“The fall semester has only just begun, and already, so much has happened on our campus and in our nation that has challenged us, frustrated us, and forced us to confront difficult and sometimes painful issues relevant on our campus and in society.”
So wrote the dean of students staff to student organization leaders earlier this week. And we could not agree more.
It is fair to say this semester has been unlike any in our lives, for as the Dean noted, the events of Sept. 11 added to the already important issues of hate crimes, sexual assault and The Badger Herald’s audacity to publish last spring’s controversial advertisement written by David Horowitz.
Wait, the Herald publishing the Horowitz ad? Isn’t that old news? And even if it is not, do the editorial decisions of the Herald really deserve to be compared to awful wrongs such as sexual assault and hate crimes?
At first, we laughed at the dean’s ridiculousness. But as the message of the letter sinks in, we are increasingly offended and appalled that Bascom bureaucrats would compare campus violence — where students are physically injured and lives are ruined — with the Herald’s decision last spring to sanction free speech.
While the purported purpose of the dean’s letter is to foster dialogue on issues like “How can we be vigilant in defending the right to free speech while acknowledging the emotional pain and suffering that words can cause,” the underlying attack on the Herald and free speech is clear.
The dean’s office bemoans the Horowitz’s ad and that our subsequent refusal to apologize “sparked angry debate among students and stimulated public discourse among faculty and staff.”
Clearly, the UW administration is not endorsing a public forum where unpopular voices are aired fairly and criticized. The dean’s office remains convinced that there is an inherent trade off between some free speech and healthy campus race-relations.
The dean is wrong: The airing and debate over the merits of all ideas will do more to dissuade evils like hate crimes and sexual assault than censorship ever will.