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PHILIP ROSS WRITES TO condemn what he says was a speech made by John Bobbitt on the George Washington University campus after a recent showing of a porn flick—an event Ross says is the equivalent of making Bobbitt an “adjunct faculty member” (The Mail, 7/7). As a major spokesperson for those who opposed canceling both this film and various speakers because of protests from small groups of students, let me briefly respond.
First, so far as I know, Bobbitt didn’t speak or even personally attend. Certainly no speech was advertised, nor was it reported in articles about the event which appeared immediately afterwards. Since I, like most members of the audience, walked out in the middle after we had seen how well a “writ of attachment” was able to correct a “severance” (as a law professor might delicately put it), I can’t swear that he didn’t show up at the last minute and address a dwindling audience—but I very much doubt it.
Second, if the student group which organized the showing of the film had scheduled him (or even Mike Tyson) as a speaker, I and others on the campus who support academic freedom would have supported that decision. Our campus has had speakers who condemned as well as supported homosexuality, who argued for as well as against the suppression of pornography, and who have taken strong stands on many controversial issues. Indeed, I was the moderator of a spirited discussion of the “PC” movement, affirmative action, and related issues.
Permitting student groups to choose for themselves without faculty interference to bring to the campus speakers who advocate points of view on a controversial topic—regardless of their lack of objectivity or academic competence —is the essence of academic freedom. It gives members of the student body the freedom to choose whether or not to attend, and whether and to what extent to give credence to the views of the individual. This is very different from the university selecting even an adjunct member of the faculty, where competence, knowledge, fairness, and other like qualities should be evaluated.
Professor of Public Interest Law, George Washington University, Foggy Bottom