On Aug. 28, philosophy teaching assistant Stuart Ditsler posted the following quote from acclaimed humor columnist and well-known Libertarian, Dave Barry, on the door of his Coughlin Hall office: “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”Ditsler, who holds an undergraduate philosophy degree from Bellarmine University, said that he tacked Barry’s words to his door simply because he “agreed with the sentiment and just put it up.” The quote “was not,” in his opinion, “patently offensive.”
Upon returning to his office a week later, however, Ditsler noticed the quote had been removed from his office door. In its place was an email from the department chair, Dr. James South, explaining the posting’s absence. In the message, Dr. South explained that he had received, according to Ditsler, “multiple complaints from members of the department.” After consulting with colleagues, South decided the quote was inappropriate and asserted that office doors are not “free-speech zones.” South proceeded to tear down the quote.
Ditsler was stunned by the actions of those in the department, calling their decision to go to South before expressing their feelings to Ditsler himself “juvenile.”
“If I were to run to the department chair every time I’ve been offended,” said Ditsler, “I would always be in his office.”
He thought the Barry quote was nothing more than a humorous way of warning citizens against government expansion. “It was hyperbole and not, in any way,” added Ditsler, “meant to be offensive.” He pointed out that others on staff often post political cartoons or opinionated articles, but never illicit such negative reactions. Unsure of how to handle the situation, he contacted a friend who forwarded his story to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit group that investigates restrictions of free speech, particularly in college settings. FIRE expressed great interest in the case and wrote a letter to Marquette’s administration. Officials did not respond promptly, and FIRE issued a press release that set off a firestorm of debate across the country.
Ditsler said he got into philosophy after reading several works by Ayn Rand, the famous twenteith century objectivist author and proponent of capitalism. Although he considers himself a Libertarian by label, he prefers using the term “capitalist” to describe his political philosophy.
After choosing Marquette’s graduate philosophy program almost solely on the basis of a university financial aid package, he expressed significant discontent toward the program. Even though he said he cannot speak for the university as a whole, he described the philosophy department as “intellectually boring” and suffering from “a symptom of academia everywhere being overtaken by political correctness.”
He also felt that “we have to be careful about everything we say in discussion,” and that some faculty members “feel we should be protected from unique or non-politically correct viewpoints, and I disagree with that.” Ditsler asserted that “the culture of academia is such that, regardless of a complaint’s merit, we must crack down on free speech.”
Many in opposition to the quote defended the actions of the philosophy department, pointing out that a private institution has every right to remove material that is inconsistent with its identity and mission. Additionally, Ditsler was quick to point out “it’s not fair to judge Marquette as a whole based on this one incident.” He also defended the “unfairly portrayed” actions of Dr. South. “I understand,” added Ditsler, “that he was in a difficult position and he consulted with others. He did what he felt was right.”
Marquette has since issued a statement regarding the controversy which Ditsler feels is “very dissatisfying,” but not surprising given “political correctness here is enforced with such a heavy hand.”
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