How Can You Tell When a University President is Lying?

When he says things that he knows are drastically at odds with reality. Were you expecting some other answer?

Colorado College, in scenic Colorado Springs, has an inspirational endorsement of free expression on page 34 of its Academic Policies and Procedures handbook:

On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed.

[If that seems familiar: it's a direct, unattributed plagiarism quote from the American Association of University Professors' statement "On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes".]

Which is fine, in theory. In practice, it took Colorado College about 30 minutes to examine their deepest feelings about free expression on campus, and say: Just kidding!

The "Feminists and Gender Studies Interns" at CC print up a newsletter entitled the "The Monthly Rag." You can read a poorly-reproduced copy here, but here is, I think, a fair summary:

The flyer included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," [the aging Annie Sprinkle, for those of you with fond memories of Wild Pussycats and Satan was a Lady] an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto.

CC student Chris Robinson, and an unnamed accomplice, perhaps taking that "free and open" thing a bit too seriously, published a parody of "The Monthly Rag" entitled "The Monthly Bag" (PDF here) under the pseudonymous "Coalition of Some Dudes". Summary:

The flyer included references to "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, a quotation regarding a sexual position from the website, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" of men from the website

Which brings nothing to mind more than the very old, but very appropriate, joke:

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: That's not funny!

As Chris Robinson relates in a student newspaper op-ed (reproduced here):

The appearance of our satire was handled in a manner which in many ways approximated to, say, the way Wahhabbi Islam hunts down apostasy. Apostasy, for the interested party, is the ultimate crime in Islam: an apostate is one who has known the true faith and deviated from it, and his punishment for this shall be death.

The college opens for business at 8 am. By 8:30 am on the day of publication, I observed security forces tearing down our satire. Wow. Who would have the power and zeal to initiate such a crackdown? I'm not sure, but all I can say is the Chinese Communist Party would be proud.

CC's president, ex-Ohio governor (and Democrat) Richard Celeste apparently issued a mass-emailing of denunciation aimed at the parody, and demanded that the authors present themselves for judgment. They did, and found themselves before the dread Student Conduct Committee. Relates Chris Robinson:

I'd love to tell you more about that proceeding, but I'm not at liberty to do so. I will tell you this, though: it was deadly serious. It was an open-ended procedure which could have led to any punishment up to expulsion. It was a corrupt and biased proceeding which inspired in me a terror I've not felt for many years, and constituted a cruel and unusual punishment in and of itself, which I suspect was its intent.

The thrilling climax:

Two weeks after their hearing before the student conduct committee, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the "Coalition of Some Dudes" students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of "violating the student code of conduct policy on violence" and that as a punishment, they would be required to hold a forum to "discuss issues and questions raised" by "The Monthly Bag." Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize "The Monthly Rag," he wrote that "in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence—or implied violence—of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus." Apparently, according to Edmonds, "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.

Which is ludicrous on its face. If it hadn't been the chainsaws and rifles, it would have been something else. The policies at CC are vague and arbitrary enough to encompass any sin the administrators feel like punishing.

The canonical behavior of university administrators in such situations is overreaction, followed (if necessary) by ass-covering obfuscation and sanctimony. President Celeste is quoted at Inside Higher Ed engaging in the latter:

Richard F. Celeste, Colorado College’s president, said via e-mail: “Colorado College values and fosters freedom of expression, and in discussions with students regarding “The Monthly Bag,” has encouraged further dialogue about freedom of speech issues on campus. The students involved in creating this publication were found to have violated the college community’s standards, but they were not sanctioned or punished. Instead, they were urged to engage the college community in more inclusive dialogue, debate and discussion on freedom of speech, and through a letter to the editor of the student newspaper and other actions, they are doing so.”

Adam Kissel at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's (FIRE) blog, The Torch, calls bullshit on that:

This statement is false. The students were sanctioned and punished. Take a look at their letter of sanction by Dean of Students Mike Edmonds. Having a guilty finding on one's record is a punishment. Having the letter put in each student's file is a punishment. Being required to hold a "forum" is a punishment. Being publicly shamed in a mass e-mail from the president is a punishment.

Here's hoping that very bad things—nonviolent, of course—happen to Celeste and Edmonds as a result of their contemptible behavior.

FIRE's go-to page on this case is here, from which most of the links in this article were obtained.

Last Modified 2012-10-12 8:29 AM EST