The Marquette Warrior blog brought to my attention an editorial by the Marquette Tribune, Marquette’s student newspaper, on the university’s failure to respond to FIRE’s letter about the philosophy department’s censorship of a Dave Barry quote. Usually, student newspapers are fairly reliable friends of liberty on campus. However, this does not appear to be the case with the Marquette Tribune, which criticizes Marquette President Robert Wild for not answering FIRE’s letter on time, but adds:
The university could have easily defended South’s actions with its Student Handbook policy. Despite the romantic impressions of some, Marquette is a private institution—not a free-speech zone….The removal of the quote didn’t clearly violate any freedoms granted by the Constitution, federal or state, nor by the university. Marquette’s Student Handbook demonstrations policy states when people differ on whether a demonstration infringes on the rights of others in the community, an authority — in this case South — communicates his judgment and can require the demonstration be [sic] “promptly terminated.”
FIRE has never claimed that Marquette’s actions violated the federal Constitution (Marquette is private and Catholic) or state law, of course. University policy is another matter; as FIRE points out in its press release, “Marquette’s Student Handbook protects the ‘right of the members of the university community freely to communicate, by lawful demonstration and protest, the positions that they conscientiously espouse on vital issues of the day.’”
What is most disturbing about this editorial is not this error, though. It is the fact that the editorial treats the avoidance of institutional embarrassment as a higher value than liberty. It is the rare college newspaper that will cheerfully proclaim that speech can be arbitrarily censored because the school “is not a free-speech zone.” One suspects that the Marquette Tribune might feel differently if, instead of removing a Dave Barry quote, Professor South had decided to throw out a stack of issues of the Marquette Tribune. And the idea that free speech is to be confined only to “free-speech zones” is a shocking departure from the ideals of free speech that have served our nation and its universities well for over two hundred years.
There is simply no plausible defense for Marquette’s removing a Dave Barry quote from Stuart Ditsler’s door. The office hallways of most colleges boast doors festooned with quotes, cartoons, political posters, etc. If a Dave Barry quote is the most offensive thing on display at Marquette, it must be a boring place indeed.