Friday, April 01, 2005

Polly Wants a Crackdown on Campus Free Speech

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has announced its annual “Polly Awards” of “outrages” on college campuses: And unfortunately, this year’s awards follow the pattern of previous years in advocating censorship. After all, an “outrage” is something you want to see stopped.

For the 2005 awards, ISI condemns Carnegie Mellon University for allowing Malik Zulu Shabazz to speak on campus and Duke University for permitting a pro-Palestinian conference to be held. Rather than opposing censorship, the Polly Awards have consistently opposed free speech on campus campuses. For the 2004 award winners, ISI objected to Yale allowing its students to sponsor a “Sex Week at Yale,” and to the University of California at Santa Barbara for allowing a student to write a thesis on "Gay Men of Color in Porn." For its 2003 award winners, ISI opposed allowing two speakers on college campuses, Laura Whitehorn at Duke University and famed scholar Gayatri Spivak at Columbia University (because she gave an academic description of suicide bombings). In 2001, the Polly Awards urged Princeton to fire philosopher Peter Singer because of his controversial ideas.

Of course, ISI does manage to note some appalling restrictions on campus freedom. With 15 million students on 3,500+ campuses, it’s not hard to find a few anecdotes about repressive action by administrators. Yet ISI strangely omits all of the numerous cases where conservatives seek to censor liberal ideas on campus. Consider just a few of the outrages that they could have listed from the past year:

--The University of St. Francis, for cancelling a commencement speaker in 2004 because she did a journalistic report on abortion seven years ago for Good Morning America. (This is part of a larger movement by the Cardinal Newman Society to ban any speakers at Catholic Colleges who are pro-choice, even if abortion is not the topic of their speech.)

--The colleges that sought to ban Michael Moore from speaking last fall, and David Horowitz, who claims to have contacted a lawyer in an effort to sue Lehigh University for allowing Moore to speak on campus.

--Horowitz has also attacked freedom on campus with his Academic Bill of Rights and called for the banishment of all Peace Studies programs on college campuses.

--The Bush Administration, for banning Tariq Ramadan from teaching at Notre Dame.

--Arizona State University, for threatening to sue its own students under trademark law for starting a newspaper about ASU called the ASU Underground, for censoring the "Democracy in America" exhibit in fall 2004 to remove some “anti-Bush” art; for investigating John Leanos’ artwork about Pat Tillman; and several other controversies.

ISI, which funds right-wing campus newspapers, ought to be more consistent in advocating free speech for everyone. Freedom of expression isn’t an outrageous idea, and colleges shouldn’t be condemned by the right for encouraging it.

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