Journeying back to the land of censorship

| Staff Columnist

Remember that part in “The Odyssey” when Odysseus returns to Ithaca and finds that everything has changed, up to the suitors prancing around like 50-year-old men at a prostate exam, legs clinched and manliness on full showcase? Well, I journeyed back to my old high school last weekend, voyage unimpeded by one-eyed monsters and evil whirlpools, to find young Telemachus under the authority of evil, ultraconservative men who would like nothing more than to corrupt Odysseus’ kingdom and take his sweet Penelope.

Sorry…I’ve been reading a lot of Greek literature lately, and I needed a slightly relevant lede.

Though at press time I find myself childless, I felt almost paternalistic and most definitely outraged when I returned to my high school and discovered the state of censorship that had fallen. I had a chance to talk to my old newspaper adviser, only to find out that my old principal, against whom the Vernois News staff and I fought for free speech for two years, censored another portion of the newspaper and has now voiced his disapproval of the teaching of “Of Mice and Men.”

I can’t believe he’s gone back to bleeping spots out of the paper. I almost feel like being here has made me forget what that time in my education was like when I had to worry about what the authority might think of what I have to say, which is something that should not be forgotten.

I was censored four times in my last two years of high school by this man, as were the works of other students. This time, the principal struck the entire artistic section out of the paper because of “questionable” photos of a graveyard. What’s wrong with a graveyard? Furthermore, the idea of cutting “Of Mice and Men” from the curriculum is ridiculous. While it may have some issues with violence and language, it is still a classic that reveals to the reader a little glimpse of some of life’s truths.

I write this not to give a 600-word complaint about my old high school, though, but rather to remind us that there is a world out there that is not as free to speak and read and write as they would like. So often we get caught up in the Wash. U. bubble that we don’t realize how lucky we are.

Where are those professors who try to prevent you from saying what you want to say? Where is that editor who will not let you run a column because of “questionable” content? For the most part, you will not find those people here.

We need to see that we are now in an empowered position to speak out about what we don’t think is right, especially if it is a case of censorship. My high school paper can’t speak out against the closed-mindedness of their principal’s cuts because he is the ultimate authority on what is printed in our school’s paper. I, on the other hand, can.

I am no longer hindered by him, just as many of you are no longer inhibited by some administrator who kept you from expressing your opinion. As a result, we have a responsibility to speak out against this sort of control. So, I will.

To high school students (and even to the administrators who insist on monitoring your reading and writing), I want to assure you that there is a real world where you can write and draw and express yourselves in the manner in which you know you should be able to.

I am by no means Odysseus, but I, just like you, can be an advocate for those who feel like their opinions aren’t being heard, or even those who feel they are being silenced. All it took was one man to string his bow and shoot an arrow that made Penelope’s oppressors run away.

Mike Hirshon | Student Life

Mike Hirshon | Student Life

  • PS to my comment above: I have always wanted to send a thank you note to Professor Wendy Doniger, without sounding sycophantic or opportunistic. Now that I have nothing to gain and nothing to lose, I can say “thank you” for setting me on my current path.

  • Chancellor Wrighton in his 2004 Commencement Address thanked the Student Worker Alliance for reminding us to treat our workers better than we do. He could have said “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains” if he had so pleased. He has the privilege to speak freely, within limits set for him by those holding the purse strings. Perhaps a quote from Karl Marx would serve to redwash an anti-union labor policy.

    Professor Katz of the Physics Department posted to his website some views on gay rights that many found objectionable. The University Administration endorsed his right to speak freely as a “public intellectual” on matters unrelated to his duties as physics professor, and even went so far as to encourage others to speak out, as long as nothing libelous is said. Was the University really endorsing his free speech rights, or his privilege as a tenured professor in a Department unlikely to be cut? His website was kept online, but the University’s own website flagged it as offensive to the community, though tolerated. Professor Katz became a poster boy for free speech, really privilege of rank. (By the way, I made a point not to read his comments, lest it affect my ability to defend his right to speak freely, which I did repeatedly, on my own website and later on Facebook).

    When Professor of South Asian History Satadru Sen made some controversial remarks after the 9/11 attacks, and alumni threatened to boycott the school, he was called before a public panel to defend himself. The University defended his right to make off the cuff remarks, on letterhead if he wished, but even so, he was put on the hot seat, and later denied tenure. One of our mutual students, who defended him, objected to a link on my website to an article by Rajiv Malhotra, “The Wendy’s Child Syndrome,” critiquing the dominance of South Asian Religious Studies by the students of Wendy Doniger, and their alleged lack of respect for Hindu cultural values. She informed me that I should at least have flagged the article as “fundamentalist” instead of posting it without comment. I saw no reason to do so. I was inspired to choose s career teaching South Asian Religion by an undergraduate course taught by Professor Doniger, and I had the library buy all her books (when I came here in 1999, they had only one). I have been her biggest booster on this campus. Why can’t I post a link to one of her fiercest critics, without a politically correct disclaimer?

    If I were Wrighton or Katz, i would have the privilege of free speech. I could even say “scab.”

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    (NOT “Former Lecturer,” thank you very much, Student Life)

    “Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all.”
    –The Internationale, Billy Bragg version

  • “By my father’s standards, this is a scab university,” I wrote in a Telesis discussion blog for my Freshman Focus Seminar, Spring 2005. Within minutes, all my Telesis sites were blocked with a pink screen and an ominous reference to the Judicial Inquiry Office. The sites were back online in a few hours, and the next day, when I consulted a member of the IT staff about an unrelated issue, she volunteered, “Well, if it’s for a class…” Did somebody rat on me, or is there a robotic filter to prevent us from saying “scab”?

    We have censorship here in the WashU Bubble, just as you do in your high school. Most is more subtle than the incident I describe. Too often, we censor ourselves.

    At least your high school principal is open about what he is doing. This may make it easier to confront.’

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    per veritatem vis