Austin Amestoy: From the Montana Kaimin, University of Montana's independent, student-run newspaper, this is the Kaimin Cast for the week of Oct. 11. I'm Austin Amestoy.
In August, four women filed a Title IX lawsuit against UM alleging sex discrimination. Weeks later, new allegations emerged that leaders at the School of Law discouraged students and professors from coming forward with their own Title IX complaints. The law school's deans have since resigned, and the university has stated it intends to launch an independent investigation into the complaints.
Now, the Montana Kaimin has learned that a computer science professor has been reported by his superiors for writing an online blog described by coworkers as "disturbing" and "ethically bankrupt." This week, news reporter Andy Tallman breaks down the content of professor Rob Smith's blog and YouTube videos and the reaction from UM staff and students.
Amestoy: Well, Andy, welcome to the Kaimin Cast where we're not talking about bears this time, despite the tease from last week, and that's because we had a pretty remarkable story drop into our laps, so the bears are going to have to wait a little longer.
Andy Tallman: Hi, Austin. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to talk about this wild story.
Amestoy: Yes, absolutely. So let's, Andy, start from the beginning. Tell me how the Kaimin first became aware of this UM professor's trail of controversial online writings.
Tallman: It originally came in our Slack channel from Mariah, who got it from her boss — we don't know where her boss got it from. But we know the original person who came across it was Jesse Johnson, who's the chair of the computer science department at UM. And we know that on Sept. 17, he sent it to his coworkers. He sent it, I believe, to the UM legal counsel and to the deans, so he reported that as soon as he found it. Well, not as soon as he found it. As soon as he found that specific post.
Amestoy: So it was a particular post from this blog that prompted Johnson to bring it to the attention of the University. Is that correct?
Tallman: Yes, it was the post titled "The Problem with the Women."
Amestoy: So the story of how this blog kind of got reported is a little bit complex, but one thing that we do know is that Johnson knew about the blog, and I'm wondering, Andy, if you could tell us in any detail that you can, how Johnson actually came across the blog in the first place.
Tallman: He mentioned that, back in 2017, when Rob Smith was up for tenure, he went through the blog. He said at the time, he thought it was just fundamentalist Mormon theology, and also, at the time, the blog didn't link to a YouTube channel with Rob's voice in it, so Johnson didn't have any way to know that it was that same Rob Smith, so it didn't really come up in his tenure opinion to the dean. So he's been aware of the blog, just not these posts for a while.
Amestoy: If Johnson's been aware of this blog since at least 2017, the reason he hasn't reported it in those intervening years is because a lot of the more controversial posts and the link to the YouTube channel that Smith runs didn't come until later, after the tenure process was unfolding. Is that right?
Amestoy: Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the blog, Andy — and there is some nitty-gritty to get into — let's take a step back. Who is this professor at the center of this controversial online blog?
Tallman: His name is Rob Smith. He is a computer science professor at University of Montana. From the sound of it, the classes he teaches vary because there are only six faculty in that department, so they go through it a lot. This year, I believe he's teaching an “intro to computer science” class and a “computer ethics and society” class. He's tenured since, I believe, 2017, and he's worked at UM for seven years. And he has a business called Prime Labs that focuses on mass spectrometry, where he employs UM students as interns.
Amestoy: Okay, so that's who Rob Smith is. And we should note that, in addition to his blog, as you mentioned, he also hosted a YouTube channel where he discussed many of the same topics that he covered on the blog. So Andy, I want you to break down the main content of Smith's blog and videos and as you do that, we'll illustrate some of what Smith said using quotes from a YouTube video on his channel titled “Men, Women, Biology and Age.”
Professor Rob Smith: “Men, Women, Biology and Age”
"This presentation's going to be about men, women, biology and age. I'm going to give you a warning that even though this presentation is based on biological fact, there will be a lot of facts that are either things that you've never heard of, or thought about, or things that directly contradict your cultural traditions. And I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry."
Tallman: I've kind of been lost in the sauce of this blog for so long, but the sort of big one, the big fish, the white whale I've been wrestling —
Amestoy: This is a specific blog post on his blog?
Tallman: Yes, this is one post.
Tallman: This is "Isaiah 3 part 2: The problem with the women."
Smith: "And so there are many elements of female character — and I went over a list of these — that are wonderful things, they're absolutely wonderful. And they're prizes, and they make the world a better place. And for some reason, the world really diminishes the value of these things today."
