A college is meant to be a place to discuss ideas and to examine ideologies, even when those ideas or ideologies are uncomfortable. This is a vital part of the learning process, and the apology written by Vice President of Student Affairs Eliseo “Cheo” Torres hampers that operation.
Torres wrote that the University was apologizing because “ ... the initiative did not have ... close enough supervision to prevent the inclusion of topics that are sensational and controversial.”
On a college campus why would members of the administration want to prevent such topics? Clearly, the school believes in the free exchange of ideas, or at least it does according to Policy 2220 of the Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual:
“The exchange of diverse viewpoints may expose people to ideas some find offensive, even abhorrent. The way that ideas are expressed may cause discomfort to those who disagree with them. The appropriate response to such speech is speech expressing opposing ideas and continued dialogue, not curtailment of speech.”
Unfortunately, there was no discussion to express opposite beliefs; there was only sudden withdrawal of support from the Women’s Resources Center. In essence, the administration abandoned WRC director Summer Little and her staff when they were doing what the University wanted: creating an open dialogue to lift taboos and ultimately reduce sexual assaults on campus.
And yet, after the president’s office received 40 complaints — most from parents of students — UNM issued a statement that effectively halted the topic by shifting focus from awareness, safety and consent to one dominated by whether taboo subjects should be broached on campus.
Never mind that a majority of the school’s 28,000 students had little to say about the “Sex Week” workshops; never mind that the average age of students at UNM is 24. Forty angry parents were enough to cause the University to shy away from a difficult topic.
This also raises the question of academic freedom and free speech. In the apology, Torres also states “We will do a better job in the future of vetting and selecting programs offered through campus groups.”
This is, at best, a loaded statement. While on its face, academic freedom applies to faculty in the classroom, it seems as though it should equally apply to campus offices that were created by the University to facilitate learning, like the WRC.
Further, to say that UNM will better review the offerings of student groups is a slippery slope. By whose definition would the school propose to use in deciding what is and is not “sensational and controversial?”
The Israel-Palestine Conflict is certainly controversial; should speakers and presentations on that be reconsidered? What about topics about race, sexuality or medical marijuana? Should the University prevent practitioners of any religion from handing out scripture, pamphlets or even water bottles on campus? And then there’s politics; that’s rife with controversy too.
The fact is that sex is a controversial topic. Everyone has hang-ups, beliefs and experiences that affect their views. However, not supporting frank dialogue about all of its many aspects invites misinformation, abuse and negative circumstances.
In the end, the important thing is to remember what UNM President Bob Frank said in the article “Frank urged to divest from fuel companies” just two days ago: “We’re a university; we’re a place where you should talk about hard ideas.”
We agree, President Frank.