I Am Not Making This Up: Dave Barry Is "Patently Offensive"



The free-speech fun squad at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports on the latest suppression of expression on campus: In August, a grad student at Marquette University in Milwaukee posted a Dave Barry quote on his office door. The quote reads:

"As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government."

On September 5, says FIRE:

Philosophy Department Chair James South sent [student Stuart] Ditsler an e-mail stating that he had received several complaints and therefore removed the quote. He wrote, "While I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I'm afraid that hallways and office doors are not 'free-speech zones.' If material is patently offensive and has no obvious academic import or university sanction, I have little choice but to take note."

I dunno about you, but I actually think the most offensive thing in the whole situation is the department chair's quisling claim to being "a strong supporter of academic freedom." More info here.

Reason interviewed Dave Barry a decade ago. It's a very funny interview well worth reading and even committing to memory, though I should warn all fan(s) of The Five Man Electrical Band that he/they will find it "patently offensive":

Barry: My nomination right off the top my head [for the worst rock 'n' roll song of all time] is a song that was a hit in the '70s--"Signs, signs, everywhere signs, blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind, do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs?" Basically a diatribe against property rights....It' s a real smug self-righteous punk kid saying nobody has the right to tell him what to do and how dare you put a sign up saying that I can't go on your property? Hey, kid! Stick this sign up your ass.

Whole interview here.

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  • ||

    I liked the capitilization in the quote:

    "How can I, the ordinary person, send more money for no Reason?"

    Is that another veiled subscription pitch?

  • sarcasmo||

    What's great about this interview is that the advice to Bush 1 (cheaply kill Saddam with 2 guys named Victor) would have also been great wisdom for Bush 2. When words hold up that well after a decade, it means wisdom, whether or not the far right or far left likes to hear it from the likes of me.
    JMR

  • ||

    Where are these so-called "free-speech zones", and how can I get a ticket for entry? They sound like fun retreats! Maybe I can start a travel agency that specializes in all-inclusive trips to various FSZ's. Burgeoning market, anyone?

  • ||

    although of the course the whole country is supposed to be a "free speech zone", it's especially sad that supposedly educated members of the academic community don't seem to be aware of it

  • ||

    "Where are these so-called "free-speech zones", and how can I get a ticket for entry?"

    They are typically found on college campuses and Republican political events.

  • ||

    What I think is batshit insane is that this comes from philosophy chair. At the philosophy department from my humble Univeristy of Idaho, (at least when I went to school there in the early 90's), one of the things they tried to inculcate is all ideas are to be allowed to be expressed. Then one is to apply reason to evaluate said ideas.
    So the Peter Principle applies to PHD's in philosophy. How depressing is that? Apparently this idiot cannot see the subtle contradiction.

  • ||

    Poor guy, if he had only posted a quote saying Bush is Hitler and plotted 9/11 the school probably would have given him a medal.

  • ||

    BTW, I was taught to write in the active voice. Law school screwed that up. And I wasn't taught to use the term "bat shit insane."

  • ||

    so are free speech zones defined in geographic terms, i.e. I can say whatever offensive thing I want to about women while in the mens room.

    Or are they dependent on the audience, i.e. if a woman (for some reason) walked into the men's room, it would cease being a FSZ?

    Furthermore, would I only be allowed to say things specifically about women while in the FSZ men's room, or can I say things about gays, blacks, etc too?

    This is all so confusing, I hope they give their incoming students maps to find these zones.

  • ||

    An actual libertarian would note that a private university can declare any area of any of its buildings a free speech zone, or not, as the mood strikes them.

    But, hey, mean, liberal professors! Look!

  • ||

    Marquette doesn't receive federal funding? In that case, joe, let 'em do what they want!

  • ||

    So, joe, do you think that a private university can declare itself a free association zone, or not, as the mood strikes it, and ban blacks from campus?

    Just askin', is all.

  • ||

    Dave Barry talking about kids, helmets and safety leads me to point out the DUMBEST event of the year:

    Some school in Massachusetts is BANNING tag and other running games for 'safety' reasons.

  • ||

    Joe,

    Wasn't aware that this was a private school. Of course, if that's true, then they should be able to restrict pretty much whatever they want...but your little "I thought libertarians were supposed to believe __________" schtick is just a little tired...as if, somehow, since we're libertarians, and we believe in individual freedom, somehow that means that we have no grounds to criticize anyone as long as it's in the private realm. It's banal, it's tired, it's fucking schoolyard immature.

    Is it just that it pisses you off to see people who have a "live and let live" attitude when it comes to coercion and force, but still have opinions?

