Thursday, March 09, 2006

Would you have it with a goat? Would you have it on a boat? 

FIRE is taking up the case of Karen Murdock, an adjunct professor at Century College. Last month I noticed her story of having the Mohammed cartoons taken down and told by a senior faculty member that it would be better if she did not repost them. The administration falls all over its PC self, holding a forum to promote understanding. I thought the story ended there but, FIRE reports, it's taken a rather bizarre turn.
FIRE wrote to Century President Lawrence Litecky on February 16, stating that �[t]he college�s responsibility to free speech and open inquiry far outweighs any responsibility the college has to avoid offense� and that Murdock could not be punished for posting the cartoons. That same day, O�Brien sent Murdock a letter canceling the scheduled meeting and insisting that the �administration did not remove the political cartoon you posted, nor direct that it be removed or not reposted.� O�Brien also responded to FIRE, asserting that no meeting had been scheduled with Murdock and citing an e-mail sent by President Litecky to the entire Century community vaguely urging that �discourse about the many competing ideas and beliefs� should be conducted �in a respectful, thoughtful, and tolerant manner.�

Believing that discussion and the free exchange of ideas at Century were now secure, Murdock posted the cartoons again on February 25, this time behind a curtain. Three days later, censors struck again, tearing down the cartoons in midday, and Lyons asked that they not be reposted. A memo he posted on the bulletin board explained that materials on that board should �rotated in a timely fashion,� and that faculty members have �expressed concerns about the displaying of the cartoons on a division of social and behavioral sciences bulletin board.�
Here are photos of the bulletin board in question, the sign, and a quote from a UM professor which argues offense comes before education. Even when she self-censors to protect sensibilities, the piece is attacked. The college's position is that the cartoons may not even be viewed by passers-by. The school is arguing that the decision to take them down ultimately rests with Professor Murdock, who responds that a request from both senior faculty and an administrator to an untenured faculty member carries force. She continues,
We are a college. We are supposed to be a forum for the free exchange of ideas. If we can�t talk about this controversy at a college, where are we supposed to talk about it? We are supposed to be able not merely to deal with controversy but actually to welcome it!
Of course such things are not welcome, as we saw earlier this week at UMD. This is the nature of academia today, that the only people whose ideas are to be challenged by education are those who are 'privileged'. I am amazed that this story has been buried since the first wave of articles last month. It needs more coverage to induce President Litecky and the Century College administration to protect what rational inquiry requires: free speech.

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