Is censorship in our universities’ classrooms acceptable?
In the most recent issue of eCampus News there is an interesting story about a decision by University of Missouri officials to ban students from recording lectures due to a controversy whereby a conservative blogger with an obvious agenda distilled hours of discussion down to a conclusion that the professor and a classroom colleague were advocating union violence.
Before I get into the merits of blogger Andrew Breitbart’s purported misuse of the contents of the video I think it is important to address the issue of censorship as this would appear to be an extreme and quite frankly ineffective knee-jerk reaction to the incident.
While it would be easy to of course stand up on the First Amendment right to free speech pedestal, there is a far more insidiously dangerous aspect to this move on the part of the University that transcends personal rights. I am of course talking about the inherent limitation censorship would impose in terms of an inability to disseminate ideas beyond the classroom where in the real-world they can be examined and discussed from an everyday practical standpoint. Specifically a point of juxtaposition between theory and actual application.
By partitioning the two worlds you ultimately lose the ability engage interested stakeholders in a meaningful dialogue that serves as a filter to qualify the merits of an idea or concept. Or to put it another way, what may make sense in the classroom does not necessarily translate to a meaningful revelation for everyday life. This I believe is an important process because it removes the risk of intellectual vacuums and the resulting disconnect with the interests and demands of the outside world.
While I will acknowledge that idea viability in the real-world may not be a usual consideration for some, I would contend that intellectual musings are an exercise in futility if there is not an opportunity for practical application with eventual benefits to society as a whole.
Anyone who recalls the Bill Cosby routine will appreciate the above statement.
For those who may not remember the Cosby musings, the comedian related a story from his college days when he was dating a girl who was a philosophy major.
In his own unique way, Cosby wryly observed that while his girlfriend’s philosophy class debated the deep issues on subjects such as “why is there air?” he could not understand why such a question posed so great of a challenge. As an athletics major he knew the answer to why there is air . . . to blow up basketballs, footballs, volleyballs . . .
Of course the proponents of censorship by way of limiting or restricting a student’s ability to record a lecture offer as justification the belief that unencumbered by a fear of public disclosure there is a greater possibility for a more open and truthful exchange in the classroom. In essence, and similar to the doctor-patient (or lawyer-client) privilege edict, University officials feel that their’s is an appropriate measure to protect rather than stifle free speech. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. In fact, such a move not only limits free speech, it can also lead to an unchallenged absolution of questionable ideas that can pollute rather than enrich young minds.
The alternative, at least as far as I am concerned, is to foster an atmosphere of open exchanges based on the premise that when one takes a position – whether in line with popular consensus or not, they should not be selective in terms of who does or does not hear it. The fact that the University would seem to be suggesting that people become more reclusive in expressing their true feelings outside of the safe confines of a limited audience would draw into question the merits of the conversation in the first place.
Instead, and rather than avoiding a potential combatant – in this case blogger Breitbart, they should challenge his take on the lecture and resulting exchange within the classroom with fact, in much the same way I just the other day called out Steve Albin on Facebook who, in championing a partisan position, clearly disclosed selective elements of an article regarding the President’s travel schedule.
At the end of the day, and in a Jack Webb manner of speaking, the focus should be on ascertaining the facts and how they either support or discredit (if discredit is the right word), Breitbart’s position.
The added benefit is that incorporating an external debate into the classroom discussion actually makes the dialogue more meaningful, while simultaneously demonstrating how one addresses what some would consider to be a self-serving, out of context commentary that is let’s face it, something with which we all have to deal on a regular basis.
What are your thoughts . . . should classroom discussions be limited to only those who are present?