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Archive for Saturday, March 7, 1992

SATURDAY COLUMN

March 7, 1992

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Time and time again, former Kansas University Chancellor Franklin Murphy used to talk about a university being a "free marketplace of ideas." Others have used similar terms to point out one of the unique features of a university is that it offers an environment where differing ideas and thoughts can be expressed and debated in an open, uncensored manner.

Of course, there are limits in what "free speech" means with the hypothetical yelling of "fire" in a crowded classroom being a case in which "free speech" is not relevant. Also, there is the matter of taste and sensitivity, but even so, a university should be the last place where restrictions or guidelines are placed on free speech.

This being the case, it is disappointing, although perhaps not too surprising, to learn there are some in responsible positions at Kansas University who would like to draft guidelines on what kinds of speech would be acceptable at KU.

NO SUCH policy should even be considered by KU bodies or committees.

Although some might suggest this is carrying the free speech issue to an extreme, would those at KU who favor placing limits on "acceptable speech" also think it proper to establish some kind of a committee to approve which books would be allowed in the university's libraries? How about being able to censor the university's newspaper and other university-related publications?

Should certain types of entertainment be barred from the campus and should the policy be applied to plays staged by those in the KU theater and drama department?

There certainly was reason to wonder about the correctness or good taste of bringing a show to KU last spring in which a number of men and women were totally naked on the stage, but should a screening committee be established to make sure speech, books, stage plays, etc., all meet some kind of a KU free speech litmus test?

The resolution being considered at KU noted the university encourages free speech except that speech deemed "only to threaten violence, property damage or lawless action" and that which has "no essential part of any exposition of ideas and (is) of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from (it) is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality."

THIS MAY seem reasonable and sound to some, but it is the first step toward even greater censorship. A person may not like what another person is saying and may disagree with what is being said, but at a university, of all places, it would seem most faculty members and students would realize a person has the right to express his or her ideas.

There seems to be such an effort these days to be "politically correct" or "socially correct," and people are afraid of offending someone or making someone feel bad. Apparently, this is the reasoning being used by some at KU who have been pushing for a curb on free speech. They say they are worried about what they claim are a rising number of verbal attacks based on sexual preferences, race, ethnicity and/or other traits or characteristics.

It is difficult to argue against such thinking, and few people would champion verbal abuse, but it is wrong to call for censorship to cure or eliminate the problem.

Although not pleasant, it is far better to have the infrequent cases of verbal abuse rather than to impose a censorship policy. Who is to be the judge as to what is insensitive, improper or abusive?

There is no place for a censorship policy at KU.

IN ANOTHER KU-related matter, it is unfortunate university officials were so active in encouraging Lawrence city officials to pass a city law against open containers of alcoholic beverages. In the matter discussed above, few individuals favor abusive speech, but this should not justify censorship. Likewise, few people favor drunkenness, but is it necessary to make it illegal for possession or consumption of an open container of cereal malt beverage or liquor (this surely also includes wine) to control this situation?

City and university officials want to make it easier to arrest those who are drinking in public areas. According to some at KU, this effort was aimed primarily to control crowd behavior (mainly students) in situations such as at celebrations on the KU campus following Jayhawk athletic victories.

A university official said he wanted the stiffer policy in order to control and/or arrest visitors who come to the KU campus who are not subject to the policies of the university.

THIS IS aimed directly at those alumni and friends of the university who enjoy "tailgate" gatherings before KU football games. One way or another, other schools in the Big Eight conference and professional organizations such as the Kansas City Chiefs have been able to figure out ways to allow tailgate parties with "open containers." KU officials, however, have been unable to deal with this situation. A few years ago, officers patrolled various parking areas around Memorial Stadium, and if arrests were not made, those with "open containers" were warned and/or the open containers were confiscated or emptied on the ground.

It was a sure, guaranteed way for the university and its athletic department to alienate friends and alumni of the university.

At a time when KU officials, both those in Allen Fieldhouse and in Strong Hall, are trying to encourage greater attendance at KU football games, the university promotes a policy to discourage fans from coming to games at KU.

GRANTED, THE football game itself should be and is the attraction, but at the same time, well-mannered, well-controlled "tailgating" is a side attraction that can add to the overall enjoyment of a trip to Lawrence for a football game. And a good number of responsible, mature adults do like to enjoy a beer or glass of wine with their tailgate fixings.

Getting to Memorial Stadium is hard enough as it is, and the city could do a great deal more to make it far easier for out-of-town motorists to get to the stadium. Now, the city and university are combining efforts to discourage many out-of-town visitors from coming early, enjoying the city and campus and having a tailgate party.

It will be interesting to see what happens and how many arrests are made on game days next fall in the areas where alumni and friends gather outside Memorial Stadium.

It looks like a classic case of an overkill action to try to control and monitor a relatively minor problem. The only winners in this new policy are Lawrence bars and restaurants where beer and alcoholic beverages are sold and where football fans, who want a beer or alcoholic drink with their meal, may gather before a game.

KU certainly isn't the winner.

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