College ends ban on Nietzsche quote

By November 7, 2008

Whether or not "God is dead," as Nietzsche famously argued in The Gay Science, the philosopher’s famous quote can once again be displayed on the doors of faculty offices at Temple College, in Texas.

The president of Temple, Glenda Barron, and Mark Smith, who had earlier ordered a professor to remove the quotation from his door, sent out an e-mail message to faculty members reversing the earlier decision.

"Recently, the administration required the removal of a cartoon and a Nietzsche statement from the door of a faculty member. We have reviewed the Temple College policies and believe that the action was inappropriate…. We have notified the faculty member and regret any inconvenience this may have caused that person." So Kerry Laird, the literature professor who had the quote up and was told to take it down, is now free to put back the quote (in the original German) he originally had posted: Gott ist tot.

After Inside Higher Ed reported on Laird being ordered to remove the quotation, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education took up the case, writing to Temple officials that the policy of barring quotes from office doors if they caused offense – the stated reason for the ban – was antithetical to the free speech rights of public college faculty members and the principles of academic freedom.

The letter hinted at legal action if the college stuck by its ban or retaliated against Laird. "Please spare Temple College the embarrassment of fighting against the Bill of Rights, by which it is legally and morally bound. We hope to resolve this matter swiftly and amicably. We are, however, committed to using all of our resources to see this matter through to a just and moral conclusion," said the letter.

Within hours, the college announced it was backing down and officials sent out the e-mail announcing that Nietzsche was again allowed on office doors.

Robert L. Shibley, vice president of FIRE, praised Barron, the college’s president, for "her prompt reversal of her subordinate’s unconstitutional censorship." Shibley added that the incident was "a classic example of a college reversing course once its censorship is exposed to public view."

Laird could not be reached Thursday, so it is unclear whether the quote is back up on his office door.

Schools: Temple College