A university is once again resorting to censorship in order to safeguard the delicate feelings of a bunch of fragile little snowflakes—who just happen to work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
American University is removing a statue of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents, because the FBI Agents Association considers it offensive. Supporters of Peltier contend that he was wrongly convicted and believe the federal government should grant him clemency. The statue, which sits outside AU's Katzen Arts Center, was intended to raise political awareness about Peltier's situation.
In a press release, FBIAA President Thomas O'Connor wrote that his organization supports free speech, but:
With that right comes a responsibility to consider the consequences of speech. AU should not use its property to celebrate the man convicted of murdering FBI Special Agents Coler and Williams, nor should AU have announced the display of the statute by disseminating misleading propaganda from activists supporting Peltier.
University officials don't need much of an excuse to take action against troublesome political expression, and so they caved almost immediately.
"The nature and location of the piece called into question our ability to honor our responsibilities to ensure the security of the art and the safety of our community," said an AU spokesperson, according to NBC.
No one's safety is actually threatened by the statute, of course—it's a statue. When university administrators talk about safety, they actually mean comfort. It no doubt irks some people that a statue of a convicted killer is allowed to stand on outdoor property, but then again, it irks some other people that a man they believe is innocent has languished behind bars for decades.
I know absolutely nothing about the Peltier case (though the debate over whether he was wrongly convicted seems legitimate). But I do know that free expression is supposed to be hallmark value of a university campus. If political advocacy is only permitted to the extent that no one is offended by it, then all students' basic free speech rights are in danger.
Lastly, I presume the students who wanted the Peltier display installed in the first place are left-leaning. There's an irony here, given that left-leaning students at universities around the country are often the ones demanding that administrators censor speakers, works of art, and—very particularly—statues of people with problematic pasts. Live by the campaign to remove Thomas Jefferson's likeness from outdoor spaces, die by the campaign to remove Thomas Jefferson's likeness from public spaces.
But this irony should not detract from a larger point: It's troubling to see a university rushing to protect the feelings of FBI agents, to the detriment of free expression on campus.