Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dave Barry quote deemed too inciteful to post at university

I couldn't make this up.

From a FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) Press Release (emphasis in original):

MILWAUKEE, Wis., October 18, 2006—Writer and humorist Dave Barry probably never expected that one of his jokes would spark a university free speech dispute. But in early September, a Marquette University administrator removed a Barry quote about the federal government from Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler’s office door because the quote was “patently offensive.” Facing this arbitrary exercise of political censorship, Ditsler contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“There have been several high-profile free speech controversies on campuses recently, such as at Columbia this month. But incidents like this one at Marquette and on other campuses illustrate how even innocuous expression is under ongoing assault at our colleges and universities,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said.

In late August, Ditsler posted a quote by Dave Barry on his office door in the philosophy department. The quote read, “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.” On September 5, Philosophy Department Chair James South sent Ditsler an e-mail stating that he had received several complaints and therefore removed the quote. He wrote, “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.”

Full release here.

More background, links here.

Prompting discussion on the roles, limits, and downsides of a big federal government sounds like something of obvious academic import to me. Of course, I don't worship the government, like some folks seem to. And I know how to laugh at an obvious joke (and a clean one, too, waahooo!). And I don't believe in telling somebody that their office door isn't a free-speech zone. (I reserve the right to disagree with what's posted and argue with the poster, but that's different, isn't it?) I'm just saying.

Update: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial on the issue. I'd like to add that they picked up something I hadn't earlier, which was that the quote as posted was apparently unattributed. That's a foul for the guy who posted it. Bad form. But surely if people weren't sure it was over the top (as they might have been, if Dave Barry's name was properly attached), they could have, you know, asked. This is supposed to be a university, full of inquiring minds. Isn't it?

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