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Wednesday, October 18, 2006 

Another Graceful PR Move by Marquette

Prof. John McAdams has been closely following the story of a Marquette Philosophy grad student that had a posted quotation removed from his door. It's common to see office doors of grad students and professors decorated with articles, political cartoons, bumper stickers, etc. that make strong political points. Apparently, this one crossed the line...
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.
God forbid anyone criticize the behemoth that is the federal government.

Things have picked up lately because the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has taken up the case. FIRE contacted President Robert Wild about the university's "offensive" materials policy. They contend that the policy is completely discretionary and prone to being abused. According to Prof. McAdams, Wild has yet to respond.

The story has been picked up on other major blogs too. David Boaz of Cato-at-Liberty discussed the story, warning us all to watch our libertarian language. Boaz wonders who is offended by the statement, which was labeled as "patently offensive" by the Philosophy Department Chair...
Offensive to whom? Surely not to any of the usual identity groups, ethnic or religious or sexual-orientation or gender or whatever. Nor does it use the four-letter words that might be inappropriate for a public space. Perhaps it's offensive to employees of the federal government, or to those who have a great deal of respect and admiration for the federal government. But one would think that at a university it falls within the parameters of debate. And while Dave Barry writes more effectively and memorably than most philosophers, his statement still qualifies as humor or political commentary or both.
The statement was not vulgar or profane. It contained no racial or ethnic slurs. It simply stated an opinion in a fairly humorous way. I see nothing wrong with it. Of course, that's probably because I agree with it.

Nick Gillespie of Hit and Run has also picked up on the story. Gillespie is shocked that Dave Barry of all people could be described as patently offensive. He also takes issue with the Department Chair's e-mail...
I dunno about you, but I actually think the most offensive thing in the whole situation is the department chair's quisling claim to being "a strong supporter of academic freedom."
Isn't it funny when someone makes a claim, then takes an action that directly contradicts that claim?

David Boaz closed his post with the following statement...
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.
Marquette is certainly within its rights to restrict speech in this manner. However, that doesn't make it a smart policy. Once again, the school looks foolish nationally.

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