A Ku Indeed!

The Doors of Academic Freedom

Posted in Academia by Chris on November 6, 2008

One of my students (h/t: Jonathan B) sent me this story about a professor who got in trouble for having the famous claim by Nietzsche that “God is Dead!” on the door of his office. According to the notice he received from the “higher ups” in administration:

“Temple College as a public institution cannot be represented as showing preference toward any religious philosophy/perspective or toward the opposite, being atheism. The same practice goes for politics. The decision to have the quote removed was that the quote can be considered very controversial and offensive to others. In fact, other people have already expressed that the wording is offensive!”

Hmm…

Update: Temple College has apparently reversed itself. See the information below the fold in the comments section by “Brandon.”

I’ll admit, I’m not one of those professors who decorates his door with controversial (or as it is usually described, “thought provoking”) material. I have some cartoons and a few comical pamphlets (though I have some weird stuff in my office). So this isn’t really my thing. But I surely think that those who like to do this have a right to do it.

First, the hard to believe parts about the administration’s response:

1. The claim that having something on the office door of a professor could in any way be construed as an official endorsement by the college itself.

2. The claim that the school would be just as quick to have pro-religious sentiments removed from the doors of professors around campus.

I have no evidence regarding (2), this is just my intuition based on being around academics and administrators for a good period of my life. Seems fishy to me. But (1) seems like a bizarre claim. Who in the world would assume that the views represented on a professor’s door can be taken as the official view of the university?

Which does raise the intersting question: who “owns” the door of a professor? Is it really just an extension of the inside of the professor’s office? Does it merely represent the views of the person inside? Or is there a connection to the college as a whole? Is there a difference between what is on the professor’s office door and what is on an administrator’s door? On the door to the bathroom? A classroom?

Of course, there’s also the “where’s the line?” question. Even if the door of the professor should be considered an extension of the professor’s views (and not the university’s), at what point can the professor be asked (on the grounds of ‘being offensive’) to remove something on the door? What constitutes ‘offensive’ in such a climate?

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3 Responses

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  1. Million said, on November 7, 2008 at 12:23 am

    The Professor should be strong enough to endure such a calamity. 🙂

    In reality the jury seems to be out regarding if the Professor had a legal right to do so or not. I suspect it depends on if the University is Public or Private and a number of other factors as well.

    http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0918-22.htm
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004106963_sha04m.html
    http://insidehighered.com/news/2008/04/10/lssu

  2. Chris said, on November 7, 2008 at 6:12 am

    Million,

    It’s public. I have no idea what the language is on the relevant (state) legal documents, but what I’d love to know is how (or why) having something on the door of a faculty member translates into an endorsement of the view by the college.

  3. Brandon said, on November 7, 2008 at 8:55 am

    http://www.thefire.org/index.php…ticle/ 9898.html

    In a victory for freedom of expression, Temple College President Glenda O. Barron has quickly reversed the censorship of a religiously themed cartoon and the Nietzsche quotation “God is dead.” After Mark Smith, Interim Vice President of Educational Services and Chief Academic Officer, forced English Professor Kerry Laird’s postings to be removed from his office door, Laird turned to FIRE for help.

    FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.


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