Censorship, corruption as College bends to outside pressure

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February 8, 2008

5:54 PM

This week the College suffered at the hands of nearly every leader we have. Though the Sex Workers’ Art Show received overwhelming endorsement from our community — the Student Assembly voted to fund it, nearly two dozen student groups joined to host it, and the vast majority of voices on campus called out in support of it — the leaders of the College have opposed it and, in doing so, opposed the College community itself.

The opposition has taken many forms. College President Gene Nichol disparaged the College’s choice to host the Art Show on a tour that includes Duke and Wesleyan Universities: “I wish that the show were not coming to the College.”

p. Nichol severely censored the show, forbidding nudity though nudity is central to the show’s artistic discussion. He banned photography, thus censoring both the show and the students in attendance.

p. The Board of Visitors allowed Nichol’s censorship and is thus complicit. Rector Michael Powell hinted that the BOV may restrict what students can choose to bring to campus with our own money, citing “the need to develop a more coherent policy involving the allocation of limited College resources.”

p. But the worst has been Virginia’s General Assembly. Four members of the Board of Visitors, already appointed but awaiting the legislative approval traditionally no more than a rubber stamp, must now stand before the GA to, according to the Virginia Gazette, “be grilled” on the Art Show. Delegates “want to ask the candidates some ‘pointed questions’ about their views on Monday’s Sex Workers’ Art Show” as well as, surprise surprise, the Wren cross.

p. The GA’s worst crime is not in meddling in the College’s day-to-day affairs, but in creating an ideological “test” on personal political views. The BOV members know an honest answer to this public test may prevent them from rejoining the Board, an implicit threat akin to the loyalty tests of the Spanish Inquisition. But the GA is not seeking out Protestants — potential BOV members tolerant of free speech are the subjects of this political tribunal.
Why this backslide into censorship and witch-hunting? After all, this is the Art Show’s third visit, never before with this insanity. What drove our leaders to create what Art Show founder and director Annie Oakley called “a more arduous and degrading experience than anything in the sex industry”?

p. The reason is an absurd one. The sole motivation is the vitriol spewed forth from a handful of extremists, few of whom have a damn thing to do with the College or our community.

p. This tiny group — mostly over-emotional locals and distantly removed alumni still bitter over the Wren cross — has succeeded in swaying our leaders from Williamsburg to Richmond.

p. Should a three-century-old academic institution be guided neither by academics nor students, but rather by a smattering of overwrought ideologues with no investment other than their own selfish pride? Are the voices most valued those neither of wisdom nor reason but of volume?

p. So begins the ruinous precedent that decisions be made not in regard for students and professors, the members of the academic community that will bear those decisions, but only to appease those self-righteous few.

p. The priorities have been set: minimize criticism first, respect the self-rule of the institution second. Because the ideologues lack the tact or discipline for any but the shrillest tones, College leadership allows them to overpower the College community. Our so-called leadership has become an instrument in the corruption of the very institution they are charged to safeguard.

p. For corruption is not the viewing of a show that acknowledges the existence of the world’s oldest profession, predominant in both books of the Bible. Corruption is not the glorification of the human form, an artistic tradition including Michaelangelo’s “David,” the Venus de Milo, “Ulysses.” Corruption is not the discourse of new, diverse ideas.

p. Corruption is the censorship of that discourse and those ideas because they are new, because they are diverse. Corruption is breaking all the principles of free expression simply because a small group of meddling ideologues find that expression distasteful. Corruption is the willful cessation of academic thought.

p. Our leaders have taken the first step in yielding control to a small group of meddlesome extremists who lack the knowledge, the experience and the right to lay their hands on our education.
If our leaders lack the strength to lead on Jeffersonian principles of free discourse and expression in the face of retrogressive agitation, then they should not abandon that leadership to the agitators, as they have done, but to the students and professors who stand to suffer by their cowardice.

p. __Max Fisher is a senior at the College.__

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