War invariably puts stress on the tenuous boundaries between free speech, good taste and common sense. Fortunately for the health of this democracy, American college campuses roil with debate about where the lines should be drawn.
At a teach-in at Columbia University in New York last week, assistant professor Nicholas De Genova rooted for the defeat of the U.S. military and said he would "like to see a million Mogadishus" in Iraq. Common sense should have told the professor that most Americans would be enraged and repulsed by this reference to the 1993 killing of 18 American troops in Somalia's infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident. Yet De Genova, speaking as an individual on his own time, was within his rights.
Meanwhile, at Irvine Valley College in Orange County, the administration issued a heavy-handed warning to professors to avoid spouting their views on the war during class and to stick to their approved lesson plans. Here, common sense largely favors the college's administration.
Faculty members can be forgiven for overreacting to the memo; the Coast Community College District has a miserable record on free speech and lost two recent court battles. A federal judge confirmed the importance of campus debate last year when she struck down district attempts to stifle requirements that students get permission before using loudspeakers, handing out leaflets, hanging banners or posting notices on bulletin boards.