Two words. At Bucknell University, that’s all it takes to get dragged into the President’s Office for a half-hour discussion of word choice. And these aren’t offensive words, at least not out here in the real world. But Bucknell apparently has a different definition of what is and is not acceptable.
On August 29th, the Bucknell University Conservatives Club sent out a campus-wide e-mail announcing an upcoming speaker: Major John Krenson, who had been in Afghanistan “hunting terrorists.” Those two words–“hunting terrorists”–resulted in three students being called to Bucknell’s Office of the President by Kathy Owens, the Executive Assistant to the President.
According to the students, when they arrived at the President’s Office for the meeting, Ms. Owens held up a print-out of the offending e-mail and said “we have a problem here,” telling the students that the words “hunting terrorists” were offensive. For the next half-hour, the three students were given a lecture on inappropriate phrasing.(When contacted, Ms. Owens did acknowledge that the meeting took place, but refused to answer any questions about what transpired. She did not deny the account of the students.) Last year, while collecting footage for my upcoming film Indoctrinate U, I noticed that the campus was plastered with flyers that screamed “vagina” in large block letters. Although some people might find these flyers offensive, it is protected speech at Bucknell–as it should be–but apparently the phrase “hunting terrorists” is not. (Perhaps someone should remind Bucknell’s administrators that the American soldiers who are “hunting terrorists” are fighting the very sort of misogynistic thugs who would gladly stone a woman to death for talking about her vagina in public.) For years, Bucknell has denied that it has a speech code, the speech-stifling regulations that many schools use to punish political speech they don’t like. But if Bucknell isn’t in the business of restricting free speech, then why did these students have to spend 30 minutes listening to criticisms of the phrase “hunting terrorists”? Most students I know would prefer not to spend their time defending their speech in front of highly-placed university administrators. By taking this action, the Bucknell administration is sending a signal to students: say only those things we approve of, or we will hassle you. The long-term effect will be that students will think twice before engaging in political speech that they know will be unpopular with the administration. As an alumnus of Bucknell, this is all very depressing. Even more so because the recent appointment of Brian C. Mitchell as the new University President was met with optimism from students who have grown tired of fighting the constant battles against campus political correctness. Let’s hope this incident is just a minor misstep in a new administration, and not a sign of things to come.