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Editorial: Course content warnings make a mockery of education

Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 9, 1999
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Warning: This course contains content someone deemed objectionable, or may deem so.

This is justification enough for one of the most ludicrous proposals yet in this season of ludicrous proposals: a warning label on courses judged potentially offensive.

The ridiculousness started when a parent back in Phoenix wrote to the Arizona Republic against a course her child opted for and complained to her legislator.

Melanie D. Sahli, who clarified her views in a letter to the Arizona Daily Wildcat, stated her daughter was upset because she got more than she bargained for in an English course that "continued to be about the sexuality of women and did not broaden its focus to emphasize the many facets of women in legislature."

State legislators seized upon the complaint to threaten legislation that would force instructors to meet a subjective standard of clearly detailing their course content as well as ban instructors from using legally obscene texts.

University officials fell before the threat. And the continuing battle between academia and conservative legislators over frank study of women's issues and sexuality, including homosexuality, reached new depths of unrestrained stupidity.

University officials, forced to the politically expedient low road, promised to consider slapping warning labels on certain courses. They also promised to consider forcing instructors to clearly spell out the issues a course will cover and forcing instructors to stick to it.

And so the moral-legislating minority crashed upon us and is making a mockery of the concept of higher learning - or at least higher learning here. This latest proposal is levied against the academic and intellectual freedom of both professors and students. It smacks of judging and rating the elements of liberal arts and life as people live it, then carefully squeezing out most of its truth so that a puerile, sterile version remains. Absolutely unobjectionable except to the academically vigorous.

Meanwhile, any meaning or point to going to college and learning about the polarized, wide-open, free-wheeling world that confronts graduates is nullified. If you want to reside in a narrowly circumscribed world that dares not go beyond what you already know and understand, why bother coming to college?

Professors realize these dark implications.

"It could smack of censorship," English professor Jerry Hogle has said. "I'm concerned about any kind of pressure that would restrict academic freedom.''

Why bother hiring intelligent, intellectually-challenging and broadening professors if their ability to work their magic, to challenge boundaries and teach is restricted?

What is liberal arts education coming to here when administrators like Interim Provost Michael Gottfredson can seriously entertain such a ridiculous idea?

What is a University of Arizona education coming to that it can be held hostage by political maneuvering?