Friday, February 24, 2006

The Cartooniad: The American Sequel

As I said earlier this week, the furor over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed in a disrespectful light has spread to American university campuses. I just got an email from Greg Luckianoff of TheFire, a civil liberties group that for academic freedom and free speech on campus. Greg's message includes some updates on events on campuses around the country:

"Although censorship in response to displays of the cartoons has been rare, it has indeed occurred. At Century College in Minnesota, adjunct professor of geography Karen Murdock posted the 12 original cartoons, articles about the resultant international controversy, and comment sheets on a bulletin board near her office. After the cartoons were anonymously torn down several times, Murdock reported that her division head removed the cartoons and a university administrator requested that she not repost them.

"Some Muslim students also wrote a letter saying they were “heartbroken” to see that Murdock had posted the cartoons, claiming that '[d]uring the last week, this incident had a very negative impact on our ability to concentrate on our studies.' While no disciplinary action was taken against Murdock, she has not reposted the cartoons out of fear of possible fallout. She told FIRE, 'When a division chairman and a college vice president both tell an untenured adjunct professor that something should not be posted on a bulletin board, this is a suggestion that has the force of a direct order. The cartoons would still be posted if I felt that I had a say in the matter.'

"At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, student editors Acton Gorton and Chuck Prochaska printed six of the original 12 cartoons in the independent student paper The Daily Illini. The Chicago Tribune reported on February 14 that the Illini’s board of directors, composed of staff and students, dismissed Gorton and Prochaska for failing to consult with “other student editors and staff members” in making the decision to print the cartoons. The paper then ran an editorial apologizing for printing the cartoons and calling Gorton “a renegade editor who firmly believes that his will is also the will of the paper.”

"The Chicago Maroon reported on February 17 that an anonymous University of Chicago student hung a homemade sketch of Mohammed with a caption reading “Mo’ Mohammed, Mo’ Problems” outside his dorm room. After receiving a complaint about the sketch, Resident Head Andrea Gates ordered it removed and reported the student who had posted it to the Housing Office for a possible investigation. The student removed the sketch and issued a written apology. The university has taken no further action, and FIRE continues to investigate the situation.

"Similarly, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), student Mitchell Foley reported to FIRE that he had posted the 12 cartoons on his dorm room door until his resident assistant told him to remove them. He removed the cartoons and has not reposted them; RPI has not commented on the situation.

"There have also been various instances of student papers running the cartoons with little to no reaction from administrators. Student papers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Purdue University, the University of Arizona, Northern Illinois University, and Harvard University have all printed the original cartoons, or their own versions depicting the prophet, without official consequence."

To me, the most striking thing about this little narrative is the observation that censorship has so far been rare. Let's hope this is a trend!

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