Thursday, October 19, 2006

Censorship and nothingness 

This is the scene at Century College, where posting material on departmental bulletin boards without prior permission is now prohibited. (We discussed this case back in March.)

The board features nothing but a schedule of classes and the bulletin board policy, including:
Department bulletin boards are intended for the display of materials directly related to activities and events of the academic area(s).

Materials must be approved for posting by the chair or program director prior to posting to ensure the criterion stated in section 3 is met. If a department member disagrees with a decision made by the chair or program director, the member may ask for a review of the decision by the department. A 2/3 majority vote by department members is required to approve posting of the material.
Rather than be subject to censor, discussion on the suburban Minneapolis campus is thwarted.

FIRE is now dealing with another such case, this time at Marquette University. (KARnians, please try to contain yourselves, I beg you.)
Writer and humorist Dave Barry probably never expected that one of his jokes would spark a university free speech dispute. But in early September, a Marquette University administrator removed a Barry quote about the federal government from Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler�s office door because the quote was �patently offensive.� Facing this arbitrary exercise of political censorship, Ditsler contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help....

In late August, Ditsler posted a quote by Dave Barry on his office door in the philosophy department. The quote read, �As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.� On September 5, Philosophy Department Chair James South sent Ditsler an e-mail stating that he had received several complaints and therefore removed the quote. He wrote, �While I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I�m afraid that hallways and office doors are not �free-speech zones.� If material is patently offensive and has no obvious academic import or university sanction, I have little choice but to take note.�

�This incident at Marquette is part of a truly disturbing trend,� [FIRE President Greg] Lukianoff said. �Administrators seem willing to ban speech across the board and to designate increasingly tiny �free speech zones� rather than risk any student or faculty member being offended.�
Professor South then proceeds to read out the Marquette University academic freedom policy statement. I don't know which is more 'patently offensive' -- Mr. Ditsler's Dave Barry quote, or this particular office door (not more than 200 feet from my own):

Or a couple years ago you could have gone downstairs to another faculty member's office door and found this:

(Forgive my Blair Witch Project photography, I was using my cellphone.)

Now ask yourself, "Self, where would I like to go to college more? A place where I learn to deal with people who think differently than I do, even faculty who do, and learn to stand up on my own two feet for what I believe in? Or do I go to the school where any time someone displays something that offends me I go screaming to the nearest authority and demand protection of my senses?"

If you choose the first, you will need this book to help you find a good college.

If you choose the second, good luck with your Marquette application.