Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Philosophy Department Censorship Story in the Media

Marquette’s attempt to stonewall on the censorship of a quotation from columnist Dave Barry posted on the door of a Philosophy Department teaching assistant has backfired.

Philosophy Department Chair James South tore the quotation down, and wrote the graduate student saying it was “patently offensive.”

The story has gone national, and been picked up by several outlets.

Perhaps the most important: Fox News Grapevine.

The Grapevine, part of Fox News “Special Report,” is pretty much a collection of stupid and repressive things that liberals do. Marquette’s Philosophy Department has made the cut.

The Journal-Sentinel finally picked up the story. Reporter Megan Twohey managed to extract some information from Marquette (which has stonewalled us). According to Twohey:
Marquette spokeswoman Brigid O’Brien Miller said South’s decision was primarily a workplace issue, not an issue of academic freedom, and that he was responding to complaints regarding what “some felt was offensive material.”

She offered up a letter from Wild to FIRE dated Oct. 16, in which Wild said that because the quote was posted without attribution, “someone reading the quotation may not have understood the humor/satire of Dave Barry.”

Miller said the posting might have been handled differently if it had included the attribution. She said there is no university policy dictating what can or cannot be posted on office doors.
What sort of “workplace issue” does a political quote on an office door raise?

Did some leftist Teaching Assistants or faculty take offense, and demand that it be taken down?

If so, what does that say about them, and about South (who was willing to cave to demands for censorship)?

TV station WBAY in Green Bay ran a brief Associated Press story on the incident.

Not surprisingly the blogosphere, a bastion of pro-free speech sentiment, has been withering in it’s criticism of South and the Philosophy Department.

Eminent Domain called the censorship sarcastically “Another Graceful PR Move by Marquette.”

Homeland Stupidity said “Marquette University is patently offensive.”

Gratuitous Advice opined (also sarcastically) “You have to love Marquette University.”

David Boaz at the Cato Blog says that “. . . Marquette University seems to have reached new heights, or depths, in what it considers offensive.” And further:
Marquette is a private university and is thus free under the First Amendment to regulate speech as it chooses. But if libertarian jests are “patently offensive” and subject to censorship at Marquette, it might want to note that in a new paragraph of its academic freedom guidelines and perhaps in the catalog provided to prospective students.
Undernews covered the issue, and a reader posted a comment saying that:
If they’ve reached the point where they believe Dave Barry is a dangerous threat who needs to be censored, then you know some kind of all-time new low in mindless hysteria has just been achieved.
The Oregon Commentator observes that:
No surprises there: it’s a University. And as everyone who’s been following the Commentator for a past few years knows, words (and jokes in particular) are a potentially hurtful force in academia that must be vetted by secretly appointed committees before being uttered, posted, printed, or (if it were only possible) thought.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of ... [sic] blog says:
So you can say anything you want as long as the University says its OK.

Got it. I weep for the future of America when our future is learning, very early on, that you can use coercive power to stifle even the most innocuous dissent.
lowercase liberty surmised that:
Here’s what I suspect. If some commie had posted a quote on his office door about how the capitalist class constitutes a “dangerous, powerful, and relentless” common enemy , a conservative philosophy professor -- someone who, we are assuming for the sake of argument, would find such a sentiment “patently offensive” -- would nevertheless recognize Marxist class-warfare rhetoric as having “obvious academic import”. Just my guess.
But the blog of the Miami Herald had an extended essay of “supporting” South and the Philosophy Department:
So it is that I invite you join me saluting the heroic Anti-Dave Freedom Fighters of Marquette University, who struck a major blow for our cause recently when they demanded that a grad student in the philosophy department remove a “patently offensive” Barry quote that was posted on his office door. Ordinarily this is a family-friendly blog (provided you are a member of the Manson Family) but for you to understand the magnitude of Dave’s offensiveness, I’m going to have to reprint his repugnant words here. Women, children and Parents Television Council members, avert your eyes NOW.
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.
Whew. Okay, it’s safe to look again. Gad, can you imagine if some innocent Marquette philosophy student had been inadvertently exposed to that tirade? Fortunately, they are under the brave and benevolent protection of Thought Police Chief James South, the chairman of the school’s philosophy department, who quickly warned the grad student who put up the offending quote that Marquette is not some anarchic hellhole where people can just go around saying what they think.
Once again, leftist authoritarians have caused Marquette national embarrassment by shutting up rather innocuous political speech. But this time, the authoritarians are not those in the Office of Student Development, but those in the Philosophy Department.


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