All around the Liberal Arts: The First Amendment Edition

By David Hertz

Freedom of the Press

An admissions official at Ohio Wesleyan University, hoping to impress 220 prospective students and their parents with the professionalism of the college, was dismayed last week when the student newspaper featured the college’s drinking traditions on the front page.

How to deal with the potential embarrassment? Throw away the newspapers.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that an anonymous admissions official trashed as many as 200 copies of The Transcript, the college’s student newspaper, because of the front page story.

The Transcript’s front page included a photo of a beer bottle next to an article covering The 50-Day Club, a tradition in which seniors down two drinks every day in the 50 days before graduation.

The Transcript printed an editorial charging the administration with suppressing their journalistic efforts, and student editor Mike DiBiasio expressed outrage that his staff’s constitutional right to free speech was stifled.

“Any time anyone steps on the toes of the First Amendment, it’s our responsibility to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they respect those rights,” Biasio told the Dispatch.

University spokesman Cole Hatcher refused to identify the admissions officer, but said the staff member had acted on his or her own to protect the college’s image, and wasn’t supported by the administration.

“We apologized to The Transcript and are taking measures to ensure something like this won’t happen again,” Hatcher told the Dispatch.

Right to Protest

A professor at Peking University aroused an angry mob of protesters that stormed the college’s gates on Friday, after he questioned the mental stability of Chinese protestors.

Law professor Sun Dongdong told China Newsweek in an interview that 99 percent of Chinese petitioners, poor rural Chinese who come to Beijing to protest, are mentally ill and should be forcibly hospitalized, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Protesters had been gathering outside the University for a week, and on Friday, 40 people tried to rush the college’s gates. Security stopped them and sent them away in buses.

Protestors objected to Sun’s comments in light of the fact that he is taking an active role in forming the country’s first mental health law.

The Chinese government reports that it receives three to four million visits and messages from petitioners per year, while human rights organizations put the number at 10 million. Forced hospitalization is a tactic in suppressing petitioners.

“There is an overflow of cases involving petitioners being forced into mental hospitals,” lawyer Li Heping, told the AP. “After being labeled as a mental-health patient, one loses all rights.”

The law professor tried to apologize to protestors after the demonstration, saying that he had only meant that 99 percent of the petitioners he met as a mental health professional were insane, rather than 99 percent of all petitioners.

That will surely be reassuring to Chinese protesters when they are having their mental evaluations.