Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Counterpoint from the Comments Section

Editors Note: The following was originally posted in the comments section of this post on this suspension scandal at Marquette and while we disagree with it a lot of it (but not all of it), 1832 also fully supports and believes in the freedom of expression and encourages the free exchange of ideas. Thus we have elevated these comments to "guest blog" status as it is a well written counterpoint:

I’m a Marquette grad, and I emailed Professor McAdams yesterday with a few two cent opinions on this whole mess.

I read the Marquette Tribune pretty often on line and also the new student paper, as well as Dr. McAdams blog and this one.

For whatever it’s worth, as a life long conservative on most every issue, I have a quickie take on this biz.

My sense of the atmosphere at Marquette these days is that there seems to be an acrimonious relationship between liberal and conservative factions, student and faculty alike. Whatever happened to the days when people could disagree with eachother without having to fear someone coming by their house and shooting their windows at at 3am?

First, unfortunately the Dental student’s blog is off line now, apparently, so no one can read the whole thing and draw a thoroughly reasoned conclusion.

But based on Dr. McAdam’s post yesterday, it seems the University’s decision to discipline this student rests on his use of one particular word (a bad toilet word he used in reference to a professor — whose identity obviously could be inferred by readers, though the professor is unnamed).

Second, I don’t think it’s fair to say Marquette censored anyone, unless they forced this guy to take his blog down. It seems he did it on his own after he got nailed for calling someone a bad name. The student seemd to cave in when forced with an embarrassing disciplinary mess. He seemed to reject their feeling he needed counseling, and so took the blog down as an afterthought.

It seems the posts here (on this site regarding free speech) are predicated on a juvenile at best notion of what constitutes “free speech.” Of course no one suggests shouting “Fire in a theater” should be protected. But there are many other levels and grades of things that merit argument. This is one of them.

It’s interesting that another blogger here accuses the Dean of reacting like a three year old — but what’s more childish than calling someone a bad name and then crying foul when there are consequences?

I’m not taking Marquette’s side in this. Not by a long shot. But one has to recognize the climate of our culture.

As I wrote to Dr McAdams, 16 years ago today an engineering student at the University of Montreal shot 14 female students to death in a classroom.

No one is saying this dental student is deranged, but universities, corporations, airports, malls, and so forth are all taking things that smell of potential whacked out behavior much more seriously today than they ever did before.

Maybe a hundred years from now, or more, when people stop walking through shopping malls with assualt rifles, killing their girlfriends’ parents over curfew, and going to churches and kindergartens with deer rifles, then you can safely say that people who post blogs in a moment of anger are just “blowing off steam,” as Dr McAdams says this guy is doing. But today, corporations, law enforcement, schools, etc, are paying attention to “fighting words,” which is the real name for this student’s language.

By the way, read Chaplinsky v the State of New Hampshire in this regard. It’s the Supreme Court case that helped shape legal definitions of “protected speech.”

Also, it’s possible there’s more to the dental student’s story than the blogs and media are reporting. If he put those words in his blog, it’s likely he shot his mouth off in the dental school. News travels fast. Perhaps he has a reputation.

Plato wryly points out that the purpose of punishment is pedagogical.
What’s done is done and punishment can’t change the past. However, punishment teaches perpetrators and everyone else what happens if someone transgresses a law.

Dr. McAdams may know this student personally, and can vouch for his character. I don’t know. But go talk to people in Columbine about how they feel about students who use blogs to blow off steam. Then come back and look at this case again.

This just is bad timing on the student’s part, and quite obviously the left leaning administration has seized this opportunity to make an example of him.

Moreover, the student said what he had to say, and Marquette exercised its right to decide who gets to be on campus and who doesn’t. (There’s an Italian saying: Choose your friends for their looks and you enemies for their brains. I wonder how this fits the present circumstance.)
As I said to Dr McAdams, and I don’t think he agrees with me, student criticism of a professor might go something like this:

“Is unprepared for class.”
“Returns assignments late and with few useful comments.”
“Does not hold office hours regularly and is not available.”

These are critiques.

Name calling like that is hate rhetoric. It’s not “a free discourse of ideas” to tear people down. Anyone who thinks that calling someone a “c—kmaster” is sharing an idea isn’t worth arguing with.

