Suppressing free speech for credit

Some students at Rutgers’ all-female Douglass College received college credit for a petition drive to ban a student weekly, The Medium, which published photos of nude women. Paul Mulshine, Newark Star-Ledger columnist, once was The Medium’s editor.

As part of a required “activism” project, (Douglass) students in a class called “Woman, Culture and Society” decided to petition for the Medium to be banned from campus. If you are a student of the First Amendment, as I am, you will note that such a ban would be in violation of the Constitution. Nonetheless, the students set up a table on campus and began gathering signatures on a petition. (Medium editor Mike) Stanley and a few other editors went to Douglass to find out what the women were so worked up about.

“One of the women said she was upset that we had pictures of nude women in the paper,” he said. He pointed out that there were some nudes in the Douglass newspaper, the Caellian, as well as lesbian erotic writing. But the women weren’t calling for the Caellian to be suppressed.

“When I found out this was part of a class, I thought, ‘How can a teacher be encouraging something that is against the Constitution?'”

Good question. I put it to Barbara Balliet, acting director of the women’s studies department at Douglass.

“That’s not what they’re getting credit for,” Balliet responded. She agreed that a ban on distribution would be unconstitutional, “but in the process of trying to do this thing which they think they can do, they will learn they can’t do it,” she said.

A few days after the anti-Medium demonstration, 5,000 copies of the Medium, out of a 6,000-copy print run, were stolen. Last time students stole copies of a newspaper they didn’t like, the culprits were told not to do it again. That was it.

Rutgers spokesman Sandy Lanman assures me that this time around if the miscreants are caught they will be prosecuted under the college judicial code.

“Hopefully, this will lead to a constructive dialogue,” Lanman told me.

Mulshine hopes it will lead to felony indictments.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    “That’s not what they’re getting credit for,” Balliet responded. She agreed that a ban on distribution would be unconstitutional, “but in the process of trying to do this thing which they think they can do, they will learn they can’t do it,” she said.

    I hope their physics professor doesn’t use the same technique when they are studying the law of gravity.

  2. Mad Scientist says:

    But Richard, the miscreants who lead the petition drive probably think that Physics is something for which you work up a sweat while dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Shut down and send everybody home. Reopen in January only if every stolen copy of the paper is returned to where it came from and everyone involved in the theft has resigned with prejudice.
    I can only imagine what Mad Scientist does on vacation. It has to involve a .50 caliber sniper rifle and water melons.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Stop that!

  5. Mad Scientist says:

    Walter:

    Last real vacation: Cruise to Tahiti in 2000

    I have never fired a gun. Although my technician at work has a legal AK47 he would be willing to let me shoot on his property.

  6. These unbelievable stories never seem to end. I sometimes wonder if it is even worth going to college anymore. I mean, is there any learning going on by listening to the professors, or is that something the students have to do in their own time? If that is the case, skip the college and go to your local library.

    Lacking anything constructive to say as to the specifics of this matter, I’ll just give my due to Richard above for his classic comment. Nice one!

  7. While I strongly suspect that the professor was merely trying to justify her assignment after the fact, the idea of an undoable assignment is not in and of itself a bad idea. Performed properly, it could be quite educational – starting with a failing mark for anyone who gathered signatures before checking about the legality, practicality, etc. of the move. (Perhaps negotiating with the administration would be more practical, or threatening it with a sexuak harassment suit for allowing it to become a tainted workplace for employees, etc.)

    After all, expending precious resources for no possible result is as much a failure in social activism as it is in any other endeavour. Perhaps even more so in that your volunteers are depending on the organizers to not make their efforts a complete waste.