A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Monday, April 24, 2006

OTIT: Penn State Censorship

I have always believed that discussion is better than silence, even in matters that are volatile and polarizing. If you can't talk about something-- religion, abortion, sexuality, politics, etc., etc.-- what are the odds that any kind of common ground can be discovered? A lot closer to none than to slim, I would say. And if you can't talk about it, the divisions tend to deepen and widen and harden, generating anger, frustration and, eventually, violence.

I have also always believed, until quite recently, that our nation's universities and colleges were bastions of free thought and free expression. Which is why stories like those of Josh Stulman, a Jewish art student at Penn State, drive me nuts.

Stulman's exhibit consisted of ten pieces about terrorism and the Palestine-Israel conflict. Given that subject matter, it is undoubtedly provocative. Given the one example of the art included in the article, the art is more than likely sharply biased against the Palestinian point of view.

But does that justify cancelling the exhibit because it does not "promote cultural diversity"? I mean, come on, is our society so fragile that if something doesn't actually promote cultural diversity it is to be disallowed? That's pathetic. And the university's other justification, that the exhibit does not provide "opportunities for democratic dialogue" is just plain crap.

What better way to generate dialogue than to have something that people can actually talk about? Pretty much the definition of dialogue, no? If Palestinian groups on campus take exception to the exhibit, organize discussion groups or create your own exhibit to present the other side of the issue. Or the campus could sponsor a forum for campus discussion following the opening of the exhibition.

I have always been puzzled when a university prohibits something on the basis of nondiscrimination-- because by the very nature of the action, they have discriminated against the group they prohibited. Ward Churchill's appearances at various campuses were healthy in the sense that those who believed his views were completely wrong-headed (me included) had the opportunity to express that viewpoint, just as Churchill had the opportunity to express his. Much as I was chagrined that UW-Whitewater actually wanted to hear Churchill's twisted rhetoric, I was also happy they did not back down to the nay-sayers. Freedom of speech was served.

Not so much for Josh Stulman.


There seem to be two rules emerging in this country on diversity. There is the normal diversity rule which is that freedom of speech is more important than someone being offended. (And yes, I know that this rule has fallen a lot in the last decade and a half.) But then there is the Islamic diversity rule that states that you are not allowed to say anything that would piss off the Muslims because they might suicide bomb you. South Park got that in an episode where they stated, "Either it's OK to make fun of everyone or it's not OK to make fun of anyone." Comedy Central let them say that in the script and make fun of Bush and Jesus, but wouldn't let them show an image of Muhammed. So, it's obvious that Comedy Central has two rules, just like it appears Penn State does too.
Actually, I believe that the South Park episode aired exactly as Matt and Trey wrote it. Irony. Get it?

But yes, there does seem to be a new breed of diversity that includes only those groups a particular institution views as diverse. This is often an Islamic bias, but not always.
Actually, I saw a CNN story that they did have Muhammed in the episode (of Family Guy) and that Comedy Central refused to show it.
How about a new novelty act: The Dancing Muhammeds!

They frolic, they cavort, they delight you with their zany antics!

The Dancing Muhammeds are available for weddings, parties, and Bar Mitzvahs! Strippers available, call for details!
Really? Wow, how gutless can Comedy Central be. But I still think that, unintentional or not, it really did drive home the point about as perfectly as possible.
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