Columbia U. in catfight over word of many meanings

By on October 4, 2006

Civil-rights and free-speech groups are assailing Columbia University’s decision to suspend its men’s ice-hockey team, a club sport, because its members used what the Columbia Spectator decorously called “off-color recruitment fliers” in order to attract attention this fall. The fliers, which goaded students to join the team with the words “Don’t be a pussy,” were apparently the latest in a series of violations of athletics-department rules, the newspaper reported.

But to the New York Civil Rights Coalition and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the episode was not a case of sophomoric crudity but of stifled speech. In letters to Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, the groups said that the expression was merely a play on the university mascot, the Lion, and that, in any event, “what is so offensive about the word ‘pussy’ today?,” as the civil-rights coalition put it. For its part, the foundation urged Mr. Bollinger to overturn an “absurd overreaction” to a minor incident and, in ringing words, “not to abandon the principles of fairness, openness, and free expression.”

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Schools: Columbia University