Fred Thompson on FIRE’s Case at Marquette

By June 16, 2007

By way of NewsBusters.org, FIRE learned today that former senator, current actor, and probable Presidential candidate Fred Thompson yesterday discussed the case of Marquette University grad student Stuart Ditsler during one of his regular commentaries on ABC Radio Networks. Thompson’s commentary does a good job of summing up FIRE’s case, which involved Marquette’s attempt to ban Dave Barry from office doors. Thompson also points out how the environment at all too many colleges and universities is unfriendly even to humorous forms of dissent from university orthodoxy. Since it’s short, I’ll quote it here in full: 

It’s funny how things change. Well, not always, but in this case, the story involves one of America’s best humor writers—Dave Barry.
 
There was a time when American universities were known as havens of free speech, places where controversial ideas could be expressed and discussed. Unfortunately, political correctness has crept into the halls of academia. Then it chained the doors and started duct taping the mouths of anybody who voiced unapproved opinions.
 
One of the strangest examples comes from Marquette University in Wisconsin—where a Dave Barry quip was banned. Last fall, Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler printed out a short blurb from one of Barry’s humor columns and stuck it on his office door. It 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.”  Of course, anybody who has ever heard of Dave Barry would know that he wasn’t exactly suggesting insurrection.
 
The head of Marquette’s philosophy department apparently didn’t get it. He took down Barry’s words and issued a statement that included the words, “while I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I’m afraid that hallways and office doors are not free-speech zones.” Since then, the Marquette philosophy department has stuck to its stance that Barry’s words are “patently offensive,” despite the fact that lots of other doors had slogans pasted on them.
 
The thing is that Barry’s joke appeared in newspapers all across America. It was and still is available online. Apparently, the blurb is safe for family reading on U.S. breakfast tables and computer screens, but not on a door at a major American University. That’s funny too, in a sad sort of way.

As FIRE has pointed out and as Thompson noted, Marquette has refused to back down from its position that Dave Barry is too offensive for its office doors. Its inexplicable refusal to stop defending its indefensible decision has now attracted the attention of a Presidential candidate and everyone who listens to his radio show. This seems unwise, to say the least, since it would have cost Marquette absolutely nothing to avoid this negative attention. If I went to Marquette, or had a son or daughter attending that institution, I would ask myself this: am I really that comfortable with having people with such demonstrably poor judgment in charge of my education, or that of my child?