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Parables and Precedents

If you think we’re going over the top here, I assure you: we only do so when our survival is at stake. The situation is not exactly unprecedented, of course: the question of what can be printed on campus is perennial. I even dimly recall one of these controversies myself. I think it provides a teachable moment, although it’ll take a while to lay out in detail.

Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.

Dateline January 2001, when Southworth was still fresh in our minds. The good ol’ Student Insurgent, just being adorable, decided to tackle the issue of animal research. Being insurgents, their approach involved reproducing a primer from the Animal Liberation Front on effective ways to commit sabotage and property damage – and being students, they juxtaposed it with a list of various professors’ names and home addresses. Emerald coverage here.

Not surprisingly, many people felt this was going a bit far. While the professors were public figures – the same way that members of the ASUO Senate are public figures, for example – the Insurgents weren’t just calling the professors “silly [and] self-aggrandizing” – they seemed to be tacitly recommending the perpetration of violent acts against them. Emerald outrage here.

The PFC, in its frequently assumed capacity as a moral compass, swung ponderously into action. While they approved the group’s budget and mission statement, they placed the money in a holding fund and denied the group access to it pending resolution of the legal issues. Again, let me stress: the paper printed the home addresses of these professors alongside an Animal Liberation Front handout on how to best commit acts of property damage, and their budget passed PFC. Emerald argle-bargling here. Unfortunately, the Insurgent‘s web presence doesn’t contain this issue (nor has it been updated for the last three years) but their somewhat unconvincing claim to be merely fostering a dialogue seems to have been listened to. (I’m sure that the presence of collective member Willie Thompson on PFC at the time had nothing to do with this.)

And what happened? Well, of course, the PFC was flagrantly exceeding their authority, and got their asses handed back to them. The Insurgent is still with us, and the campus is the richer for it, lunatics though they may be. Emerald flapdoodling here. Our own response is locked up in a PDF file halfway down this page (Issue VII) but is worth quoting:

On an aesthetic level, [the Insurgent] reads more like a parody of itself, a grab-bag of mindless rants, dialectical arguments, and unmitigated hypocrisy. It’s ugly, poorly edited and barely laid out. The spelling is wrong, the graphics are pointless, the headlines are non sequiturs, the content is reprinted filler and the logic is circular… That said, the Insurgent does not, by any means, deserve to lose its funding, not this year at least. If the PFC really is afraid of a lawsuit against the Insurgent “jeopardizing the fee”, as so many student government wonks often dread, they’re just not familiar with the First Amendment case law… While extreme, [the Insurgent‘s] beliefs are relevant to much of the curriculum, from sociology to biology and women’s studies. In the short run, Frohnmayer could rule otherwise and the tradition of allowing unpopular political speech in the court system would reverse the outcome.

Nice work there, Bill (I think). Once more for the record: home addresses, primer on sabotage, budget and mission statement passed PFC.

To paraphrase Patrick Henry: if this be hate speech, make the most of it! You sack of bastards.

  1. WWB says:

    Olly: Is the community richer for the Insurgent? Overall, sure, but certainly not for the episode you recount.

    Pete: Thanks for pulling those up. My political views have shifted a bit since I wrote that editorial, but I still think I mostly got that one right (even if I did spell “Unabomber” as “Unibomber”).

    Willie: Hey, where are you at, man? What did you think of the last Ween album?

  2. Pete says:

    Here’s the OC editorial on the Insurgent controversy.

    Here’s the OC interview with Willie Thompson.

  3. Timbo says:

    Repeating the mistakes of the past is particularly difficult to avoid in a university setting. There’s a built-in turnover of nearly 100% of the population every four years. (Exceptions granted for faculty, staff, continuing grad students, and superheroes like Sho.)

    Not to mention the memory issues strongly associated with college recreational activities.

    Also, PFC dumb! SMASH!

  4. Timothy says:

    No need to apologize, I am the idiot.

  5. Sho says:

    Actually, I should have put <sarcasm></sarcasm> tags on the above comment. Apologies to Mr. Dreier.

  6. Timothy says:

    Those who do not know history, doomed to repeat its mistakes etc. This is just the most recent an hilarious example of time inconsistency in any form of government, ever. It’d be funny if it weren’t so tragic and illegal.

  7. Sho says:

    You know, I’m trying to remember a famous quote that’s probably related to this situation. Something about failing to learn the lessons of the past and then… something. Can I get any help here? Anyone?

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