Tallman: And he references that Isaiah 3 and 4 in the Bible reference a prophecy of a future people who would be so sinful as to trigger the apocalypse, and he seems to think that modern society matches this description. One of these reasons that modern society matches these descriptions is because of the failings of modern-day women. So for instance, feminism — the idea that men and women are equal — is a failing of modern women. He says that men and women are not equal, they have differences; that women are genetically physically inferior to men — not as strong, that women will always make decisions based on feelings rather than logic, that women and men's IQ is distributed differently.
Amestoy: So this post, it has some interesting takes about the role of women in our society. Now, from my understanding, a lot of Smith's talk is about the roles of men and women. What other ways does he seem to differentiate men from women in these posts?
Tallman: Oh, well, he says that a man's value goes up over time as he gains wisdom and earning potential, and a woman's value goes down over time, because her physical attractiveness peaks at age 16.
Smith: "I am going to contend that men should prefer women who are closer to 20. The reason is, there is a window of time associated with pre-menopause, and for the man, it is very likely that he will not have a better window of time with his wife. And the reason I say this -- I know that's gonna trigger so many people, because you're gonna say, 'But a woman's not just her looks, and she can develop and blah, blah, blah, and her character,' and I agree with that completely. And I really hope that every woman develops her character so that as her looks decline, she has something more valuable to replace her looks with. But looks are given at birth, unless you get fat, which is fully avoidable."
Tallman: And from 16 to 18 is when a woman is most physically attractive, and then it all goes downhill from there. So by 30, a woman's body has nothing to offer, and so he advises that men should seek spouses as close to age 18 as possible, no matter how old they are.
Amestoy: Does Smith see any purpose for working women in our society, per these blog posts and YouTube videos?
Tallman: No, no he doesn't. I mean, he thinks that men are more productive. He says in his post, "Young women say they want to make an impact," that he's disappointed in his female students because they say they want to make an impact, but what they want to do is travel the world and dye their hair and get tattoos and sleep with a lot men and then just marry whoever is making six figures when they're 30. And they want to have careers, and he says that, really, the only thing that can bring women fulfilment and allow them to contribute to the world is by having kids.
Smith: "The first thing on here I put is 'choice of husband and career,' and I'm sure a lot of people get upset by me putting that first, or even including it at all. But it turns out, and I cited the research a few slides ago, that a woman's stress levels can make all these things a heck of a lot worse. They can induce perimenopause earlier, and can also make it worse. So if you pick a good husband, it's going to be a life-changing decision in terms of the quality of life that you have. It's going to be orders of magnitude, and I ran through what it would mean to have a 7x better husband in a previous video, so you should check that out."
Amestoy: Andy, does Smith talk at all about members of the LGBTQ+ community in his blog?
Tallman: There is in fact a post entitled "Homosexuality," where he talks about, first of all, that there are pedophiles in high places and sex trafficking of children and things are much worse than they seem in this matter. Like, there's so many more pedophiles in the upper echelons of society. Basically, he says, "You can't be surprised at the pedophiles when you support same sex relationships. What principle allows you to do that? Age of consent, which is both clearly a social construct and also a relatively recent one? How long do you think the magical edict of 18 will last in a society that has already denied God's law, universal psychology and basic biology?"
Smith: "For purposes of biology -- reproductive biology -- a girl becomes a woman at about 13 years old. Now, I'm not saying at all that men ought to seek to marry women who are 13 or girls that are 13, whatever nomenclature you want to use. What I'm saying is a woman's reproductive clock lasts about 25 years, and it starts at about 13."
Amestoy: That's quite the spectrum of opinions. I've read some of these posts we've archived at the Kaimin, Andy, and one theme that really stuck out to me was Smith's focus on the value of women compared to men. And Smith actively teaches young women in the computer science department, is that right?
Tallman: Yes, yes he does. He is responsible for that. According to one of the professors, it would be pretty hard for someone to make it through the computer science degree without taking one of his classes. Over the entire student body, we got some rough estimates from Johnson, but take these numbers with a grain of salt, we haven't been able to pin down the data yet. About 16% of the computer science department's student body overall is women. The proportion is closest to parity in the freshman class, then goes down as the classes go on.
Amestoy: But Andy, I think something that's interesting about this, to me, is Smith's blog is only really hitting the limelight now. And he's been teaching at the University for years at this point. So I'm wondering if, in your reporting, you found any of these beliefs of his being expressed in his day-to-day teaching. Did his students ever pick up on his beliefs in a classroom setting?
Tallman: No. I mean, I talked to a few students and they mentioned some eccentricities of his; they mentioned some oddities in his teaching style, but nothing like this.
Amestoy: So I'm wondering, did you speak with any students or people who worked with Smith regarding this blog and their thoughts on it?