  • ||

    They are typically found on college campuses and Republican political events

    As this article suggests...not on college campuses, they're not.

    And I'd hardly call Republican political events bastions of free speech...just speech you happen to like...which is way not the same thing. They're no more or less a free speech zone than any other political event.

    Don't try to assert to the flawed notion that the corrupt and venal political party you happen to like is looking to back up your Bill of Rights protections. Both parties have pretty much lost credibility there.

  • ||

    Want to know what makes Prof. Jim "Don't talk in the halls" South tick? Go to http://www.marquette.edu/phil/south/#me

    The dude has also edited books on Bufy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy and James Bond and Philosophy. Talk about patently offensive!

  • ||

    madpad,

    I think by "and Republican political events" the commenter was referring to those cages 10 miles away from the event where protesters can exercise their right to free expression.

  • ||

    And I'd hardly call Republican political events bastions of free speech...

    madpad,

    I think the implication was they are found AROUND republican political events -- which is a reference to the "free speech zones" set up near but not really close to the GOP National convention and most other republican political events. Most protesters are relegated to some fenced off area out of sight of the event they are protesting. I don't think the comment was talking about the goings on within the campaign event.

  • Chuck||

    joe,

    I've looked several times at the comments above yours, and I don't see the word "liberal" in any of them. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe you're arguing with the libertarian in your head again.

  • Flyover Country||

    "free speech zones" are not a Republican party invention.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_speech_zone

  • ||

    MFMmgmfmmemmgemmrgm! Whew! Had a hard time getting that foot out of my mouth.

    Gotcha, jf & ChiTom. Thanks. Forgive my misunderstanding, Seth. My "Irony Detector" was a little on the fritz today.

  • ||

    "An actual libertarian would note that a private university can declare any area of any of its buildings a free speech zone, or not, as the mood strikes them."

    Maybe an actual libertarian supports the idea of free expression in general for the same reasons they believe that government censorship should be forbidden, but doesn't think that it is the government's place to force acceptance of it on private organizations and that is just too nuanced for joe to understand.

  • ||

    "free speech zones" are not a Republican party invention.

    True, but as they've done with spending, entitlement programs, corruption and morally questionable behavior, the Republicans have managed to do "Free Speech Zones" bigger and better than the Democrats could have ever dreamed. Now even the Secret Service is in on the act.

  • ||

    I believe the first "free speech zone" was Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.

    My guess is that this, in turn, arose from it's proximity to the gallows, which stood where Marble Arch now stands. Someone who was about to be hanged presumably could say whatever he chose with impunity, since he was already doomed.

    Mark VIII:

    If you're reading, you are our resident Brit, do you have any real info on this? Is my speculation valid or not?

  • ||

    MattXIV:

    hehe, the funny part was when you expected joe to understand a complex libertarian ideology, instead of boiling it down to a few simplistic soundbytes.

  • ||

    Not to pile on joe, but I'm wondering if he has a response to the smackdown ya'll have given.

    I've found that he sometimes disappears after such events.

    I always give the benefit of the doubt and assume he's just working and can't find the time to post.

    As to the topic at hand: the real point is that, sure, the school probably has the right to suppress anything that it wants, but as another commented, what in the hell is a philosophy chair doing being the one to do the suppression. Ok, maybe it came from on high, and since the grad student's a philo major, that's why it comes from his dept's chair, but still. You'd think good, healthy debate on the issue would be the first thing to happen, then afterwards, if the school still finds it needs to suppress the posted quotation they can still act on it.

    But seriously, what's happened to this country? We are so risk averse it's disgusting.

    Maybe gauis has a point?

  • Mike Laursen||

    They are typically found on college campuses and Republican political events.

    The Democrats have done free speech zones, too:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Democratic_National_Convention#Free_speech_zone

  • Paul||

    Be mistrustful of anyone who says: "no one supports free speech more than I/we, but...[fill in the blank]"

  • ||

    Why are there six people in the photo of the Five Man Electrical Band? Rebellion against the tyranny of numbers or something?

  • Paul||

    At the philosophy department from my humble Univeristy of Idaho, (at least when I went to school there in the early 90's), one of the things they tried to inculcate is all ideas are to be allowed to be expressed. Then one is to apply reason to evaluate said ideas.

    Devils advocate: So he expressed that all ideas shouldn't be expressed. Apply logic and evaluate.

    *ducks*

  • ||

    After being forced to take down the Dave Barry quote, the grad student should have replaced it with this one:

    "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." -- George Washington

    Let them ban that as offensive.

