What Did President Celeste Really Think About The Monthly Bag?
April 16, 2008
In my piece examining Colorado College President Dick Celeste's blog entry about his administration's censorship of the satirical "Monthly Bag" newsletter and the punishment of its authors, I asserted that Celeste didn't really believe that there was any violence threatened by the flyer. I wrote:
I am trying to follow Celeste's thought process on this. He has a flyer that he has decided is threatening because it talks about guns and chainsaws and sex and whatnot. So in order to get to the bottom of this and figure out who on campus is ready to make Colorado College the next NIU is...to e-mail everyone and ask the potential snipers to come forward? Do people engaged in a criminal conspiracy usually come forward if you send them an e-mail asking them to?
Remember that Chris Robinson and his friend were, according to Dean of Students Mike Edmonds, found guilty of "violating the student code of conduct policy on violence." All the evidence suggests that the entire "violence" reasoning on which the censorship and punishment of Chris Robinson and his friend is based is a complete fabrication. Below I have reprinted the e-mail that Celeste sent out to all Colorado College students shortly after the discovery of "The Monthly Bag." Take a look:
From: Messages of Immediate concern on behalf of FLASH President
Sent: Thu 28/02/2008 15:30
Subject: Anonymous Flyers - February 28, 2008
I am writing to convey my dismay and disgust in discovering that anonymous flyers entitled "The Monthly Bag" have been posted around campus, including in men's and women's bathroom stalls. I am concerned for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that this activity was undertaken without personal accountability by the authors. The flyers include threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community. I invite the "Coalition of Some Dudes" to identify themselves and to take responsibility for posting this material.
Together we have a responsibility to foster a safe and engaging educational environment. It is my hope that we can find appropriate avenues to discuss how gender impacts our experience of the world and one another. As those opportunities present themselves, I hope you will join in participating and sharing your views. Vigorous debate is welcome. Anonymous acts meant to demean and intimidate others are not.
Celeste claims that he is experiencing "dismay and disgust" about the flyers. He then talks about his concerns. Does he mention violence? Not really. The first concern he expresses is that the posters were posted "without personal accountability by the authors." For shame! As I pointed out in my last entry on this, the Federalist Papers were also published without personal accountability by the authors (anonymity was seen as a virtue in that readers could better judge the publication on its merits). As real concerns go, this simply is not legitimate.
In the next sentence, Celeste does manage to say that he found the flyers "threatening," but this is immediately followed by "demeaning" and a statement that these features are both unacceptable in the community. I'll tell you what: I would rather be credibly demeaned by someone than credibly threatened. To imply that demeaning a person and threatening a person are problems of approximately equal weight can mean only two things: (1) the person claiming this equivalency is so lacking in awareness that they believe pointing a gun at someone is the same as calling them stupid, or (2) the meaning of the term "threat" has become so weak that a "threat" might not be a threat at all, but rather a remark that makes someone uncomfortable—for whatever reason. I cannot believe that Celeste is that lacking in awareness as to believe number one above, so I have to assume that he is willing to consider just about anything a "threat" if someone tells him that he or she finds it threatening. This does not say much for the college president's judgment.
Finally, as I pointed out before, he asks the "Coalition of Some Dudes" to come forward and then makes some noises about how he welcomes debate. It is self-evidently untrue that he and Colorado College welcome debate, since apparently they can't even handle a satirical flyer—how in the world would they handle a full-fledged debate? And the fact that Celeste thinks that an e-mail will bring the "threatening" people forward—which it did—also goes a long way towards indicating just how much "violence" Colorado College feared as a result of the flyer. Answer: not much. If you're really afraid of violence, especially in the wake of the campus shootings Celeste professes to be so concerned about, you call the police. If you just want to shut people up, you call them on the carpet. Celeste did the latter, which gives you a sense of his real motivations.
Colorado College has been engaging in sophistry of the worst sort ever since "The Monthly Bag" became an issue. It could not be more obvious that the reaction to the flyer was wholly driven by politics and not by a real concern for students. The facts indicate that Celeste and the Colorado College administration don't care to have their Feminism and Gender Studies Program mocked, and they are willing to trample all over the very rights they guarantee in order to dissuade other from getting any such ideas. (Even this failed, by the way, as the second issue of "The Monthly Bag" published by the new "Coalition of Some Other Dudes" makes clear.) It is morally shameful for them to cloak their desire to force people they don't agree with to shut up by saying it's part of their "responsibility to foster a safe and engaging educational environment." And it is galling to know that they are willing to brand students innocent of any real offense as violent offenders simply to placate their political allies on campus. If you need an example of the shocking lack of moral sensibility and even common decency that permeates all too many college and university administrations these days, well, now you have it.