Daily Archives: April 15, 2006

Censorship-by-vandalism as free speech: That’s doubleplusgood, comrade!

Via the Foundation for Indvididual Rights in Education (FIRE), comes this outrageous story:

A professor at Northern Kentucky University said she invited students in one of her classes to destroy an anti-abortion display on campus Wednesday evening.

NKU police are investigating the incident, in which 400 crosses were removed from the ground near University Center and thrown in trash cans. The crosses, meant to represent a cemetery for aborted fetuses, had been temporarily erected last weekend by a student Right to Life group with permission from NKU officials.

Public universities cannot ban such displays because they are a type of symbolic speech that has been protected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Witnesses reported “a group of females of various ages” committing the vandalism bout 5:30 p.m., said Dave Tobertge, administrative sergeant with the campus police.

Sally Jacobsen, a longtime professor in NKU’s literature and language department, said the display was dismantled by about nine students in one of her graduate-level classes.

“I did, outside of class during the break, invite students to express their freedom-of-speech rights to destroy the display if they wished to,” Jacobsen said.

Asked whether she participated in pulling up the crosses, the professor said, “I have no comment.”

She said she was infuriated by the display, which she saw as intimidating and a “slap in the face” to women who might be making “the agonizing and very private decision to have an abortion.”

Jacobsen said it originally wasn’t clear who had placed the crosses on campus.

She said that could make it appear that NKU endorsed the message.

Pulling up the crosses was similar to citizens taking down Nazi displays on Fountain Square, she said.

“Any violence perpetrated against that silly display was minor compared to how I felt when I saw it. Some of my students felt the same way, just outraged,” Jacobsen said.

A photo of Jacobsen pulling up one of the crosses can be seen here, in the student publication The Northerner Online, which also reports that the right-to-life group which planted the crosses plans to press charges.

Commendably, NKU president James Vortuba has condemned the actions of Jacobsen and her little vigilante band:

“I am very disappointed that this happened,” Votruba said. “At a university, the opposing views should be able to bump up against each other. Responding with pamphlets or speeches would have allowed the power of ideas to compete.”

No kidding.

At a time when many worry, with some justification, about a chilly climate for speech critical of the government and the war, or otherwise seen as unpatriotic, this incident is a reminder that old-fashioned (the 1980s and ’90s being the “old times” in this case) left-wing PC speech suppression on college campuses persists as well. Note, too, Jacobsen’s excuse for her actions, which simultaneously conjures up images of weak-minded females too fragile to cope with the “violence” of an unpleasant opinion about abortion and of Orwellian speech police presenting speech suppression as an exercise in free speech. As a pro-choice friend of mine put it: That’s doubleslusgood, comrade.

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