  • ||

    Stevo,

    Or, an even better experiment: post that GW quote, but attribute it to Dave Barry. See if that nerdlinger department chair takes it down again---then, when he's spouting out newsspeak about it being "patently offensive", inform him that you accidentally misattributed the quote, and it was actually our first president who said that.

    Now THAT would be some funny shit.

  • ||

    Joe,

    "An actual libertarian would note that a private university can declare any area of any of its buildings a free speech zone, or not, as the mood strikes them."

    Do actual libertarians always have to attach that disclaimer before they criticize something? I didn't read that in my manual.

    "But, hey, mean, liberal professors! Look!"

    huh?

  • thoreau||

    You know, until I know what transpired in the Department Chair's office, it's hard for me to fault him.

    Oh, don't get me wrong, somebody should be faulted here, probably the person who filed the complaint. But put yourself in the shoes of the Department Chair: Somebody comes into the office, talks about feeling unsafe and saying that this is a hostile environment. Depending on department politics and whether the school is facing any lawsuits over other matters, the Chair may have no choice but to have the sign removed after certain magic words are uttered, especially if one of those words is "lawyer."

    Somebody should be faulted, but let's not assume it's the Chair. A Department Chair is sometimes the designated Bad Guy, the person who has to deliver bad news because somebody else doesn't want to do it.

    I'm not trying to make any excuses for anybody, I'm just saying that the blame should be directed at whoever deserves it, and that person's identity isn't always obvious.

  • Andrew Perraut||

    Stuart is a friend of mine from a summer working at libertarian think tanks in DC. For more information on the story, check out http://distint.blogspot.com

  • ||

    I'm not trying to make any excuses for anybody, I'm just saying that the blame should be directed at whoever deserves it, and that person's identity isn't always obvious.

    While I agree with your sentiments about what we don't know, I beleive that the failure to place ones primary right to free speech above another's desire not to be offended is blameworthy. Hardly the stuff of principled (departmental) ledership. I thought that's that's why they invented tenure afterall.

  • thoreau||

    gaijin-

    Tenure means that a professor can almost never be fired. That's all it means. Department chairs who want resources from the central administration still have to play ball. And if they don't agree to do the dirty work and deliver the ultimatum to a student, (1) the administrators will find somebody else to do it and (2) the Chair will keep his job but he may find his influenced reduced.

    Do I applaud him? No. Some stands are worth taking. But it's quite likely that the Chair was not hostile but rather cowardly.

  • Larry A||

    Be mistrustful of anyone who says: "no one supports free speech more than I/we, but...[fill in the blank]"

    Hence my, "Keep your 'but' off my Bill of Rights" button.

    And I'd hardly call Republican political events bastions of free speech...just speech you happen to like...which is way not the same thing. They're no more or less a free speech zone than any other political event.

    Except that Democrat events on most college campuses don't need free speech zones, as nothing said there is objectionable to the administration.

  • ||

    re: joe

    I thought it had been decided long ago that the Standard Libertarian Disclaimer� wasn't always necessary and was an annoying distraction.

    I also have no problem saying that while they are private and can do whatever they want, that as a libertarian I think they would be better off if they didn't.

  • Paul||

    Somebody comes into the office, talks about feeling unsafe and saying that this is a hostile environment.

    Thoreau, you've touched on a subject which is dear to my heart. I once had a discussion (complete with proof and examples) that often times, draconian rules and laws put forth by a government are often used as leverage by the general populace. I believe that even Solzenitzen made this observation-- that the rules and laws of the tyranny became a tool of every petty citizen to screw with someone they didn't like.

    It is my opinion that with the increase of laws, regulations and what not in our own country are creating a pathway for other citizens to 'get back' or agitate people they disagree with whom they've got a petty beef.

  • ||

    Why are there six people in the photo of the Five Man Electrical Band? Rebellion against the tyranny of numbers or something?

    Comment by: gaijin at October 18, 2006 02:34 PM


    Oh, that's just Victor.

  • Paul||

    Somebody comes into the office, talks about feeling unsafe and saying that this is a hostile environment.

    Thoreau, you've touched on a subject which is dear to my heart. I once had a discussion (complete with proof and examples) that often times, draconian rules and laws put forth by a government are often used as leverage by the general populace. I believe that even Solzenitzen made this observation-- that the rules and laws of the tyranny became a tool of every petty citizen to screw with someone they didn't like.

    It is my opinion that with the increase of laws, regulations and what not in our own country are creating a pathway for other citizens to 'get back' or agitate people they disagree with whom they've got a petty beef.

