Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen Vigilant Against Threat of Satire, Figurative Speech, Hurt Feelings

Effluvia

The other day I described how University of Wisconsin-Stout police got all censorious and thuggish about a rather inoffensive Firefly poster and an anti-fascism follow-up. Nathan Fillion and others took notice of the story, spreading it widely. The general hope was that once the matter left the hands of UWS Chief of Police Lisa A. Walter and reached the hands of someone with a room-temperature IQ and even a tenuous grasp of freedom of expression, the problem would be corrected.

We should have known better.

As FIRE reports, UWS Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen has reacted to nationwide ridicule by acting in an even more ridiculous fashion.

FIRE has posted Chancellor Sorensen's email here:

There have been recent news reports about an incident in which two posters hung by a UW-Stout professor outside his office were removed by campus police. There are some important points to consider in the wake of these incidents:

UW-Stout administrators believe strongly in the right of all students, faculty and staff to express themselves freely about issues on campus and off. This freedom is fundamental on a public university campus.

However, we also have the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind—both direct and implied. It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed.

This was not an act of censorship. This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.

Chancellor Sorensen had some "important points to consider." I have some for him, as well:

1. The obligatory "we believe in freedom of expression" paragraph in the standard defend-our-censorship communique is simply embarrassing. That's why the Chicago Manual of Style For Censorious Dipshits ("CMSCD") recommends eschewing it and launching straight into the meat of your uninformed and conclusory stomping on First Amendment law.

2. The problem with demanding a campus free of "implied threats" is illustrated by this case. Campus police first censored a poster of an imaginary space cowboy with a fan-pleasing quote. Next, just to say FUCK YOU IRONY they used threats of official retaliation against a poster condemning threats of official retaliation. No rational person could construe either poster as a threat, actual or implied, to commit violence against any person (although I suppose the second could be construed as a warning — a correct one — that thugs will act thuggishly when questioned.) If a rational person wouldn't take it as an actual threat of violence, then it's not a true threat that can be censored, however much the hysterical, irrational, nanny-stating, coddling, or professionally emo think about it, and however much university chancellors would like to believe otherwise.

3. Similarly, this case illustrates the problem with an approach to freedom of expression premised on "sensitivity" and making people feel "welcome, safe and secure." "Sensitivity to hurt feelings" is not, in fact, a First Amendment value or a justification for censorship. In fact, stopping people from speaking because the speech hurts people's feelings is the essence of censorship. A system in which what we can say is premised upon the likely reactions of the mentally ill and the undernourished pussywillows of the world is a system that encourages suppression of all unpopular, forceful, interesting, or challenging speech. The irrational and the morally and mentally weak are not entitled to have their feelings protected through the force of law, however prevalent they are on campus.

4. If your "UW System Legal Counsel" told you that these posters could be censored based on their content, then stop hiring lawyers out of the back of a bait shop. Or were you using someone who splits their duties between "UW System Legal Counsel" and "Assistant Professor of Western Hegemony And Hurt Feelings Studies"?

5. "No it isn't!" and "nuh-uh" may be entertaining, but they are not actually legal arguments.

6. Fuck you, you censorship-apologizing, rule-of-law-obscuring, equivocating, worthless bureaucrat.

I think we need a new tag for "Twits in Academia" here at the hat. But the task of going back to all the old posts about academic twits and editing them to add the tag is daunting.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

33 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Patrick  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:07 am

    We have an "Academia" tag already, and I guarantee you without reading them every single post under that tag concerns a twit.

  2. Ken  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:14 am

    But who is going to go apply the Academia tag to all the posts?

    I say we make Jesse or Brian do it.

  3. TJIC  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:18 am

    "stop hiring lawyers out of the back of a bait shop. "

    LOL!

  4. David  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:18 am

    “Assistant Professor of Western Hegemony And Hurt Feelings Studies”

    You are so on a roll this month.

  5. Ken  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:19 am

    Actually, "undernourished pussywillows" was the part that I enjoyed writing most. But thanks.

  6. TJIC  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:20 am

    > The obligatory “we believe in freedom of expression” paragraph in the standard defend-our-censorship communique is simply embarrassing.

    This is one thing I loved ("loved") at my sophisticated snooty college campus: the obligatory leftist "we support free speech – absolutely! without fail! – but…"

    "But" my ass.

    You do or you don't.

    If you support free speech EXCEPT for speech you don't like and thus redefine as not valid, then you don't support free speech at all.

    C.f. "I support the rights of everyone to be free of violence based on race or religion…except that money-grubbing un-German Jews don't count…."

  7. Ken  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:23 am

    Quite. "We respect freedom of expression, but . . . " is the college administrator's version of "I don't have anything against colored people per se, but . . . . "

  8. Andrew T  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:28 am

    As a counterpoint, what do you think of the UC Berkeley official reaction to a "diversity bake sale" event:

    http://www.dailycal.org/2011/09/26/uc-berkeley-chancellor-sends-campus-wide-letter-condemning-bake-sale/

    I liked it – it seemed to me to successfully make the distinction between condemning speech and censuring it. What do you think?

  9. Ken  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:29 am

    Actually drafting a post about it now, Andrew. Thanks for pointing out that link.

  10. Patrick  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:35 am

    The comments at the Daily Cal link are more interesting than what the Chancellor has to say, though I commend him for restraining his natural urge to censor.

  11. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 28, 2011 @11:01 am

    The solution to your tags problem is to have a tag "Non-twits in Academia". It won't come up very often.

