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Explicit videos bring increasing conflict Among school administrators

From- The closest that Towson University ever came to a true freedom of expression controversy presented itself last year with the hotly debated “Time, Place and Manner” policy that critics said would limit a student’s right to protest.

Two weeks ago, Towson was trumped by the University of Maryland College Park in a widely publicized scuffle over the on-campus screening of a pornographic film, “Pirates 2: Stagnetti’s Revenge.”

It became a feeding frenzy for news media outlets when State Senator Andrew Harris (R-Baltimore and Harford counties) threatened legislation that would cut funding to college campuses that hosted pornographic screenings. Students at College Park decided to screen 30 minutes of the film, billed as the “biggest adult production in history,” at an undisclosed location. The film was originally set to be screened at the Hoff Theater, a self-sustaining movie house in the Stamp Student Union, until Harris intervened. Jack Fruchtman, Towson political science professor, is a First Amendment expert. He called the debates concerning College Park’s screening of pornography a “good thing” in terms of enhancing knowledge and understanding of a complicated issue.

“But the threats on pornography stifle debate,” Fructman said in reference to Harris’ legislation.

“It is an internal matter that should have been handled by the UMD and not the General Assembly,” Fruchtman said. “I think this is a terrible policy.”

In accordance with Harris’ proposed legislation, all public campuses have until Sept. 1 to submit a policy regarding pornography.

“It’s ham-handed. It’s the power of the government, in this case Senator Harris, that he can come in and force the University to do what he wants them to do,” Fruchtman said.

At a University System of Maryland Board of Regents meeting on Friday, the issue was lightly discussed. USM chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan said he was committed to working with the attorney general’s office and university presidents to draft an effective policy. Kirwan began his tenure in the Maryland school system in the mid-60s, a time when protests and activism flourished. He recalled unrest on campus when Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, was schedule to speak at College Park.

“Every three or four years something happens that brings this issue to the fore in Maryland and across the country,” Kirwan said.

He called the USM commitment to freedom of expression a “fundamental tenant of the institutions” and “a bedrock principle in higher education.” He went on to say that he has noticed a resurgence in student activism.

“I think we’re entering a period where there is more activism, and I personally think that’s a healthy thing. I feel that universities ought to be the cutting edge of ideas and issues,” Kirwan said. “So, OK, we have to deal with some agitated people. But we ought to be the place where ideas get tested and challenged, and there’s very limited restriction on what goes on our campus in terms of freedom of expression.”

Towson President Robert Caret said there are two ways he looks at a situation in which pornography is thrust into a freedom of expression conflict. The first is an official stance on the matter, dealing with logistics as far as screening the film with an educational connotation. And the second is a personal stance.

“To just have entertainment that’s pornographic, with no other goal other than to be entertainment, I don’t see any reason why we should support that,” Caret said.

His overall opinion on freedom of expression on college campuses echoed the stance taken by the USM.

“If you can’t do those things on a college campus, in a free society, you can’t do them anywhere. You often have to listen and see things that you find distasteful in order to provide the freedoms to allow things to be said in general, and that’s really difficult for a lot of people,” Caret said.

Adjunct mass communication professor Mark Sullivan discusses pornographic and offensive images in media as part of his popular Mass Media and Society course.

His syllabus provides a disclaimer that examples of graphic media are used in class. Toward the end of the semester, he screens a clip of Hentai (animated Japanese pornography) in addition to select scenes from NC-17 rated “Show Girls.” He follows each clip by asking the class “is this indecent?” In the last 10 years teaching at Towson, he said perception of indecency has changed among students.

“When I first assigned that, it was defined as pornography, and I very quickly found out that more and more each year pornography was no longer a ‘this is terrible stuff’ label, but simply a genre label like romantic comedy or action adventure. It was another type of movie you pick up off the shelf and play,” Sullivan said.

He did however joke that people are often embarrassed about walking through the beaded curtain door to purchase pornographic tapes.

Sullivan said he saw his first pornographic film, 1974’s “Emmanuelle,” at the Hoff Theater in College Park.

“There’s definitely a generational thing going on here… If Harris had come up with this and railed against the University of Maryland Hoff Theatre showing it — and they’ve been doing it for at least 30 years — if Harris had said it then, even if people thought he was stupid, no one would’ve said it,” Sullivan said. “Nobody would’ve wanted to be perceived as standing up for pornography.

Now, people didn’t hesitate in the least to basically say he was a big stick in the mud and making too big a deal out of it.”

Richard Vatz, mass communication and communication studies professor, is an outspoken conservative and believes that there is no “academically justifiable purpose” for taxpayers to support pornographic screenings. Although he did say that professors using pornography as a teaching tool was “perfectly legitimate.”

He believes in debating the freedom of speech and expression as immensely important, with the exception that pornography should not be a matter made salient when discussing the First Amendment.

“There are all kinds of freedom of speech issues on an academic campus that come up, and if the first time that they’ve been concerned about freedom of speech is on a pornographic movie, than I don’t find them interesting people,” Vatz said.

“On the other hand, if there is somebody who every time a freedom of speech issue comes up on campus, and they are the forefront, saying this interests me as well, then I say let’s talk, because that shows you’re really interested in the issue of freedom of speech.”


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