Monday, October 23, 2006

Journal-Sentinel Slams Marquette Over Philosophy Department Office Door Censorship

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, in today’s edition, slammed Marquette for censoring a quote from columnist Dave Barry that was posted on the door of a graduate student’s office.
Editorial: It’s all a free-speech zone

We were under the impression that the entire United States is a free-speech zone. Which is why the phrase’s use is puzzling in the case of a teaching aide and graduate student at Marquette University who had a quote from a well-known humorist removed from his office door recently.

The quote from Dave Barry was, “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.”

Philosophy department chairman and associate professor James South called the quote “patently offensive” and said that the campus’ free-speech zones required him to take it down.

Point No. 1: If this quote is “patently offensive,” then a whole lot of folks who call themselves conservatives or Libertarians are patently offensive. Variations of this theme operate as their mantra. There’s nothing offensive about it. It’s a point of view. Agree or disagree, but don’t ban it.

Point No. 2: Lighten up. Most folks recognize hyperbole when they see it, particularly educated people such as those who walk the non-free-speech hallways of Marquette.

Point No. 3: While no right is absolute - yeah, yeah, yelling fire in a crowded theater - free speech should come pretty darn close. An easily offended nanny state might police cartoons and posters pinned up on office doors and walls. Thank goodness we don’t live in one. Right?

Of course, Marquette is a private university. OK, but one that presumably subscribes in some measure to the concept of academic freedom. Or is this reserved only for those graced with tenure?

No, the teaching assistant and graduate student who put up the quote - Stuart Ditsler, who says he is a Libertarian - should qualify. A campus spokeswoman said this is a workplace issue, not one of academic freedom. This makes no sense. The workplace in this case is a university.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has taken up Ditsler’s cause. A letter to the foundation from Marquette President Father Robert A. Wild said, because the quote wasn’t attributed, “someone reading . . . may not have understood the humor/satire of Dave Barry.”

So, here’s a compromise. Attribute the quote and return it to the office door. But here’s a better one. Allow Ditsler to put it up anyway if he chooses.
Of course, it’s not just conservatives and libertarians who distrust the Federal government. Where the Patriot Act is the issue, it’s liberals and leftists who do that.

Which doesn’t matter at all here, since you can be liberal, conservative, libertarian or whatever and still have a right to academic freedom.

And the leftists who run the Philosophy Department probably do believe that “folks who call themselves conservatives or Libertarians are patently offensive.”

And they believe that they have the right to shut up people they find “offensive.”

But it’s the job of Deans, Provosts and, if necessary, university presidents to protect students from those sorts of attitudes.

Mike McKinney, where were you on this?

Madeline Wake, where were you on this?

You both look as silly as James South does.

We know where University President Robert Wild was. Out to lunch.

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