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Acadmic freedom and common sense

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

I have followed with interest through The Observer’s excellent coverage the controversy respecting “The Vagina Monologues” and the Queer Film Festival and would like to note with gratitude the note of uncommon good sense introduced by Meaghan Garvey in her letter of Feb. 1. I suspect that if everyone who has not read the Monologues remained silent, the volume of the debate would strikingly diminish and its substance markedly improve. I suppose most might agree that academic freedom of broad scope is of central importance. So, too, is maintenance of the University’s Catholic character; and accordingly there must be limits to academic freedom, but close cases should be resolved in its favor. Accordingly, where there is tension, proper resolution depends on the facts of the particular case. I’m not sure much more can usefully be said in terms of guiding principles – though a great deal more certainly is being said.

For my part, I supposed that the fuss over the Monologues was probably unwarranted – until I read the play. Then the question became, for me, not open to reasonable debate. Violence against women is but a footnote – just a handful of pages. The body of the play is a paean, couched in the most graphic language in the relevant lexicon, to illicit sex of all varieties short of bestiality (including sexual seduction of a minor by an adult). Strip those passages, and there is no play. If the University may not exercise control respecting this play, it is hard to imagine any meaningful bounds to academic freedom.

As to the Festival, one should know not simply the films, but, more importantly, the public stance of the panelists and the messages they brought. I know something of the former and can reasonably infer the latter; but to discuss this would unduly extend this letter and perhaps blur my purpose, which is simply to commend Garvey’s comments for your readers’ consideration.

William DempseyalumniClass of 1952Feb. 7