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November 25, 2002 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-11-25

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4A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, November 25, 2002


~Ibz lMirbijgrn ~aiIu



Editor in Chief
Editorial Page Editor

Unless otherwise noted, unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of the Daily's
editorial board. All other articles, letters and cartoons do not
necessarily reflect the opinion of The Michigan Daily.

"We also advise you to
pack your luggage and get
out of our lands. We desire
for your goodness, guidance,
and righteousness, so do not
force us to send you back as
cargo in coffins."
- An excerpt from Osama bin Laden's
"Letter to America, "as quoted in yesterday's
Observer, a United Kingdom newspaper.

Will ~e.
dm11 *ro~Mvi.~
Cord~ 4o
PurS~un~t(I~ 4&~)



Defining free speech down

17ree speech is one
o f the p illars on
which we like to
think our society rests.
It's taken us down some
odd roads in recent
years, from the Supreme
'Mr Court decision establish-
ing the principle that
political candidates have
the rights to buy as much advertising as they
please to the more recently established pro-
tections on virtual child pornography.
Those are the relatively understandable
legal ramifications of free speech however.
Free speech has a great deal of meaning
for people outside the legal sphere as well.
Especially in academia, free speech is regard-
ed, sensibly, as essential. But in the popular
imagination, the term "free speech" has gone
beyond a guarantee against being prohibited
from saying what you please and has come to
include the right to say anything you want, as
offensively as you want, wherever you want.
A good example of this occurred in mid-
November when Harvard's English depart-
ment invited Oxford lecturer Tom Paulin to
give a speech on campus. Paulin, a poet and
television arts commentator, has been the
center of a great deal of controversy recently
over remarks to the Egyptian newspaper, Al-
Ahram Weekly earlier this year. Commenting
on Jewish settler in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, Paulin declared "They should be shot
dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel
nothing but hatred for them."
This invitation understandably provoked
protests by students, faculty and alumni who
objected to the presence of a man who supports
killing Israeli civilians. Faced with the protest,

Paulin was quickly disinvited by several profes-
sors, seemingly diffusing the controversy. After
a meeting of the full department a week later,
however, Paulin's invitation was reissued.
Explaining their decision, the department chair
wrote that a significant factor in their decision
was "widespread concern and regret for the fact
that the decision not to hold the event could eas-
ily be seen, and indeed has been seen-both
within Harvard and beyond-as an unjustified
breach of the principle of free speech within the
There are two possible explanations for this
statement. The English department could have
just decided it didn't like being bossed around
and chosen to defy its many critics by reinviting
Paulin - but also didn't want to sound so petu-
lant and gave the more high minded free speech
explanation. Or, as is more likely, there proba-
bly are a lot of people who really did see this as
an affront to free speech.
Is it though?
A school certainly has the right to invite
who it likes to speak. However, it's difficult
to think of anyone else who is so uninhibited
in his advocacy of ethnicity-based killing
who speaks at university sponsored events. I
imagine this is because most advocates of
violence are not notable poets, but there are
also probably many violent people who have
interesting this to say about a whole range of
subjects. I doubt a Ku Klux Klan member
(whether he so brazenly advocated killing or
not) would ever receive an invitation to speak
at Harvard, even if it was just about poetry or
literature. Schools clearly have some leeway
in deciding who they invite to give lectures.
As the English department chair said, this
is about something that "could easily be
seen"~ as a breech of the principle of free

speech. It was not something that was a
breech of that principle.
But the appearance was apparently
enough. Rather than a promoter of murder
being turned away because giving him a uni-
versity-sponsored platform was, on reflec-
tion, a bad idea, the situation became one of
defending (apparent) free speech.
Not getting to speak at Harvard because
you've said lots of malicious and immoral
things does stigmatize and in encourage, to
some extent, others with sifch ambitions to
not say such things. But a universities' rea-
sonable control over who speaks at its official
events is not censorship. When a particular
forum, even a university, turns away a speak-
er, it does not necessarily mean free speech
has been damaged.
As with Paulin's situation, many people
cry free speech today when it is unwarranted.
Many whose ideas come under assault use it
reflexively to defend themselves when they
merely have no better argument. But "I can
say what I want" is a declaration of the obvi-
ous. It shouldn't win arguments.
So why did Harvard reinvite a speaker it
had already dumped when they seemed to
realize the free speech complaints were only
a matter of appearance to some and not reali-
ty? Free speech obviously is extremely
important to them and it should be. But their
attempt to prevent even the appearance of
infringing on it shows why giving in to mere
appearance and those who cry "free speech"
rather than make actual arguments is a bad
idea. Free speech is an important right, but it
shouldn't be dumbed down.
Peter Cunnife can be reached