What would liberal and conservatives alike think of a Marquette faculty or graduate teaching assistant, who, in a blog, referred to a student as a “c–k-anything,” who everyone could identify contextually? Further, what if the professor or TA said that 20% of his students weren’t college material?

Would we all be rushing to defend their right to “free” speech?

Would every one agree such a person deserves to be on the faculty of a major university?

Ultimately, there can’t or shouldn’t be two sets of standards for people in an academic community.

Either there’s scholarly decorum or there isn’t.

It’s not like the guy worked on a loading dock and called his foreman a “c—k master.” He’s a graduate student and if he can’t sound like one then there’s something out of joint.
And you can say on the one hand that a professor is a c–kmaster, and then run and hide and expect people to cut you slack and say it’s ok, you were only “blowing off steam.”

When you call a professor a bad word like a disgruntled 4th grader on a public school playground, people have a right to react to this type of behavior (and yes, language is a type of behavior that is actionable, if you don’t believe me, then try cussing up a storm in a major corporation, on a city bus, or better yet walk up to a cop and tell him he’s a “c—k master”).
What got this young man in hot water isn’t that he was critical of Marquette, rather, what came back to bite him in the ass is that he expressed himself like someone on Jerry Springer or Maury.

He exercised his right to talk like a low life, and Marquette exercised its right to ask him if he really wants to be there.

Regardless of how “equal” we all are politically and socially, if the only way you can evaluate another person is to use toilet words, you’re not equal intellectually to anyone.

Doesn’t sound like this guy is particularly happy there. And since I am not at Marquette, I can’t guess what it’s like to be a grad student there anymore.

So what entitles him to the degree he’s working on? It certainly isn’t his detached intellect or his capacity to think abstractly or philosophically.

It wasn’t so long ago when there was a distinction between public and private discourse. Remember when Nixon had to turn over particular Oval Office recordings of his private meetings? The public was then shocked that the President of the US and his staff cussed like truck drivers and even used racial and ethnic slurs.

But in public, one was expected to express important ideas with appropriate language.
Apparently Marquette thinks so too. They have a right to apply standards of decorum as they see fit.

This guy seemed to use his blog like it was a bathroom wall to write on. The only problem is that on a blog, he invited the world in to read it.

Today, standards regarding language have lowered. We all know it. Everyone uses bad words.
But some people have a right not have to accept people who fob themselves off as intellectuals superiors when all they can do is talk like a low life.

Just listen to kids waiting for the bus at a bus stop in any city, or listen closely to people on the el or a bus.

But this Dental student isn’t a guest on Jerry Springer or a foul mouthed brat on a playground.
He’s a doctoral student at a major university who expresses himself like a disgruntled potential Unabomber.

And if anyone thinks that if this guy went to Northwestern or Yale and referred to the faculty who graciously gave him an academic scholarship as “c–k masters” that they wouldn’t “do” anything, then they need to think again.

As I said, there are still people out in the world who realize that when you’re sitting in a bar pouring out your heart to your best friend that you’re going to use words that might even make Nixon blush.

But when you post things on blogs, you’re entering the public domain where you’re implicitly inviting an analysis of your ideas.

There are people in the world who still think that there are more and less responsible ways to express what’s in your head.

For a guy who expects Marquette to give him DDS and PhD degrees, he doesn’t sound too prudent. And maybe he was having a bad day. But so were the kids at Columbine and right or wrong, the world is trying to understand who people go postal.

Again. I am not suggesting this student sounds like he would, but there are a number of people who have crossed the line from violent language to violent actions.

(Also, one can’t escape the anger seething beneath the surface of his remarks. I wonder why no one has asked if they’d want someone that angry to be working inside their mouths with sharp objects and drills?)

Maybe he can spend his suspension period watching Jerry Springer and then he’ll realize what he sounds like and that if he expects anyone to take to him seriously, he’ll stop talking like he drives a fork lift at WalMart and lives in a trailor.

Last, if he’s that unhappy at Marquette and if 20 percent of his fellow students are so beneath him, why doesn’t he have the grades and scores to go to a better school?

He’s only 22. When he gets out in the work world — be it a hospital or someother entity, the response to that type of rant will be “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

When the student went public to his blog, he had a compulsion to be read, and Freud is up there smiling somewhere, because he obviously had a compulsion to get caught and disciplined for his potty mouth — there are no accidents.

There’s that old saying about choosing one’s battles and doing it wisely, apparently he didn’t think of the consequences.