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Censorship: Now and Then? Then and Now?

Parent ‘12 wants your views on the extent to which censorship may take place or may have taken place on campus and/or on blogs, either self-imposed or through official channels

Two recent posts November 17,  one on an WSO discussion and the other on the Black Caucus at Chapin raised this issue.

Parent ‘12 invites your comments and your history:

Assuming that Williams was much more conservative in the fifties than it is today, how much has the campus changed regarding censorship?

And what do readers from various campus eras think about censorship, either self-imposed or by the college then v now?

Speak out!

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#1 Comment By Larry George On December 4, 2008 @ 11:25 am

I welcome this thread.

It is a bit daunting, however, as the two referenced threads have so many comments, and I don’t begin to have time to reread them. I wonder whether Parent ’12 could facilitate the conversation a bit by pointing to a few comments that had inspired or intrigued her.

#2 Comment By sophmom On December 4, 2008 @ 11:33 am

Hmmm…methinks P’12 should become an official author. :-)

FYI, the links aren’t working for me.

#3 Comment By Parent ’12 On December 4, 2008 @ 1:46 pm

Rather than write something new I’ll quote comments from the Free Speech thread. Please excuse laziness on my part & the length of this comment.

Me at #7: On the WSO discussion some students were concerned about censorship. It made me wonder in what way they were being censored. Here, I’d prefer to read about alumni or current students experience of self-censorship & the reasons for it.

LG at #9: I frequently censor myself on this blog. I do it mostly because I don’t want to provoke rants or have my words twisted. I find the rants and twistings frustrating, exhausting, off-putting, and sometimes hurtful, and I often think they bring the “discussion” far below what I would expect of the Williams Conversation. I wonder from time to time what it is about blogs that, rather than inspiring self-censorship, seems to promote the sorts of comments that just, frankly, lead to my shutting off from sharing my thoughts.

And I undoubtedly am going to wish I’d self-censored rather than posting this comment.

Another ’05 Eph at #14: …. I’m curious whether the people making certain comments [on online versions of newspapers] would say the same things in a restaurant, at work, etc.

More germaine to this blog, though, I agree with Larry in some respects: when it looks like the conversation isn’t headed anywhere productive and I don’t have the time to keep up with each little comment to defend my position, it makes me reluctant to participate.

Me at #27: Some of the students had written that censorship occurs on campus. I wondered if this had to do with politics or other issues, like race or sexuality.

I also wondered how much the campus had changed from about the sixties. For example, in the case of politics I assume that Williams was much more conservative in the fifties or earlier than it is today. And, I was curious what alums from before the sixties or seventies, definitely before women were students on campus, would say about censorship, either self-imposed or by the college. In the context of the Black Caucus & John Lewis speaking today, how involved at that time were Ephs with civil rights & the marches?

— I hope I haven’t misrepresented LG or Another with the lifted quotes. I say this because at least once, what comes to mind is when I used the word “priceless,” my comment was misquoted or re-interpreted, which others fortunately rectified.

#4 Comment By Larry George On December 4, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

Thank you. You did not misrepresent me at all (being concerned about not misrepresenting other people generally is probably 99% effective).

#5 Comment By frank uible On December 4, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

In the 50s the Williams campus was very conformist (as was society generally). Consequently there existed little open opinion which might have been fertile ground for censorship. It is suspected the expression of what little potentially objectionable dissent that existed was often suppressed by the dissenters themselves because of the perceived lack of community support stemming from their extreme minority status.

#6 Comment By Henry Bass ’57 On December 4, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

The 1957 Commencement speaker was Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Arne Carlson and I wrote a piece for the commencement issue of the WILLIAMS RECORD on Lodge. We praised him for being a big advancement on his dad, Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., whom we attacked for his opposition to the League of Nations. Lodge, Jr. was Ike’s Ambassador to the UN. In general we complimented the commencement speaker for doing a good job but were mildly critical of him for his not having done more to move Ike’s fairly hawkish foreign policy in a more peaceful direction. Arne and I were concerned that we should be ever so polite. Some of the more liberal members of the faculty told us we had been too polite. There was definely a fair dose of self-censorship. We could have gotten away with a bit more guts. But, who wants to fire a fianl shot at commencement time?

NB from DS: Arne Carlson, a great guy from the great class of 1957. If you don’t know him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arne_Carlson

#7 Comment By Larry George On December 4, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

Do you still have a copy of the Lodge piece, Henry? I’m wondering how it sounds to you now.

#8 Comment By Henry Bass ’57 On December 4, 2008 @ 11:48 pm

Larry George,

I do not have a copy. Neither does Arne. Someone brought some old RECORDS to our 50th reunion but that was not one of them. I did find some news briefs on me in the old RECORDs about me as a Freshman debater that I had forgotten about. Our debate coach was very good about getting news of his team in the RECORD. And we usually beat larger schools like Harvard.

A classmate, Mike Bird ’57 in the Poli Ec major with whom I collaborated on the senior project recently wrote me about the paper we wrote with a 3rd guy, Joel Robinson ’57 on lobbying and campaign contribution reform. Mike thought it was still pretty good. And if we worked for a Congressional Committe today it wouldn’t take much revision to still be revelant. I looked at my copy and realized we weren’t that far off.

So I suspect I wouldn’t be ashamed of the Lodge piece. He was a pretty good guy, especailly compared with his dad. And I don’t regret going a little easy on him.

#9 Comment By Larry George On December 5, 2008 @ 3:46 am

“And I don’t regret going a little easy on him.”
This seemed a bit of wisdom to me: take a slightly gentle start but stick with it (as you seem to have done through your life). Your Lodge piece was a one-off, but in other situations I think a bit of self-censorship/self discipline can help keep doors open, enabling important future dialogue.

