Dave Barry: A Dangerous Man at Marquette

Fred Thompson's latest ABC column comments on a situation that would be funny if it weren't so sad:

..... One of the strangest examples (of "political correctness has crept into the halls of academia") comes from Marquette University in Wisconsin -- where a Dave Barry quip was banned. Last fall, Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler printed out a short blurb from one of Barry's humor columns and stuck it on his office door. It read, "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government." Of course, anybody who has ever heard of Dave Barry would know that he wasn't exactly suggesting insurrection.

The head of Marquette's philosophy department apparently didn't get it. He took down Barry's words and issued a statement that included the words, "while I am a strong supporter of academic freedom. I'm afraid that hallways and office doors are not free-speech zones." Since then, the Marquette philosophy department has stuck to its stance that Barry's words are "patently offensive," despite the fact that lots of other doors had slogans pasted on them.

As is often true in situations such as these, there's a lot more to the story. In this case, a little digging reveals not only a hypocritical academic mindset, but also shows that the next generation of journalists is on track to be even more biased than the current crop.

Shortly after the incident, John McAdams' Marquette Warrior blog carried the initial e-mail response of Marquette Philosophy Chair James South, who admitted taking down the "patently offensive" quote.

This portion of Mr. Ditsler's initial response to South's action, also posted at McAdams' blog, tells you all you need to know about the validity of South's specious "no free-speech zone" argument:

To wit, last year Dr. [redacted], who I like, respect, and admire very much, posted a cartoon by Pat Oliphant of the Washington Post about the ethical principles (or lack thereof) in the Bush administration that stayed on his door for I believe the entire academic year. The year before that, you posted a piece on your door immediately after the 2004 presidential election criticizing "family values" voters for preferring Bush and the Republican Party to Kerry and the Democrats. What this tells me is that doors and hallways are not "free speech zones" (a Bush administration term, which is ironic in itself) only when the opinions expressed are contrary to those of the majority of the members of the department.

To its credit, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as McAdams noted in October, came down squarely on Ditsler's side. But Marquette's student newspaper, the Tribune, didn't exactly rush to Ditsler's defense and defend his academic freedom. In fact, as McAdams tells us, it took South's side. In an incoherently titled editorial ("Wild FIRE should have be extinguished" -- Huh?), its editors opined that:

The removal of the quote didn't clearly violate any freedoms granted by the Constitution, federal or state, nor by the university. Marquette's Student Handbook demonstrations policy states when people differ on whether a demonstration infringes on the rights of others in the community, an authority — in this case South — communicates his judgment and can require the demonstration be "promptly terminated."

So posting a quote on a door is a "demonstration"? And, despite the examples of other postings allowed to remain noted by Ditsler above, it didn't seem to bother the Tribune's editorialists that some "demonstrations" are clearly more equal than others.

(For those who don't know, "FIRE" is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whose mission is "to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities." FIRE has written to Marquette officials several times concerning the incident. It has a page dedicated to a chronology of the correspondence to and from the university, along with other links to media coverage of the situation.)

As the kind of thinking exemplified by the Tribune editorial makes its way into the newsrooms of America, it's painfully clear that MRC and NewsBusters won't be lacking for work any time soon.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.