Friday, September 08, 2006

Marquette Philosophy Department: Censoring Graduate Student’s Door Posting

It’s the norm in academia for faculty, graduate students and employees to post things on their doors. Sometimes these things are innocuous, but sometimes they convey a distinct political point of view.

From the Distributed Intelligence blog, via the GOP3.COM blog, the fact that some academic departments don’t tolerate this – or at least, don’t tolerate it when the message is from the political right.

Marquette Philosophy graduate student Stuart Ditsler posted a quote from Dave Barry on his door. It said:
“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.”
What kind of response did that get? A e-mail from department chair James South (although the secretary in the Philosophy Department refused to confirm the source) saying the following:
I had several complaints today about a quotation that was on the door of CH 132F. I’ve taken the quotation down. 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.
South had conferred with two members of the Department’s Executive Committee, and with the Assistant Chair.

What kind of person would consider this “offensive?” It’s one thing to disagree with something, but quite another to go off whining about how it’s “offensive.”

Add to that the fact that liberals and leftists, not knowing that Barry is a libertarian, might take the quote to mean that the Bush administration is the “enemy.” Ditzler says that he did “not try to put up something that was partisan in some way.”

Around Marquette University, the norm is that professors post things reflecting their political opinions. Our colleague Chris Wolfe has a graphic description of a partial-birth abortion. We have a “Marquette Warriors” sticker.

Indeed, partisan political material has been allowed on the doors in the Philosophy Department.

Last year, a faculty member displayed (for most of the year) a cartoon by Pat Oliphant that was highly critical of President Bush.

And the academic year before that (2004-2005) another faculty member displayed a cartoon (drawn in the wake of the 2004 election) attacking the “family values” voters who supported Bush.

If somebody had claimed to be “offended” by those, would then have been taken down?

Or is the policy enforced in an ideologically biased way?

Ditsler says he “wishes the Department had stood up for me, instead of caving to the people who complained.” There is no Philosophy Department policy on door postings - or at least none of which graduate students were made aware. Thus the censorship was entirely arbitrary, and not the implementation of some well-established policy.

Marquette, being a private institution, has the right to impose whatever restrictions on speech it wants. But that doesn’t mean that this particular restriction is prudent. And it won’t prevent people from thinking that only particular ideas are deemed “offensive” in ideologically slanted academia.

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