Globe and Mail Editorial
Saturday, October 25

Muzzled Speech

Time to break out the wedge heels and maybe even the macrame. It seems that at the University of Alberta, and doubtless other universities as well, campus life is frozen in 1987. Make that 1977.

Forget what you've heard about universities being sanctuaries of open-midedness and channels of fresh intellectual wind. The feminists are still angry, much of the humour is still crass, and worst of all, there's still an abundance of professors and administrators who respond to unpleasant free speech by trying to muzzle it.

The story this time involves a harmless but dumb cartoon strip called Space Moose, which biomedical engineering PhD candidate Adam Thrasher has been drawing since 1989. It satirizes the political correctness of campus life and, among other themes, expresses a rather popular sentiment among students: enough with the angry feminism, enough with the fear-mongering about men being intrinsically dangerous to women.

Campus newspaper _The Gateway_ regularly publishes the strip. But editor Rose Yewchuk drew the line recently at 12 particularly crass panels of the cartoon. In it, some bad males shoot into the crowd at a Take Back the Night march of highly caricatured feminists. The bad males later get thrown into a feminist-run jail that seeks to correct their "patriarchal" tendencies.

Using her editorial judgment, Ms. Yewchuk refused to publish the violent panels relating to the shooting part. However, the paper published the address of a university website where the cartoonist had posted the rejected 12 panels.

Hence the furor. The campus human rights office wants to shut down the website. The newspaper is under siege for publishing the address and for its record of politically incorrect humour. A professor described the "hateful cartoon" as the "trivialization of a hate crime."

We'd depoliticize that a little and call the strip the trivialization of murder. And we'd add that such trivialization has been the staple of campus cartoon humour--and indeed of comics in general--since, well, at least 1977.

The cartoonist, fearing reprisals from the university and provincial human rights officials, has removed his strip from the website. Too bad. To us, it seems Ms. Yewchuk made a reasonable editorial decision when she excised the 12 violent panels. They were in bad taste--even for a campus newspaper. And the compromise of publishing the website address was reasonable too, because publication on the Internet is a step removed from the mass reading public: Only readers who wanted to see the self-published, offensive material would go and retrieve it from the Net.

Indeed, the instict to block the juvenile humour was more disturbing than the juvenalia itself. Proponents off censorship are being patriarchal, implying university students are better off if censors shelter them from the cartoons. Yet, just as the principle of free speech demands grudging tolerance of the neo-Nazi nonsense that's self-published on the Internet, it demands that violent cartoons be available for young, evolving intellectuals to dislike and reject on their own.