Prof. MacKinnon an enemy of University's values

The University of Michigan has an igno-
minious record when it comes to academic
Perhaps most notoriously, in 1988 the Uni-
verity5 intte aesweepn speech code,
eral district court as flatly unconstitutional since
it prohibited unpopuar specih wvrte
University Senate passed a resolution aflinming
the fundamental value of free inquiry, and
established the Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lec-
ture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom to
promote such freedom. (The three names are
those of professors who were suspended or fired
in the 1950s during the red scare.) Was this a
sign that the University had finally learned its
lesson? It would appear not, for it invited none
other than University Law Prof. Catherine A.
MacKinnon to give this year's lecture on Oct.
31. A worse choice could hardly have been
made, for no professor at the University, and
indeed probably in the entire state, has striven
harder to suppress free speech and academic
MacKinnon is best known for her crusade
against pornography, which she believes to be
the root cause of women's oppression. She and
fellow radical feminist Andrea Dworkin co-
authored anti-pornography ordinances that they
attempted to put into law in major American
cities, though they ultimately failed when the
Supreme Court declared such ordinances
MacKinnon had better luck in Canada,
though. Persuaded by her arguments, the Cana-
dian Supreme Court decided to ban sexually
explicit material that degrade women, on the
grounds that such material actually harms
women. Civil libertarians point out the irony
that the first time this new definition of obsceni-

ty was employed was when the Ontario govern-
ment prosecuted a gay and lesbian bookstore.
Pornography is by no means the only thing
MacKinnon wishes to censor, however. She not
only supports campus speech codes but also
calls for laws to make group defamation illegal,
since she maintains that freedom of speech
often conflicts with equality, the latter being a
superior value. In her book "Only Words" she
argues that speech rights are a zero-sum game:
"The more the speech of the dominant is pro-
tected, the more dominant they become and the
less the subordinated are heard from."
On similar grounds she is quite forthright
about her desire to censor teachers, including
professors. She writes, "Suffice it to say that
those who wish to keep materials that promote
inequality from being imposed on students -
such as academic books purporting to document
women's biological inferiority to me ... or that
reports of rape are routinely fabricated - espe-
cially without critical commentary, should not
be legally precluded from trying . .." In other
words, if MacKinnon had her way, psychology
professors could be forbidden from teaching
that there are inherent cognitive differences
between the sexes, and law professors who
provocatively raise the issue of false claims of
rape in class could be silenced.
But perhaps the most telling evidence for
MacKinnon's disdain for academic freedom
comes from 1992, when she was involved
with censoring an art exhibit at a conference
held at Michigan's Law School. Invited by
the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law,
which was holding a conference on prostitu-
tion, local artist (and outspoken opponent of
MacKinnon) Carol Jacobsen installed a pro-
prostitution video display that contained sex-
ually explicit content. Acting on a complaint
conveyed by MacKinnon, law students from
the journal's staff removed what they
believed to be an offensive videotape -
without contacting the artist first. Upon learn-

ing of the tampering, an angry Jacobsen told
the students that if they wanted to censor any
part of the exhibit, they would have to censor
the whole thing. So they shut down the entire
After suing the University, Jacobsen eventu-
ally reached a settlement in which she received
$3,000 and had her exhibit reinstalled Given
the University's history regarding free speech, it
should come as no surprise that then Dean of
the Law School Lee Bollinger - who is, of all
things, a First Amendment scholar - denied
that the students had violated Jacobsen's legal
rights. MacKinnon, who was a speaker at the
conference and a guru to the students from the
journal, denied having explicitly urged the stu-
dents to censor the exhibit, although they did
ask her for advice. Nonetheless, she told The
New York Times that she fully supported the
students' decision. Thus, she is on the record as
having supported the infringement of academic
freedom at the very school at which she teaches.
Perhaps only George Orwell could do jus-
tice to the fact that the University's main lec-
ture in defense of academic freedom was
given by the school's greatest opponent to
free speech - a lecture in which MacKinnon
railed against the "overuse" of academic
freedom, calling it "a sword (used) against
students." It's as if Patrick Buchanan were a
professor at Michigan and had been invited
to give the University's lecture on racial
In the end, whether it is McCarthyites or
radical leftists who wish to abridge academic
freedom in the name of national security or
equality, respectively, one thing at Michigan
hasn't changed: The University contains ene-
mies of one of its core values. But from its
choice of this year's lecturer on academic
freedom, it is unclear whether it fully recog-
nizes that threat.
Shubow Ls a Rackham student.



does not Care abou4t students,
courYse offerings insuffiCient
I am a last semester senior maioring in

Department must, by now, know what its
most popular classes are -- some classes
have full waitlists only hours after registra-
tion begins. Why are these classes so small
and so rarely offered? Every semester the
same three classes are never full (Comm.
481, 482, and 484), but these are offered
every single semester. Useful classes like
Comm. 468 are offered to only 13 students.

sonally ashamed to be a part of the Com-
munications Department. The faculty and
staff have no appreciation for the students
that make the department possible, and are
arrogantly oblivious to their students'
needs. I understand the department is piti-
fully understaffed, but this its your prob-
lem, not mine.
I will araduate this April and go off

[ IWUIUJ4LItflI4I Ul4~l4i~K Via ~ 4i1'..4 LL'..~~LI.A.I ~


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