Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Disturbing New from Tufts

I just recently learned, for FIRE's website, about a disturbing incident at Tufts University. A student-run publication, The Primary Source, was disciplined by the Committee on Student Life for the following two pieces that ran in The Primary Source magazine:

A Christmas Carol that lampoons race-based admission:

A piece on Islamic Awareness week:

Outraged at this lamentable display of injustice and politically correctness, I penned the following email to Tufts President Lawrence Bacow and Barbara Grossman, the chair of the Committee on Student Life.

Dear President Bacow and Professor Grossman,

As a gift-giving Tufts Alum, I was greatly disturbed to hear about the Committee on Student Life's April 30, 2007 decision on The Primary Source. The decision to punish the student run publication for its two satirical pieces is a grave and profound disregard for free speech and intellectual independence.

I am not a conservative and often found myself in disagreement with material published in The Primary Source. Nonetheless, I think it is important that student publications be at liberty to publish any non-libelous material they see fit. When a publication publishes something offensive or disturbing, this allows an object lesson for students to learn about the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs that exist on campus and in the world and to learn tolerance of this diversity. It also allows students to counter viewpoints that they disagree with in a peace manner. This too provides a lesson of how to respond to those we disagree with in a civil society. Rather then always run to courts to complain about harassment, one learns to counter viewpoints with a positive message of one's own. In the case of the Muslim students, they could have used this incident as vehicle to educate the Tufts community about Islamic history and the differences between moderate Muslims and extremists. This kind of intellectual engagement and interaction is what a liberal arts education is all about.

While the Christmas Carol is certainly in bad taste, there is an important difference between satire of policies of the university and a racially motivated attack on other students. The carol picks out no individual student for ridicule or attack nor is it even targeted at black students. It is targeted at the policies of the university. This makes the punishment of the students look to be more of an issue of stifling speech in order to protect the university from criticism.

I am in many ways more deeply concerned about the punishment of The Primary Source for the The Islamic Awareness Week piece. No where in the news reports or releases about this incident does anyone claim that the quotations and events referred to in the piece were factual incorrect or fabricated. It cannot be an issue of harassment or intimidation to publish disturbing yet factually correct reports. I am not surprised that the Muslim students who filed the case against The Primary Source were angered and embarrassed by what was published, but to punish The Primary Source is a form of shooting the messenger. It serves to stifle independence of thought and belief on campus.

If this is the policy of Tufts, then it is no longer the great liberal arts institution that I thought it was. Moreover, I am not comfortable providing monetary support to a school that no longer values individual liberty nor intellectual independence.

Shawn Klein, Class of 95

Though I have given money over the past few years, it hardly amounts to anything substantial, so I don't expect anything more than a form response. I hope that the pressure that FIRE and the ACLU is putting on Tufts will let cooler and more rational heads prevail.

Update [6/15]: I received a nice response from President Bacow. In the email, he wrote the following, promising, comment: "I disagreed strongly with the substance of the Primary Source message, I also came out squarely against censorship of the Primary Source largely for the reasons you have expressed. I have been very consistent in my comments both in response to this issue and the Christmas Carol parody that the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech, not less."

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