  • ||

    "Hence my, "Keep your 'but' off my Bill of Rights" button."

    Where can I get one of those?

  • thoreau||

    Paul-

    I agree. These laws can be used by people with axes to grind.

    Imagine if you're the department chair, and somebody who "brings diversity to the department" comes to you and says that the sign on somebody's door creates a "hostile environment", constituting a "verbal assault." If at any point the word "lawyer" is uttered, the department chair has no choice but to remove the sign.

    Tenure means that they can't fire you, but it doesn't mean that they can't impose all sorts of idiotic policies. And a department chair who wants to protect the good faculty and students from idiotic rules must do whatever it takes to prevent The Authorities from conducting a thorough inspection of the department. There's no telling what sort of even more idiotic rules they might impose, as a means of covering their asses.

    So that's what it comes down to: If people way high up have to cover their asses then they'll impose a broad swath of idiotic rules on just about everybody. The only way to prevent that is to make sure that the incident never reaches people way high up. And the best way to make sure the incident never reaches that high level is to cover the department chair's ass by imposing a much smaller (but still idiotic!) rule on a much smaller number of people (i.e. one department, instead of the entire university).

    Sad but true.

    Also, while there's no good excuse for removing the sign, I wonder if this student hadn't perhaps had a history of pissing people off? While some incidents originate entirely from one individual's craziness, other incidents arise when two or more people have some sort of history that escalates until somebody decides to create an incident.

    Moreover, he went to FIRE, which has an interest in over-stating the problems in academia. Their mission statement includes the following:

    The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities.



    Click here for more

    I'm not here to defend PC run amok, but incidents of PC run amok are much less frequent than some would like you to believe. One of the most conservative people that I know just finished his Ph.D. and is now an assistant professor at a good university. He's had complaints about a few things, but he certainly doesn't consider himself to be in a hostile or oppressive environment.

    So the fact that this student went to a group that exaggerates the magnitude of the problems in academia makes me wonder if he didn't go out of his way to piss somebody off. Did he call attention to the sign? Was it part of some running feud, a reference something that had transpired in a face-to-face conversation? To us it seems like a perfectly innocuous quote, but we don't know if there's a context or background that changes things.

    I'm not saying that the sign should have been banned. What I am saying is that:
    1) I assign the bulk of the blame to whoever created the incident, and much less blame to the department chair who covered the department's collective ass.
    2) I want to know if there's a backstory to this. That still isn't any excuse for blowing a sign out of proportion, but it would signify that this is about a personal dispute, rather than somebody taking offense at Dave Barry.
    3) We shouldn't rule out the possibility that the student played a part in creating the incident. He certainly chose questionable allies. Then again, to be fair, it's possible that he simply went to the first allies he could find (which would be understandable).

  • ||

    Marquette grad students get their own offices? With real _doors_??

  • ||

    "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government."

    What a minute... "Offensive?" "Offensive??" THIS IS CONSIDERED "OFFENSIVE???"

    That's it! This country is truly doomed! In the short span of 200 years we gone from musket-weilding minutemen who rallied under the battle cry of "give me liberty or give me death" to limp-wristed wimps who get offended by a somewhat subversive Dave Berry quote.

    The United States Of America. R.I.P.

  • ||

    Hey, gp, MU is a decent school. Right now I'm a bit embarasssed to be an alum, but it's not all about the hoops and beer, though I have fond memories of both.

    I had re-matriculated at MU in the early 80s, and the then-chair of the Political Science Dept., a guy who was in no wise a libertarian, but understood and respected the classical liberal tradition, invited me to arrange a campus visit by David Bergland, who was at the time running for President on the LP ticket. I expect someone at the state or national party level had my name as a posible contact, as I had volunteered on a 1982 congressional campaign and become a dues-paying member of both the LP and LPWI. I received utterly respectful treatment, with the only caveat being that our publicity materials contain a disclaimer that DB's appearance at the school not be construed as an endorsement. Similar invitations, usually hosted by the College Republicans or their Democratic counterparts, were regularly extended to the "major party" candidates, so the University was just playing fair with the non-official candidates, even though we couldn't scrape together enough "Students For Bergland" to become a registered student organization.

    One of my PoliSci professors from back then, John McAdams, is a conservative who has been blogging
    about this nonsense since early September. If you wander around his archives you will find much similar silliness.

    I own, and have read Jim South's Buffy anthology. It's one of a series of books discussing pop culture and philosophy, and is kinda cool, actually.

    Kevin

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