Campus Free Speech: Communications Faculty Poised to Make Trouble for the Administration
In a faculty meeting at the College on Friday, December 9, a motion was passed to issue a statement, yet to be drafted, in defense of free speech on campus.
Subsequent e-mail exchanges among Communications faculty have produced the following statement, which appears to reflect a consensus.
Free Speech StatementCommunications College Dean John J. Pauly has promised to make money available to fund the public forums and seminars, which will take place this coming Spring semester.
Whereas most scholarly communication organizations such as the National Communication Association believe “freedom of speech and assembly must hold a central position among American constitutional principles” and express “determined support for the right of peaceful expression by any communicative means available,” and whereas the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication requires members to serve “as the voice and support of free expression on their campuses and in their communities whenever the right is threatened,” the faculty of the Diederich College of Communication hereby opposes any attempt at Marquette University to silence or punish students or faculty for making, posting or distributing political tracts or for artistic expression. In furtherance of free and responsible communication in a democratic society, the faculty will schedule in the near future public forums and seminars on free speech and press.
Just holding forums and seminars might not seem to be an impressive program of political action (Where are the noisy demonstrations outside O’Hara Hall? What about a sit-in in the office of President Robert Wild?).
But in fact, nothing so discomforts those temperamentally ill at ease with free speech as engaging in free speech. And doing it on campus.
And being critical of their policies and decisions.
The faculty statement follows a long series of actions by Marquette administrators hostile to free expression.
- In early February 2005, Marquette faced a firestorm of criticism when the Office of Student Development shut down a College Republicans fund-raiser for a group called “Adopt A Sniper.” In spite of the provocative name, the group was quite reputable, duly registered as a charity with the IRS and engaging in buying supplies and equipment for American military snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- In early December 2005, a story broke about a student in the Dental School who had posted some unkind comments about an unnamed professor on his personal blog. He also posted derogatory comments about some of his fellow Dental School students — who were also unnamed. The Dental School imposed a draconian punishment on the student, but then lightened the sanction in the face of strongly hostile public reaction.
- This past spring the left-leaning student group JUSTICE asked for permission to perform “The Vagina Monologues” on campus. In spite of the fact that the Marquette administration had earlier told the Cardinal Newman Society that the play would not be allowed on campus, the Office of Student Development appeared to seriously consider the proposal, but then later rejected it.
- This past fall, a libertarian graduate student in the Philosophy Department posted on his door an anti-Federal government statement from humorist Dave Barry. Department Chair James South tore it down, claiming that people had complained, and that the quote was “patently offensive.” Marquette President Robert Wild upheld South’s action, while claiming (in Orwellian fashion) that “academic freedom is prized as essential to Marquette University.”
- Just last month, staffers from the Office of Student Development told the Marquette Chapter of Students for Academic Freedom that their Constitution would not be approved, and that they would not be recognized as a student group. A conservative organization, Students for Academic Freedom planned to criticize university programs, speakers series and even individual faculty for ideological bias. The Office of Student Development apparently believes this should not be allowed.
And that is the rub.
Any pro-free speech agenda at Marquette needs the support of both campus liberals and campus conservatives. Campus conservatives can hardly support an agenda to allow free speech for liberals, while continuing to deny it to conservatives.
So far, both the campus left and the campus right have been slow to make common cause with the other side.
When the “Adopt A Sniper” fund-raiser was shut down, for example, the Marquette Tribune supported Marquette’s act of censorship.
And the President of the College Democrats, Rebeccah Sjolund, also backed the administration’s decision to shut down the fund-raiser.
Along similar lines, the Marquette Tribune supported the Philosophy Department’s censorship of the Dave Barry quote.
What about the campus right? The guys at GOP3.COM, unfortunately, continue to want pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage Theology faculty member Dan Maguire fired.
So it remains an open question whether both sides can agree on a free speech agenda for both sides.
But even if the Communications College forums fail to influence University policy in any way, only good can come from a campus discussion of speech and expression.
Those issues, after all, are the most fundamental ones in any democracy — and in any university.