If there’s one thing that college censors hate, it’s the possibility of somebody—anybody—being offended on campus. That’s why even the most trivial of jokes can result in disproportionately large, potentially life-altering punishments.
And that’s why five students at Long Island University (LIU) were fired from their jobs as resident assistants after filming a video of themselves pretending to “kidnap” a rubber duck.
You read that right: fired for kidnapping a rubber duck. According to the Franklin Square-Elmont Herald, the five RAs created a satirical short film this past February in which they dressed as Islamist extremists and took a rubber duck “hostage.” Dressed in black and armed with a Swiss Army knife, the RAs read a list of “demands” that included a request for an iPod.
The finished two-minute clip was uploaded to YouTube and that’s when the trouble started, because LIU administrators didn’t think the video was funny.
In fact, they deemed it “racially insensitive” and promptly fired the RAs, resulting in the loss of tuition assistance and meal-plan benefits.
Like most censors, LIU Provost Joseph Shenker claimed that civility, not speech, was the real cause for discipline: “This is not an issue of free speech, but rather an issue of respect for others and insensitivity to acts of violence,” he claimed.
Understandably aggrieved after being fired for a gag involving a rubber duck, the RAs responded by bringing a wrongful-termination suit against LIU. Because LIU is a private school, no First Amendment claims could be made, but the RAs’ lawyer emphasized that the school had presented itself as an institution that valued the free exchange of ideas.
The case gathered national attention, and under public pressure, LIU quickly settled out of court.
The LIU case perfectly illustrates the potentially ruinous effects of administrators who put civility before common sense.