In my new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, I wanted to include a section with all of the pictures that have been the cause of censorship, controversy, or punishment on campus. Unfortunately, by the time it came to print the book, we had way too many to include them all. But my book's loss is your gain! Here are my top 10 censored, banned, or otherwise kerfuffle-causing images on campus. (Spoiler alert: the title is more than a little tongue-in-cheek. I think you'll be surprised by how tame these "forbidden" images are.)
Perhaps out of determination to sap as much fun out of one of the nation's oldest sporting rivalries as possible, Harvard shot down the Yale Freshman Class Council's (FCC's) approved design for the T-shirts honoring the storied annual football game between the rival schools. For the 2011 game, the FCC selected this design poking fun at Harvard's famous dropouts, parodying Bill Gates, Matt Damon, and Mark Zuckerberg as "liking" the design. In a somewhat surreal decision, Yale's licensing office told the FCC that it had to run the design past Harvard's licensing office -- <a href="http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/11/17/yale-shirt-trademark-facebook/" target="_hplink">which in turn killed the design</a>, stating that it would not "permit the use of Harvard's trademarks with third-party trademarks or celebrity names." In other words, Yale required its students get permission from the target of its satire before satirizing them, giving the butt of the joke veto power over the joke. The FCC removed the names from the final design (and Harvard trounced Yale, 45-7).
In 2002, Harvard Business School (HBS) <a href="http://thefire.org/case/702.html" target="_hplink">wildly overreacted</a> to <a href="http://thefire.org/article/5945.html" target="_hplink">a cartoon</a> that appeared in the school's student newspaper, <em>The Harbus</em>. The cartoon criticized the school's Career Services office for a computer meltdown surrounding the business school's interview week -- understandably labeled by some in the school as "hell week." The cartoon prompted administrators to call the <em>The Harbus</em>' editor-in-chief, Nick Will, into a meeting to warn him that he potentially violated Harvard's "community standards" for publishing the cartoon and would be held responsible for future objectionable content in <em>The Harbus</em>. He was instructed that <em>The Harbus</em> should provide more "positive" coverage to HBS and steer clear of "questionable content" in the future. Rather than accept these demands, Will chose to resign two days after the meeting. After the dean of the business school sent a warning to all students, the <a href="http://thefire.org/" target="_hplink">Foundation for Individual Rights in Education</a> (FIRE, where I work) sent a letter to Harvard administrators, reminding them of Harvard's extensive promises of free speech. Soon after, the dean announced that charges would <em>not</em> be forthcoming, <a href="http://thefire.org/article/52.html" target="_hplink">promising</a> instead to reaffirm the school's commitment to freedom of expression.
Sinclair Community College, in Dayton, Ohio, rightfully earns its place on this list for its treatment of the protesters at a June 2012 “Stand Up For Religious Freedom” rally in protest of new health coverage mandates. Police were photographed and recorded ordering attendees at the rally to <a href="http://thefire.org/article/14594.html" target="_hplink">put down their signs</a>, saying that SCC policy prohibited their use. Remarkably, as an article in SCC’s own student newspaper pointed out, SCC officials freely admitted to having this across-the-board prohibition on signs in place <em><a href="http://thefire.org/article/14631.html" target="_hplink">since 1990</a></em>. That’s more than 20 years of censorship...and that was their best excuse! Worse still, SCC doesn’t actually publish this sign ban in any of their materials, choosing instead to expansively interpret the Campus Access Policy to fit its needs. SCC hasn’t been shy in enforcing the ban, either, using it to suppress peaceful protest of members of a GLBT rights group at a recent on-campus event—ironically, one hosted by the same group that staged the religious freedom rally in June. SCC now finds itself the subject of a <a href="http://thefire.org/article/14647.html" target="_hplink">First Amendment lawsuit</a> and, if the record of college speech policies being challenged in court is any indication, its chances of prevailing are very slim.
At Tufts University's Spring Fling this year, members of the Tufts men’s crew team were spotted wearing this T-shirt — a reference to the team’s <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coxswain" target="_hplink">coxswain</a> with an obvious innuendo mixed in. However, someone reported the T-shirt to the administration using the school’s “bias incident” reporting system, claiming that the shirts promoted violence against women. Tufts’ director of rowing — possibly after getting a nudge from the Tufts administration — suspended the crew team for an upcoming race, relieved two senior captains of their positions, and forced team members to write individual letters of apology. Fortunately, the team was <a href="http://thefire.org/article/14455.html" target="_hplink">reinstated</a> by Tufts’ president following a torrent of <a href="http://thefire.org/article/14451.html" target="_hplink">well-deserved</a> <a href="http://thefire.org/article/14450.html" target="_hplink">criticism</a>.
Of all the cases involving the censorship or punishment of students or faculty for cartoons (and there are many), this 2004 case at Southern Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) remains the most puzzling to me. This cartoon led to <a href="http://thefire.org/case/652.html" target="_hplink">an investigation</a> of the student newspaper that published it and the forced resignation of the paper’s faculty advisor. I have looked at this cartoon over and over again throughout the years and I still cannot figure out what's so offensive about it. Sure, it could be funnier, but the First Amendment even protects jokes that don’t land.
