Monday, April 03, 2006

Volokh says NYU's Sexton 'not consistent' on free speech

Eugene Volokh examines NYU President John Sexton's statement on academic freedom at the NYU Web site and says Sexton didn't live up to his words.

These are, as people have pointed out, likely the most newsworthy cartoons in the history of cartooning. It's impossible to thoughtfully discuss the controversy over them, certainly with the concreteness and depth that an academic exchange demands, without showing them. Are they racist, as some say they are? Are they fair criticism or excessive criticism? Would much of esthetic or political value be lost by foregoing the representation of Mohammed in cartoons, movies, and the like? It's impossible to discuss this without displaying the cartoons and pointing out their details in the process of discussing them.

Though some have argued that the cartoons are outside the bounds "of civil discourse," that is the very point that the cartoons panel was trying to explore; and it seems to me that no university committed to academic freedom can just categorically accept claims that any depiction of Mohammed, or even any depiction of Mohammed used in the process of condemning Islam, is outside "civil discourse" and thus censorable. Discussing them in front of not just a purely NYU audience, but one that includes both NYU students, faculty, and staff and members of the public, simply fulfills the university's traditional role as a creator of knowledge and debate for the public's benefit, rather than some insular community of savants speaking only among themselves.
I agree, and that's why NYU's decision to forbid the campus Objectivist club from featuring the cartoon is so troubling. If one cannot examine the forces driving history at a university, where else can these forces be discussed?

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