Exhibit And Panel Explore History Of Freedom Of Expression On Campus

Published: Aug. 21, 1997

An exhibit exploring the history of free speech and censorship at the University of Colorado at Boulder opens Friday, Aug. 22, at Norlin Library in conjunction with a year-long initiative on civility and censorship by the campus’s new Center for Humanities and the Arts.

The exhibit ties in with the center’s inaugural event for the 1997-98 academic year, a panel presentation on “Civility, Censorship and CU: A Celebration of George Norlin and the Cause of Free Speech.’’

The presentation will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in Old Main Chapel. Admission is free and open to the public.

The panel will address issues of civility and censorship throughout the history of the campus as well as the broader community, beginning with an account of former CU President George Norlin’s stand against a Ku Klux Klan attempt to purge Catholics and Jews from the university in the 1920s.

The presenters will be David Hawkins, distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy; Peter Knox, professor of classics; and Peter Michelson, professor of English. Warren Motte, interim director of the Center for Humanities and the Arts, will serve as moderator.

The exhibit, which will be on display at the library’s east and west entrances through Sept. 8, explores freedom of expression and censorship on campus from Norlin’s time through the 1960s debate over whether to allow Students for a Democratic Society to hold its national convention on campus, to the 1990s, when controversy erupted after former CU football coach Bill McCartney made public statements opposing homosexuality during a press conference on campus.

“Various (CU) presidents -- Norlin, Stearns, Darley, Newton, Smiley and Rautenstraus -- displayed courage by putting themselves in uncomfortable and vulnerable political positions in defense of the faculty’s academic freedom and on behalf of the university as a forum for ideas,’’ said David Hays, an instructor in the library’s Archives Department, who helped put together the historical exhibit with research associate Melissa Gray.

“At the same time, during the period of in loco parentis (before 1968, universities acted “in the place of parents’’) the university administration and faculty exercised considerable intervention in student affairs,’’ Hays said.

In addition, from 1924 through 1965, various student publications were censored, warned or dropped by CU’s Board of Publications due to public complaints about their political, sexual, irreverant or satirical content. It was the perception statewide that the publications represented not only student opinion but that of the university as a whole, Hays said.

The Center for Humanities and the Arts adopted the theme, “Civility and Censorship: Critical Conversation in a Civil Society,’’ last spring for its 1997-98 series of interdisciplinary activities. The theme grew out of a widespread call for a return to civility in public life, as well as a concern that legitimate differences of opinion and perspective not be censored in the name of civility.

“There is a tendency to define critical speech as uncivil speech,’’ said associate professor Christopher Braider, outgoing co-director of the center. “But we shouldn’t do that. Just as we need to find a way of speaking that acknowledges the perspective, the rights and the sensibilities of the people to whom we speak, we also need to develop a way of listening that is able to distinguish between incivility and messages that we’re not eager to hear.”

Other activities organized by the center include a year-long seminar bringing a group of faculty and students together for readings and discussion to be presented as part of a colloquium next spring, and speakers, performers and art exhibits.