SALISBURY, N.C. — A community college instructor who was suspended for showing “Fahrenheit 9/11” in class the week before the presidential election is offering no apologies and says he was unfairly punished.
Davis March showed the Michael Moore documentary critical of President Bush to his film class. Administrators pulled the plug on the movie with about 20 minutes left when March tried to show it to English composition students.
“This story is now about academic freedom … the movie is ancient history,” said March, who served a four-day suspension and returned Nov. 2 to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, about 45 miles northeast of Charlotte.
School officials said March disobeyed orders by refusing to meet with administrators before showing the film, but March said no edict to seek permission had been issued.
“If I’m wrong about this, I’ve been wrong my entire career,” said March, 54, who has taught at the school for two decades. “If I backed down, how could I go back into the classroom and face my students?”
The school’s executive vice president, Ann Hovey, said the board of trustees has a clear policy of nonpartisanship regarding political issues. She said college President Richard Brownell has issued several memos on the topic.
One dated Oct. 25 stated that college employees may not use “the classroom or college environment as a platform to promote their own personal, religious or political views or to advocate for specific political candidates.”
Hovey said March asked school officials in August if he could send out fliers promoting a screening of Moore’s movie. The school rejected that request.
“He was insistent about wanting to show it before the election, which implied some possible political intent,” Hovey said. She said March erred by not also presenting an opposing view to the film.
“We are not about trying to suppress critical thinking or academic thought,” she said. “But if you are trying to promote critical thinking, then both sides need to be presented.”
Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education described the school’s actions as deplorable.
“It’s true the university cannot endorse a candidate, but the distinction of what a university professor can do is increasingly getting blurred,” he said.