David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy has been assiduously tracking a developing censorship debacle at Penn State. The case involves a student art exhibit that has been deemed too controversial to be displayed in the School of Visual Arts. The student, Joshua Stulman received an email from the university charging that his exhibit on the culture of Palestinian terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue." The university's stance amounts to outright denial of student expression on the basis of its content. This sort of thing smacks of a university "speech code." (The majority of these policies were deflated in federal courts during the 1990's.)

But Penn State has changed its tune, maintaining instead that Stulman's exhibit was rejected because of its "commercial" nature. The school refuses to show exhibits with outside sponsorship. In this case, the "commercial" argument comes into play because Hillel has offered a paltry sum ($75-$100) for refreshments following the opening.

Stulman has the evidence on his side: an email containing the obvious language of censorship. It seems, then, that the university's argument falls flat. But even so, I think there's a problem with the university's stance. I can understand the "commercial" exhibit proviso. No one wants college art to become political football. But I think the policy must know some limits. If Hillel (or any nonpartisan, student, or otherwise "small" organization) wants to help out by buying a few snacks, I don't think there's a problem. The university needs a more substantive approach to hashing out these decisions. Above all, what it needs, however, is to stop couching censorship in the language of "diversity" or institutional impartiality. Stulman's exhibit may not echo the sentiments of the university, or for that matter, many of the people who view it. But this is a good thing The future of academia depends on more victories for intellectually honest people like Stulman and fewer for the academic thought police.

Daniel Corbett