14 April 2006

Free Speech 101

Here's a quick lesson in how freedom of expression works:

Everyone get's to make their opinions known. That means everyone. Including people who have views that you don't like. Your right to freedom of speech does not include the right to keep other people from expressing their opinions.

A professor of Literature and Language has demonstrated a criminal lack of understanding in this regard - and I do mean criminal. According to several sources, including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Prof. Sally Jacobsen led a group of students from one of her graduate-level classes in destroying a display of 400 crosses that had been set up on the school grounds by an anti-abortion group:
"I did, outside of class during the break, invite students to express their freedom-of-speech rights to destroy the display if they wished to," Jacobsen said.

Asked whether she participated in pulling up the crosses, the professor said, "I have no comment."
The professor may not have wanted to comment on whether or not she participated, but there is a picture of her participating available on the campus paper's website. Apparently, she encouraged and participated in this act of censorship and vandalism because she didn't like the way the display made her feel:
She said she was infuriated by the display, which she saw as intimidating and a "slap in the face" to women who might be making "the agonizing and very private decision to have an abortion.

Jacobsen said it originally wasn't clear who had placed the crosses on campus.

She said that could make it appear that NKU endorsed the message.

Pulling up the crosses was similar to citizens taking down Nazi displays on Fountain Square, she said.

"Any violence perpetrated against that silly display was minor compared to how I felt when I saw it. Some of my students felt the same way, just outraged," Jacobsen said.
Wow. What an amazingly arrogant, obnoxious, and self-righteous piece of work she is.

For the record, the student group that erected the display had, as Jacobsen could easily have discovered had she bothered to ask, obtained the school's permission. And I strongly suspect that she's nowhere near as concerned about the appearance of NKU endorsing the message when it's one she approves of.

Personally, I think that the anti-abortion group's position on abortion is wrong. I've seen plenty of anti-abortion displays, including graveyard-type displays like the ones in question, and I really dislike them. If I had the power to pick and choose what opinions are allowed to be expressed, I definitely wouldn't allow those. And that's exactly why I shouldn't be given that power - and why nobody should have it.

Fortunately for Northern Kentucky University, their president has a much better grasp on what freedom of speech means than that idiot that they are, at least for the moment, employing:
"I am very disappointed that this happened," Votruba said. "At a university, the opposing views should be able to bump up against each other. Responding with pamphlets or speeches would have allowed the power of ideas to compete."
I'm an extrordinarily big fan of the tenure system, and a huge fan of academic freedom. In this case, however, neither should provide enough of a shield to protect that clueless idiot's job. Actually, neither should provide any shield at all. Like freedom of speech, academic freedom only works when it protects all parties. It certainly does not extend to including the right to suppress any offensive view anywhere on campus. Professor Jacobsen at the very least inspired, and almost certainly participated in, an action that violated the free speech rights of the anti-abortion group, was antithetical to the basic principles of academic freedom. Along the way, she appears to have committed at least criminal destruction of private property, and possibly theft.

The university has promised to take action against anyone involved in the incident, and I hope they stand by their word on that. In addition, the anti-abortion group has decided to press criminal charges against those involved. Good for them. This professor needs to learn that others have the right to their own opinions, even when they differ from her own. She also seems to need a refresher course in actions and their consequences.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

1 comment:

John said...

It's a shame to see something like this.