What Fresh Hell Is This?

May 3, 2013

CMU Apologizes - But For The Wrong Thing

Let's start here, with the Tribune-Review:
Lance: To CMU. Its College of Fine Arts allowed a woman to march in its spring carnival parade naked from the waist down. Her pubic hair was shaved in the shape of a cross. Her top attire was described as “a papal parody.” Many, naturally, took offense. We're all for free expression. But by any standard, this was tasteless.[Bolding in original.]
Not much here to fact-check except to point out the conflicting message from the braintrust. They're saying that:
  • We're all for free expression, but
  • ...this was tasteless and so
  • CMU deserves a LANCE for "allowing" the young woman to march thusly dressed and thusly shaved.
See the conflict? If you are, in deed, "all for free expression" then even if the presentation is "tasteless" no lance is deserved.

Which is why the apology from CMU President Jared Cohon fails.  An astute reader sent me a copy of the text.  Here it is:
To the Carnegie Mellon Community:

I am writing to you about the incident that occurred during Spring Carnival, in which a student appeared in a parade partially nude and portraying herself as the Pope. This act was highly offensive and, as we have said, the university has been investigating the matter and following our procedures to determine if disciplinary action is warranted.

I had not intended to communicate with you again until our review process was complete, but in light of comments I have heard from people on and off campus, I have decided that an update is in order. In particular, some people seem to equate limited communication with no action, believing that the university is doing nothing, and somehow hoping that the issue will just go away. This is not the case, and those who know me and my administration should reject such ideas out of hand.

We have procedures for a reason: to protect both the university's interests and those accused of violating our community standards or policies. We will take the time necessary to discharge our responsibility to treat those involved fairly.

While our process is still in motion and I cannot comment on or speculate about the resolution of the matter, I can apologize to those who took particular offense. I regret that this occurred, and I apologize to all who were offended by this, for religious or other reasons, and especially to those who witnessed this behavior.

Jared L. Cohon
Carnegie Mellon University
A few things to note - more than half is devoted to communicating the idea that CMU is still in the process of looking at the incident and reassuring the public that "limited communication" does not equal "no action."

It's the apology that seems somehow incomplete.  While acknowledging that he found the naked she-pope with the crucifix pubes to have been offensive (apologizing to anyone else who found her actions offensive), he utterly fails to defend or even acknowledge CMU's own policy on free expression.  Here it is:
Carnegie Mellon University values the freedoms of speech, thought, expression and assembly - in themselves and as part of our core educational and intellectual mission. If individuals are to cherish freedom, they must experience it. The very concept of freedom assumes that people usually choose wisely from a range of available ideas and that the range and implications of ideas cannot be fully understood unless we hold vital our rights to know, to express, and to choose. The university must be a place where all ideas may be expressed freely and where no alternative is withheld from consideration. The only limits on these freedoms are those dictated by law and those necessary to protect the rights of other members of the University community and to ensure the normal functioning of the University.
In the following section labeled "Rights" we see what limits the policy describes.  Here's what people are allowed to do:
  • Anyone may distribute printed material
  • Offer petitions for signature
  • Make speeches
  • Hold protests or demonstrations outside university buildings.
However, there are some limits:
  • All such activities must be peaceful, avoiding acts or credible threats of violence and preserving the normal operation of the university
  • No event shall infringe upon the rights or privileges of anyone not in sympathy with it
  • No one will be permitted to harm others, damage or deface property, block access to university buildings or disrupt classes
So other than the naked from public nudity part, nothing she did violated CMU's stated policy on free expression.

So what was the apology for?

For offending a church?  For offending members of that church?  For offending the people holding some sincerely held beliefs regarding any other church, its deity or its doctrine?

Sorry, that just not good enough to warrant any (ANY) sort of sanctions against nudis femina cum decalvetur pubes however tasteless her actions might have been.

Democracy is messy.  Free speech is messy.  If you want to "cherish freedom" then you have to accept that sometimes some people are going to say some things that are offensive.  That's one of the costs of a truly free society.

As Vic Walczek is quoted at the Trib:
“One of the things that are troubling about this is the calls for punishment because she offended the leader of a religious group,” Walczak said. “Free speech means nobody is above criticism, from the president to the pope.”
Liberum oratio in saecula 



Heir to the Throne said...

So what was the apology for?

How about this Free Expression that offended the Feminists?

Wisconsin sorority girls disrupt performance of ‘The Vagina Monologues’

UW-Madison officials have opened not one but two investigations of the incident. The judicial board for Greek life and a university committee on student organizations committee are both on the case.

Actors in the play are now seeking a public apology from the Thetas as well

Dayvoe said...

Before Slosh gets a chance to, let me: