Staying Focused in the Penn Case

By on December 2, 2005

So the case at Penn involving the student who photographed a couple having sex pressed up against their dormitory window has been receiving a great deal of press. Much of it is doubtless due to the titillating nature of the case, as an article in Penn’s student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, effectively pointed out.

After all, it’s bizarre, it’s funny, and it includes nudity, PC, free speech issues, and an Ivy League school, which is an irresistible combination to any media outlet looking to catch people’s attention. However, as Alan Charles Kors points out, it essential not to lose sight of the more serious issues in this case. Kors was involved in helping the student in his capacity as a professor at Penn and not as FIRE’s chairman (FIRE was looking into this case on its own, but it was resolved quickly enough that we did not need to intervene). He posted this for the readers of an online discussion forum of The Daily Pennsylvanian:

The deepest question here is whether or not Penn students have the rights and the protections from capricious power that are their moral due. Students should be alarmed by the behavior of the Office of Student Conduct. This one undergraduate had the integrity, dignity, and force of character to say no. (He also had a graduate student advisor, Andrew Geier, who is the true hero in this, and whose concern for undergraduate rights is a great gift to Penn.) Many students—bullied by an OSC that clearly has lost its judgment, its common sense, its belief in equity, and its respect for students’ rights—simply would have signed a terrible and immoral settlement in order to avoid worse punishment. If this had been a fraternity student exposing himself sexually above Locust Walk, and a young woman had photographed it and posted in on a blog about Penn and her life at Penn, the photographer would have been deemed an official hero and the fraternity student (or perhaps the whole fraternity) would be gone. I also would beg the Penn community to leave in peace the individuals who were photographed. Enough is enough. It’s fun to be young; it’s terrible to bring irresponsible charges against someone rather than to assume responsibility for one’s own choices and behaviors; and it’s awful to suffer unduly. Let’s put this particular event behind us quickly, and let’s focus on the real issue: the powers of an apparently unfair and indecent OSC that has such control over your lives and your futures.

Schools: University of Pennsylvania