Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The right of regents 

The regents of the University of Minnesota are concerned about a Dario Fo play to be presented next March on the Twin Cities campus that "features a paranoid, drug-addled pope, a witch in a nun's habit and a chaotic comedy of errors". (Here's a 2000 NYT description of the play.)
Some Catholics have criticized the play as hate speech. [Regent John] Frobenius said that he wasn't trying to stop the show but that he wanted legal advice on the ability of regents to comment on the March production by the Department of Theatre Arts.

...Frank Berman of Edina agreed that there's a difference between an institutional response and speaking as individuals. He said that he'd like to see the play and read the script, but that he's concerned that it "puts a religion in an unfair light."

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks said he had read most of the play and many reviews, and urged regents not to characterize it on the basis of what they're told. He reiterated the value that he said academic freedom represents at the university and his discussions of the issue with clergy members, including Archbishop Harry Flynn.

"We are not a university that countenances disrespect of any point of view," Bruininks said. But he added, "When people try to suppress expression, they start with the university and start with the arts."

Actually, President Bruininks, they start with things like bulletin boards and free speech zones. Art usually comes later. But the regents board raises an interesting point: To what extent may they speak as individuals about events on campus of concern to them? In particular, when discussing a public university, how does the public make its wishes known?