Thursday, April 10, 2008

Offensive Door

Inside Higher Ed reported Getting one’s own office can be a rite of passage right up there with defending a dissertation or receiving tenure — and many professors’ lairs are reflections of their own attitudes and beliefs. Usually, it takes just a quick glance at the door, as anyone who’s taken a stroll down the hall of an academic building can attest: What a professor finds amusing, outrageous or just plain interesting is there for all to see. At a public university, such common displays of individual preference would presumably fall under the protections of the First Amendment. But not when such displays are offensive to others,

What is there in the first amendment that says protected speech cannot be offensive to others?
according to officials at Lake Superior State University, which threatened to reprimand a tenured professor whose door boasted cartoons and other images of a conservative political bent. In a March 26 letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which had been monitoring the case and publicized it on Wednesday, an outside lawyer representing the university reiterated its argument that because the professor “acted in an unprofessional and insubordinate manner, his actions cannot be considered protected speech.”
He is insubordinate because he said something we did not want said? So the speech is not protected? Who rewrote the First Amendment.
The first complaints date back to 2005, and the professor, Richard Crandall, was ordered to remove the materials from his door in 2007 (he eventually complied). Items included a photo of Ronald Reagan, pictures mocking Hillary Clinton,
Apparently before the Queen's inauguration ran into Obama.
a sign posting a “Notice of the Weekly Meeting of the White, Male, Heterosexual Faculty and Staff Association (WMHFSA),” and various cartoons about abortion, Islamic terrorism and other topics. One depicts two hooded women looking over a photo album. One says, “And that’s my youngest son, Hakim. He’ll be martyring in the fall.” The other replies, “They blow up so fast.”
You can't offend Muslims, but is it ok to offend Christians and Jews?
The university argues that the postings contribute to a hostile environment
The University is the one creating the hostile work environment.
and therefore do not fall under First Amendment protections, although such arguments have not fared well historically in the courts. No lawsuit has been filed, but in the past some professors whose cases have been publicized by FIRE have pursued legal action. The university did not respond to requests for comment.

FIRE and Crandall, who could not be reached for comment, point out that other professors at the university are able to post politically charged pictures and phrases on their doors without consequence, presumably because their perspective is liberal or leftist rather than conservative or right-wing. (The university appeared to argue that it wasn’t the political perspective but the denigration of religious minorities that was the problem.)
Art only Muslims protected? What about Christians and Jews? And does the Muslim's [rotection stem fro the fact that they threaten violence?
In photographs provided to FIRE, one Lake Superior State professor’s door features an “Exxpose Exxon” slogan and an “Honor Veterans: No More War” bumper sticker, while another door bears a sign asking if the Bush administration works for “Big Oil and Gas.”

“We really think this is a case that’s amenable to public pressure because the double standard here is so transparent,” said Robert L. Shibley, FIRE’s vice president. “The fact is that clearly other professors are allowed to express their political views on their door, which is very common ... it seems only Professor Crandall is the one who’s the problem.”

Ed Morrissey blogged In truth, the Crandall case does involve religion — the Religion of Liberal Thought. Academia apparently cannot abide any dissent from their received Wisdom, and so must strong-arm people with whom they disagree to prevent disagreement. In this way, they can convince themselves that they exist in a strange sort of artificial political consensus that has a lot more relation to 1984 than the First Amendment.

Hyscience blogged As Jeff Jacoby wrote at The Boston Globe, campus leftism today is not merely prevalent - it is radical, aggressive, and deeply intolerant. And just think, he said that back in 2004; you don't have to do much thinking to realize how very serious it has become as of April 2008.

King blogged One of them had the slogan "Bush is a dumbass". As I wondered then: The first thought through your head is:
  1. "Ah, here's a place for reasoned discussion, just why I came to SCSU."
  2. "I guess I don't have to watch what I say in here."
  3. "So that's how you spell that! I thought it was two words."
  4. "Better hide my Bush/Cheney button."

Reason Magazine blogged Take a look at the images and I think there's a strong implicit case that Crandall is a tool. Some are funny (IMO), some are not, but if I were an undergrad, they'd definitely kind of freak my shit—as did any number of door and office postings by lefty profs back in the day. But general freakage of shit does not seem not to be the issue here, as it really does appear to be the specific content—right-wing, and heavy on the pro-gun, anti-abortion themes—that is cause for complaint.

FIRE has always made a consistent argument (and has defended scholars and the right and the left) that public universities, precisely because they are government-sponsored, are totally bound by the First Amendment in ways that private universities are not necessarily (yeah, yeah, I understand that the line between public and private is totally nebulous given various funding issues ranging from federal research grants to Pell grants, etc).

I agree with that argument, and think that Crandall and all profs should be allowed to put whatever they want on their doors. Indeed, the whole point of going to college may be to expose kids to hostile environments—or, rather, intellectual environments in which they are exposed to all sorts of perspectives and taught to think critically about every aspect of their lives.

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