Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Political correctness run amok

The NY Times editorialized today on radio station WBAI pulling the plug on a broadcast of the recording of late poet Allen Ginsburg reading his poem, “Howl”. Such represented a retreat by WBAI as being in the forefront in innovative radio programming.  According to the Times, this retreat came about as a “result of fear that the Federal Communications Commission would levy large obscenity fines that might bankrupt the small-budget station.”  Such did not represent an irrational paranoia by WBAI since a few offended listeners could very well be enough to bring down the wrath of the FCC on WBAI.  As the Times noted, the FCC had already fined CBS $500,000 for a nanosecond telecast of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Now joining this censorship fray is the law school of the University of Connecticut which not only pressured one of their professors, Robert L. Birmingham, to not teach all of his classes for this Fall semester, but the law school dean went on to cancel all of his scheduled classes for the semester leaving his enrolled students in an academic never never land. 

Why the excommunication of the good professor and the canceling of all his classes?  The Hartford Courant reported that Professor Birmingham showed a film clip of an interview with a pimp convicted in a court case called U.S. vs. Pipkins.  However, it was not the interview itself that the UCONN law school found to be problematic, but it was what appeared  immediately after the interview- a scene of a scantily clad woman; Birmingham then immediately pressed the button to freeze the film.  It was the instant view of the scantily clad woman that was enough to upset a couple of students and end Professor Birmingham’s teaching for the foreseeable future.

“We believe it is in the best interest of the university not to escalate the situation and would like only to say that Professor Birmingham showed a relevant interview in class,” said Heather Kaufmann, Birmingham’s attorney. “He stopped the film at the completion of the interview. Period. The suggestion that the questionable material was shown intentionally is both troubling and dishonest.”

But whatever the intentions of the professor may have been, such did did not matter to the UCONN law school administration.  What only mattered was an instant second of offense that supposedly was experienced by a couple of students.  There was no FCC pressuring UCONN to take this action; no authoritarian organization threatening the university.  The impetus for UCONN to take actions that undermine the principles freedom of speech and academic freedom was political correctness run amok.  The dankprofessor believes it is outrageous that a law school can make such short shrift of these principles, principles which some Americans, both inside and outside of academia, still believe are worth preserving.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007

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October 8, 2007 - Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, University of Connecticut

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