A friend of FIRE at Colorado College recently passed along a copy of the May 9th edition of The Catalyst, the school’s student newspaper, which featured a column written by Colorado College President Richard Celeste. The column, aptly titled “Trials and Tribulations of 07/08,” is a look back at the year’s controversies, including the most recent flap over a satirical flyer published by a handful of students. As many of our readers know, the flyer, entitled “The Monthly Bag,” was a parody of a publication by the “Feminist and Gender Studies Interns” entitled “The Monthly Rag.” The students involved were told they were guilty of violating the school’s conduct code provisions on violence for their “juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality.” Despite public pressure from FIRE and many media outlets, Colorado College has refused to back down, leading FIRE to add Colorado College to our “Red Alert list”—a distinction reserved for the worst offenders of liberty among America’s campuses.
Once again, Celeste’s column displays a misunderstanding of the role of free speech in a college setting. Writing about the importance of speech in the community, Celeste quips, “How do we reconcile our commitment to free speech with our commitment to a safe and respectful community?” While this is, on its face, a valid question, it bears no relevance to the Colorado College case. As Robert has noted previously, there is a difference between “personal safety” and “feelings of personal safety” [emphasis added]. No doubt some people who saw the “Monthly Rag” were made uncomfortable by the references to castration, but there were no demands for censorship and administrative action of that publication.
Further on, Celeste promises the student body that “there has been an effort to maintain a civil conversation, even when there was profound agreement.” Although FIRE can only speak with authority about the “Monthly Bag” controversy, we can certainly attest that this comment is absolutely false. Chastising students for publishing pseudonymously, punishing those students for expressing their opinions and then hiding behind a bogus concern for “campus safety” when pressured is not only a sign of discouraging civil conversation—it is cowardice of the highest order.
Toward the end of the article, Celeste admits that “each of the incidents this year has highlighted the strengths—and weaknesses—of the student conduct process.” I can agree with that statement in part. This past year truly has highlighted the abysmal failures of Colorado College’s student conduct process.
Perhaps most ironically, Celeste ended the column by saying:
I have heard one concern in the last couple of months that I must address head on: that CC is losing its sense of humor. Shame on us if we let that happen.
Other than recklessly punishing two students for publishing satire and sending a clear signal that free expression that might possibly offend someone is not welcome at Colorado College, I cannot imagine why anyone would think your school has become humorless.
Shame on you indeed.