can it not come to accept pedophilia?

4. If your answer to question number three revolves around the issue of a minor’s inability to give consent, when does this ability usually develop? At the age of 10? At the age of 15? Is your answer arbitrarily chosen or is it somehow objective?

5. Since minors do not generally get pregnant without having sex, does your answer to question number four have any bearing on your views about parental notification laws in the context of abortion?

6. If Professor Watt is convicted, he may well serve time in prison. What criminal liability should attach to organizations such as Planned Parenthood who regularly conspire to keep information about statutory rape concealed from the authorities – all under the guise a preventing an erosion of a woman’s “constitutional right to privacy.”

These six questions should do a lot to foster serious discussion and debate. I hope UNH will add some questions to those I have offered here. The road from moral relativism to moral certainty is a long one. The first steps should not be taken lightly.