As today’s press release reveals, Minnesota’s Century College has repeatedly chosen silence over discussion as a means of dealing with the infamous Mohammed cartoons. The controversy hit Century’s campus on February 7, when Karen Murdock, an adjunct professor of geography, hung the twelve Danish cartoons on a bulletin board near her office. They were repeatedly torn down, and Muslim students expressed that they were “heartbroken” that the cartoons had been posted. While students are welcome to express their disagreement, that disagreement should never be parlayed into censorship. Yet Murdock reports that her division head and an administrator requested that she not put the cartoons back up.
Throughout the controversy, Murdock held fast to the opinion that the cartoons, as vital information at the center of a global uproar, were so newsworthy that students deserved a chance to view them if they so chose. On February 25, she reposted the cartoons behind a curtain, so that unwilling viewers would not have to see the cartoons. Even from behind the curtain, they were torn down, and on February 28, her division head once again requested that she not put them back up. Murdock, an untenured professor, interpreted the request from her division head as a direct order, and removed the cartoons. They remain down.
As Greg Lukianoff stated in the press release,
Karen Murdock bent over backwards to make sure that students who disapproved of the cartoons would not be exposed to them, but this was still not good enough…. Century administrators need to understand that their first duty is to promote the open exchange of ideas on their campus, not to cater to those who would prefer silence on provocative matters. The college must end its shameful, unlawful, and unwise drive to “protect” its students from seeing the materials at the heart of a global controversy.
Century fumbled this incident miserably. Not only did the Century administration fail to stop vandals from censoring Murdock’s display, but it actually reinforced that censorship by requesting that she submit to such suppression. The only official reaction from the president was a single e-mail sent to the Century community blandly stating that Century supports free speech. But actions speak louder than words, and with so many colleges handling the cartoon controversy well, Century’s reaction serves as a lesson in how not to handle a controversial situation.