Friday, May 23, 2008

Dubious Excuses at Stanford

Stanford University has partially restored
an exhibit of photographs about Palestinians that it banned from its student union last month about complaints about the title (which mentioned "apartheid") and the controversial captions.

Stanford's response is very worrisome. It's true that an exhibit area requires supervision and approval because of the limited space available. But the basis of that approval is the quality and importance of the work, not the lack of controversy.

I'm particularly concerned by the statement that a student union must be "welcoming and comfortable for all students." Why? Does that mean, for example, that any mention of gay marriage should be banned because it might make bigots feel unwelcome and uncomfortable? At a university, the only question is intellectual engagement, not inoffensiveness.

The director of the student union told students that it was “no place for free political speech” and that "controversial political exhibits" have no place in the building.

This compromise sends a disturbing message to everyone at Stanford, that you must watch what you say. Instead of creating Caption Police, Stanford should never have shut down the exhibit and it should have apologized for the censorship and restored it fully to the original space, captions and all.

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