In the fall of 2011, James Miller, a drama professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, discovered one of my most beloved science-fiction shows of all time, Joss Whedon's short-lived space western, <em>Firefly</em>. He was so impressed with the dialogue that he put this poster on his door, but it was quickly <a href="http://thefire.org/case/874" target="_hplink">torn down</a> by the campus chief of police, who informed Miller in an email that "it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing." Shocked by this response, Miller <a href="http://www.thefire.org/article/13592.html" target="_hplink">responded</a> by email, "Respect liberty and respect my first amendment rights." But the chief of police refused, instead claiming that the poster could be interpreted as a threat to others and threatening Miller with criminal charges: "If you choose to repost the article or something similar to it, it will be removed and you could face charges of disorderly conduct.” I covered this case extensively in <em>The Huffington Post</em> and you can read about it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/university-wisconsin-firefly-_b_985486.html" target="_hplink">here</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/college-changes-course-on_1_b_996334.html" target="_hplink">here</a>. Meanwhile, be sure to check out what happened next in the following slide.
And even if you believe that the previous image from <a href="http://thefire.org/case/874.html" target="_hplink">the case</a> last fall at the University of Wisconsin-Stout could understandably be misinterpreted as some kind of threat — and again, I don’t think a plain reading of the quote allows for that — there can be no mistaking the message of Professor Miller’s follow-up post. After being warned of punishment by the chief of police for his <em>Firefly</em> poster, Professor Miller put up this poster to mock the university for acting like a bunch of, well, fascists. Amazingly, the university willfully misinterpreted this and claimed that the obvious critique of the administration was actually essentially a pro-fascist and pro-violent statement. I mocked this on <em>The Huffington Post</em> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/university-wisconsin-firefly-_b_985486.html" target="_hplink">last year</a>, but it was only due to the help of people like Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and, perhaps most importantly, Neil Gaiman, that the university backed down. In fact, we made a video about the case featuring Gaiman that you can see <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4iAOtkpFGhc" target="_hplink">here</a>.
In a classic FIRE case, University of New Hampshire (UNH) student Tim Garneau was <a href="http://thefire.org/case/651.html" target="_hplink">found guilty</a> of disorderly conduct, violating the university’s affirmative action policy, and harassment for placing this <a href="http://thefire.org/public/pdfs/5005_3461.pdf?direct" target="_hplink">flyer</a> in his dorm. (<a href="http://thefire.org/article/15084.html" target="_hplink">Here’s</a> a re-creation of the image above.) Because of this flyer, Tim was sentenced to two years probation and mandatory psychological counseling, kicked out of the dormitories and forced to live in his car for weeks, and required to write a university-approved apology, even though he'd already apologized on his own well before. Tim’s case is also particularly notable because, as I mention in <em><a href="http://fir.ee/M7g3Hi" target="_hplink">Unlearning Liberty</a></em>, “The Daily Show” actually played a role. We wrote the University of New Hampshire and explained that its treatment of Tim was unconstitutional and we even took the case public in a press release when we were ignored, but the university only backed down after receiving a call from “The Daily Show,” which was interested in covering the case. Apparently, UNH was willing to fight the Constitution, but didn’t want to be mocked on Comedy Central.
In the second position, we have a case of a college <em>literally</em> judging a book by its cover. As Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) student Keith John Sampson worked his way through his degree in 2008, he had a habit of reading books during his lunch. When a co-worker saw him reading this book — which celebrates the <em>defeat</em> of the Klan in a 1924 street fight with Notre Dame students — Sampson was reported to the administration and subsequently <a href="http://thefire.org/case/760.html" target="_hplink">found guilty of racial harassment</a> without even so much as a hearing. It took the combined efforts of FIRE, the ACLU, and <em><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121538889902431161.html?mod=googlenews_wsj" target="_hplink">The Wall Street Journal</a></em> to get IUPUI to back down. You can read more about this astounding case in my Huffington Post <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/judging-a-book-by-its-cov_b_99729.html" target="_hplink">articles</a> about it over the years and in <em><a href="http://fir.ee/M7g3Hi" target="_hplink">Unlearning Liberty</a></em>.
And for our number one spot, the infamous Facebook collage that got one environmentalist student <a href="http://thefire.org/case/751.html" target="_hplink">kicked out of Valdosta State University</a> in Georgia. Those of you who have read my columns over the years, or those of you who read <em><a href="http://fir.ee/M7g3Hi" target="_hplink">Unlearning Liberty</a></em>, know well the harrowing story of Hayden Barnes. This collage was used as an excuse for expelling the decorated EMT student. And while he has won at every stage of litigation, his legal saga, which began in 2007, is still ongoing. Note: This is a precise re-creation of Hayden’s original Facebook collage. The existing copy of the <a href="http://thefire.org/public/pdfs/b4dd6b0a21c428ec6f7bbf12b588702c.pdf?direct" target="_hplink">old one</a> is pretty beat up, so we put together this facsimile to better illustrate just how ridiculous the university’s overreaction was.
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