    As for the Chancellor; Academics become Chancellors, Deans, Provosts, and even College Presidents because although they have spent their lives pursuing the merit badges of scholars and teachers, they have no discernable talent for either task. They are the classic "Intellectuals"; people who want to be regarded as men of intellect without having any real interest in using their intelligence.

  12. Ken  •  Sep 28, 2011 @11:02 am

    C.S.P., that's exactly how I got to be general counsel of a law firm.

  13. deadcenter  •  Sep 28, 2011 @11:20 am

    his last paragraph reminded me of this quote:

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C. S. Lewis

  14. Mike  •  Sep 28, 2011 @11:33 am

    When I was younger, you could go to places in Wisconsin were a guy would pump your gas, fill your minnow bucket and serve you a burger and fries all without washing his hands between tasks. I never thought to ask if he had a lawyer in the back!

    There was one place, in the Dells, where they would put a minnow in your beer. The trick was to get the minnow to go down your throat head first. Otherwise it would keep trying to swim back into the glass.

    Being a college student was so much more fun than working for a living.

  15. NLP  •  Sep 28, 2011 @1:03 pm

    The least you could have done was provide a link to your post about Judge William Downes. His order regarding William Ayers is a breath of life to the 1st Amendment, particularly on college campuses. I wish it could be required reading.

    http://www.popehat.com/2010/04/30/judge-william-downes-first-amendment-hero/

    "Mr. Ayers is a citizen of the United States who wishes to speak, and he need not offer any more justification than that.”

  16. Xenocles  •  Sep 28, 2011 @1:43 pm

    His argument is that both of the posters were threatening? I could maybe in some strange world understand the Firefly one. But the facism one is explicitly a denunciation of violence! Who are these people?

  17. PLW  •  Sep 28, 2011 @2:19 pm

    CSPS- Academic's don't seem any more twittish to me than any other group of people. And for the record, the only academic I see here is the dude who posted the Mal poster. I guess you could call the Chancellor an academic, but I'd refer to to him as a former academic, turned bureaucrat.

  18. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 28, 2011 @3:12 pm

    PLW; An academic is one who inhabits Academia. By definition, the chancellor fits that definition. Academics aren't all of one type; there are scholars, teachers, and drones, to name just three. The chancellor may have been a scholar at one point in his career, and also a teacher, but his behavior shows that he has devolved into a drone. And a fairly stupid one at that.

    Ken, if you are saying that you became general council of a law firm because you didn't like actually doing any mental work, I don't believe you. Your work here shows all the signs of somebody who compulsively uses him mind, even when it would be easier not to.

  19. VPJ  •  Sep 28, 2011 @3:14 pm

    To paraphrase Ken from this post (partly because he writes pretty good, but mostly because I suck at it)…did Chancellor Sorenson get his Ph.D. in a box of wind chimes and dreamcatchers?

  20. Laura K  •  Sep 28, 2011 @5:33 pm

    In my experience, usually large Universities ignore the humanities or station them right under the lid of the 'budget cuts' commode before eating several pounds of chilli, popcorn and emetics…This idiot is following the later strategy, I guess, and using the Constitution as toilet paper to do so.

  21. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 28, 2011 @7:21 pm

    VPJ,

    The chancellor undoubtedly got his doctorate the way 9 out of 10 PhDs get theirs, by writing a dissertation that argued minor points of minutia with large words, in the guise of producing "new" thinking on a subject that two thirds of the general populace could not possibly care less about.

    This is why so many academics are so resistant to engaging the real world; they know that they are a luxury good and are deathly afraid that the people who ultimately pay the bills are going to find out.

    My Father is a PhD in the History of Science and Technology, and spent much of his career trying to impress his students and colleagues with the idea that, since they were a luxury, the very least they owed the society that afforded them was published research. And you would not believe how much resistance he encountered.

  22. Jenny  •  Sep 28, 2011 @10:36 pm

    I think this post is the most beautiful thing I've read all week.
    Thank you. :)

  23. Amy Alkon  •  Sep 28, 2011 @11:41 pm

    Bait shop and "Chicago Manual of Style For Censorious Dipshits" — besides being right on with this post, you made me snort my tea. Hilarious.

  24. Heather  •  Sep 29, 2011 @7:47 am

    There's a special hell for censorship-apologizing, rule-of-law-obscuring, equivocating, worthless bureaucrats.

    (FYI: it's Fillion)

  25. NLP  •  Sep 29, 2011 @9:47 am

    I notice that the Flathead Beacon Police Blotter (which is always excellent reading) has an item regarding a man who called the police to complain that someone was calling him names. He was informed that, in fact, name-calling is not a crime.

    I suspect that a lot of college students are going to be very confused when they graduate and suddenly have to deal with the real world. A pity that more colleges aren't doing a better job of preparing students for what is to come.

  26. VPJ  •  Sep 29, 2011 @9:08 pm

    @C.S.P.Schofied

    …writing a dissertation that argued minor points of minutia with large words, in the guise of producing “new” thinking on a subject that two thirds of the general populace could not possibly care less about.

    So pretty much a box of wind chimes and dreamcatchers, then.

    Hopefully there's at least a smattering of crunchy caramel-coated popcorn with some peanutty goodness, as well.

  27. Bill G  •  Sep 29, 2011 @10:16 pm

    E-mail Chief Walters at police@uwstout.edu and let her know what you think of her decision to remove these posters.

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