As college students head off to summer vacation, it’s time to look back at the academic year’s most ridiculous case. When it came to being just plain nuts, one university distinguished itself above all others this year: Marquette University in Wisconsin and its crackdown on Dave Barry.
That’s right: Even all-American humorist Dave Barry is subject to censorship on our nation’s college campuses, as Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler found out last fall.
Ditsler didn’t think he was doing anything objectionable by posting a Dave Barry quote on his office door last October—but James South, the head of Marquette’s philosophy department, thought differently.
The Barry quote posted by Ditsler read, “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”
Within days, South deemed the quote “patently offensive” and removed it from Ditsler’s office door, stating that “while I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I’m afraid that hallways and office doors are not ‘free-speech zones.’” (Ironically, campus censors love to preface their censorship with a declaration of their commitment to free expression.)
Never mind the fact that other members of the department had all kinds of materials posted on their doors. Never mind the fact that if Dave Barry’s writing was really “patently offensive”—a legal term usually reserved for hardcore pornography—he probably wouldn’t be a best-selling, beloved, nationally syndicated, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.
Despite negative attention from the Associated Press, the American Federation of Teachers and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Marquette has refused to apologize or clarify its stance, insisting all year that South’s actions don’t really constitute censorship. That’s a joke in itself.
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