Tallman: Yeah, I spoke with Esther Lyon Delsordo, who worked for him in the summer of 2020, and she said that she couldn't recall specifics, but she had heard some weird theories that he had about women in computer science. I talked to Rachel Burnett, who's in his career ethics class, who said that she hadn't noticed any gender based discrimination, but said that his lectures were a bit off-topic. I talked to Kerrigan McHood, who worked for him and said it was a good experience. She wasn't as surprised at his opinions, but that wasn't because they leaked into his workplace or schooling.
Amestoy: And how are Smith's coworkers reacting to his online presence as you reported this story?
Tallman: With universal condemnation. Everyone in the computer science department has been universally disgusted and shook up by his views. For instance, Jesse Johnson said that he was totally disturbed; compared it to venturing through a cesspool and said at some point he had to stop reading the blog, because he was just too much. Douglas Brinkerhoff, who's a fellow computer science department faculty member called the ideas "ethically and intellectually bankrupt." He said he wouldn't advise any student to take his class. Patricia Duce, who has had an office next to Smith for the last six years, said she was starting to check in on students and said that students were disturbed and shook up and that she herself was disturbed that, as a woman in STEM, she wouldn't be comfortable taking his class after this. But, again, all of them said that those views didn't make their way into the professional environment or the classroom, and Brinkerhoff even mentioned if Smith doesn't let these views into his workplace -- into his classroom -- if he's just expressing them on a public forum, then it is constitutionally protected speech. He has the right to express those views, and the University can't really do anything about it.
Amestoy: And yet, Andy, it feels like the University and maybe the computer science department are at a bit of an impasse regarding this situation. Despite the protected status of Smith's online speech, his superior Jesse Johnson -- the head of the department -- still reported him to the University for these writings. And I know that, as we've talked about, those writings have upset a lot of people at the University, students and faculty alike. It's early, but I'm wondering, what has the fallout been from your reporting this story so far, Andy, and what's the reaction been from UM and maybe even Smith himself?
Tallman: First of all, UM can't do anything unless Title IX does something and finds that he crossed the line into discrimination or harassment. So that's where we're at. I talked to Dave Kuntz. I remember I asked him if he'd read the blog post, and he just goes, "Unfortunately, yes." He was saying that these views run completely antithetical to what the University stands for, but their hands are tied. Johnson was saying that if Rob Smith stays at the University, he should be removed from public facing roles, including teaching, but I asked Dave Kuntz about that. He said that's a possibility if Title IX finds anything. Another big thing is, like you mentioned, gender discrimination at this university has kind of been in the spotlight this year, from the lawsuit to the stuff going on over at the School of Law, and I think that that adds an extra layer of pressure to the University because of how many eyes are already on this; how many people already are demanding a better response from the University to these sorts of things, and now they have this new incident landing in their lap.
Amestoy: But in essence, Andy, Smith is choosing not to offer his own explanation for his writings or for the events of this story. He's choosing not to offer that to you.
Tallman: That is correct. Smith is choosing not to comment.
Amestoy: So the University says its hands are tied, basically, because Smith's online writings can't rise to a violation of Title IX on their own unless someone files a complaint that can prove his online beliefs made their way into the classroom in a discriminatory way. Andy does the fact that Smith is tenured at all impact his ability to weather this storm of inquiry against him?
Tallman: Honestly, the idea of tenure didn't really come up when I was talking about what the next steps are. Ultimately, the requirements for dismissal and the collective bargaining agreement are the same; ultimately it does not matter if he's tenured here. The non-tenured professor would still have the same First Amendment right to say misogynist things on the internet about their students. Like a tenured professor, a non-tenured professor has just the same right to post on the internet that they think 16-year-old girls are the peak of attractiveness. I think that the aspect of tenure means that if something does happen -- if Title IX does find something -- it's going to be a lot bigger than it was if he wasn't tenured, but I don't think that's come into play yet.
Amestoy: Well, Andy, thank you for joining me this week to unpack your reporting. I know what a task it was for you to piece it all together, and we'll keep tabs with you for any new developments moving forward.
Tallman: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Amestoy: While Smith repeatedly denied requests to comment on this story, his blog posts were recently taken down and his YouTube videos dealing with gender made private. However, the Kaimin saved screenshots of many of Smith's blog posts and downloaded several of his YouTube videos, which are now accessible on our website, montanakaimin.com.
You can read Andy's full report on Rob Smith's blog and the fallout from students and staff right now on our website. The Kaimin Cast is produced and edited by me, Austin Amestoy. Reporting by Andy Tallman.
That's it for this week's episode. Next time: I promised you bears, and they're still coming. So, let's try this again. Bears. I will see you there.