Topless Self Portrait of Geraldo Prompts Duquesne University to Rescind Speaking Invitation

September 4, 2013

Television personality Geraldo Rivera recently joined the ranks of the millions of Americans who have used their cell phone cameras to take self-portraits—“selfies,” if you will. But as Inside Higher Ed reported yesterday, Geraldo’s selfie has led to his disinvitation from a speaking engagement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh: Geraldo Rivera, the media personality, took to Twitter last week to report that Duquesne University had revoked an invitation for him to participate in a symposium on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. “Just heard Duquesne Univ cancelled my appearance at JFK assassination panel because of ‘selfie’. Fact I first aired Zapruder film less impt.,” Rivera wrote. The “selfie” reference is to a naked photograph of himself (primarily of top half of his body) that he recently posted online (click here only if you want to view the photo). A spokeswoman for the university confirmed the report, and via e-mail cited the university’s Roman Catholic heritage.Explaining the university’s rationale for rescinding its reservation to Rivera, a university spokeswoman said, “The administration felt that Mr. Rivera’s decision to post a nearly naked picture of himself on social media was inappropriate and inconsistent with who we are as a Catholic Spiritan university and therefore withdrew the invitation.” She further noted, “We warn our students not to post questionable material on social media due to the possibility of negative consequences—you could consider this teaching by example.”Of course, the First Amendment does not apply on Duquesne University’s Catholic and Spiritan campus. But one cannot help but notice that the real lesson that Duquesne University taught its students wasn’t about consequences for one’s actions on social media but about how colleges are willing to use arbitrary and, in this case, barely comprehensible standards to regulate expression on social media. While Rivera was apparently poking a bit of fun at New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner with his “selfie,” he (unlike Weiner) did not expose any part of his body that an average American would not see on any beach. Has anyone from Duquesne University been to the beach? Does Duquesne regularly police its students’ social media postings to ensure that no male student appears shirtless? And if a male student does appear shirtless in a photo online, does this somehow make his views on historical issues any less relevant?Instead of conditioning its students to accept censorship, the better lesson for Duquesne to teach its students is that free speech is essential to a liberal arts education.