(Sad about campaign finance reform, that it hasn’t gotten any further. So frustrating.)

#10 Comment By Henry Bass ’57 On December 5, 2008 @ 7:54 am

Larry,

I agree completely. Thank you for your encouragement. I’m still making films on labor relations for the college market through Merrimack Films. You can’t do that unless both management and labor think that you are even handed.

#11 Comment By frank uible On December 5, 2008 @ 8:29 am

On this coming Saturday at 8pm MA MOCA will put on the one man show, Steve Cuiffo is Lenny Bruce.

#12 Comment By Parent ’12 On December 5, 2008 @ 8:45 am

HB ’57- At #10 I got curious about your work. When I used google, I came across this from EB, which seemed to fit this thread. The quote is from a piece you wrote about fraternities, which I found fascinating. Thanks for writing it. I’m going to look at more from the series.

http://www.ephblog.com/2007/05/18/tradition-of-nonconformity/#more-3935

“Our college historian, Fred Rudolph, has argued that Williams had a tradition of nonconformity long before fraternities, like the five students who sought refuge from a storm under a haystack in 1806 and dreamed of an American foreign missionary movement. When we were at Williams, Rudolph came up to those of us who had invited Thurgood Marshall to lecture and told us that we were the descendants of those who had invited Emerson to come to Williamstown, after Emerson was accused of being a notorious atheist. I hope the tradition of nonconformity still exists now that the Turkey Coop and fraternities are both gone.”

#13 Comment By Larry George On December 5, 2008 @ 8:47 am

Changing the subject a bit, I will introduce two other topics that fit under the general heading “censorship.”

1) EphBlog administrators performed an ultimate act of censorship this fall, permanently blocking a blogger who had repeatedly disrupted discussions, and worse. I won’t be coy: I am very glad that they were successfully able to do that and I think EphBlog has improved considerably with that poster’s absence. But it was an act of censorship, and I am squeamish about censorship. Does the banning make anyone else a little uncomfortable? Thoughts?

2) I raised a question before about EphBlog censorship policy, but it was not answered. Some weeks ago (I can’t find the thread now), an administrator censored a remark by another poster, who was surprised (apparently not having intended anything offensive and not understanding what the offense was) and who questioned why he or she had been censored, but received no answer. I asked whether it should be EphBlog policy that a censoring administrator a) identify that he or she had censored something in the post or comment where the censorship occurred (which would help preserve the meaning and flow of the discussion) and b) also note which administrator had been the censor. At its best, this would allow someone who was censored to open a private dialog by email with the censor so that they could understand each other (especially if the censorship were for an unintended offense or a misunderstanding) — but perhaps I assume too lightly that the parties will be people of good will. I would also think that such a policy would help make any censorship an honest, more transparent process: no secret editings by unnamed people with administrator powers.

Do you think this would be a good policy to try out for a while? Do we have a procedure for adopting policies? Yes, EphBlog is just a fun sport, what should be a harmless pastime, but it could be used to hurt people (and that’s a primary reason administrators have censored in the past: to protect identities or remove malicious postings), so I do think we need to be careful. Balancing such care with protecting freedoms is always a difficult and imperfect exercise, of course, but perhaps a bit of transparency might help.

#14 Comment By Larry George On December 5, 2008 @ 8:50 am

I cross-posted with Parent ’12 and regret doing so as I would not want to distract readers from her post @#12. We can discuss my two points at another time. Carry on, please.

#15 Comment By sophmom On December 5, 2008 @ 11:04 am

P’12:

Thanks so much for posting Henry’s wonderful essay. I learned a lot from it and plan to pass it along to my son.

This paragraph was especially interesting to me:

My senior year at Williams, I had a fascinating conversation with Anne Baxter, the wife of President Baxter. We had invited her and President Baxter to dinner at the Turkey Coop. After dinner, someone suggested over coffee that Williams would be better off without fraternities. Mrs. Baxter strongly disagreed. She said that what had made Williams an exciting place for her over the years was the marvelously diverse group of students who were not in fraternities, first in the Garfield Club and later in the Turkey Coop. Mrs. Baxter said that no one could have recruited such an extraordinary group by design as the fraternities had done mostly by default. She feared that once fraternities were gone from the scene no one else would assemble such an exciting group.

Sounds like Mrs. Baxter was one clever woman. I mean, really…what an ingenious way to make a point without outright criticizing the frats! And no insult intended to the frats, but I suspect these gentlemen were an amazing bunch…irreverent, eccentric, eclectic and diverse.

One of the activities Henry wrote about, and which has unfortunately gone by the wayside, was the habit of sitting down to a meal together. That simple tradition must have worked wonders towards encouraging friendship as well as bridging gaps and healing rifts.

#16 Comment By sophmom On December 5, 2008 @ 11:45 am

Larry:

A couple of things.

1) No doubt about it, banning is an extreme measure. But it’s worth noting that the worst of the comments by that particular blogger barely made it to the screen before being deleted…they were that bad.

2) I think that most deleting and censoring is done by the author of a particular thread, or by those that have editing rights, like Ronit and Ken and Dave, and ?

That said, I have also noted inconsistencies in when and how censorship occurs, and agree that whomever does the censoring should uphold the standards of an as yet, undefined policy, and identify themselves as having done so.

Personally, I have less of an issue with ‘potty language’ than I do with any kind of innuendo or attack insinuating a person or group is inferior, whether it be based on race, gender, religion, athleticism, age…etc.

But those are subtleties that are hard to define and enforce, and fortunately when it does happen here on EB, many are quick to point it out.

#17 Comment By frank uible On December 6, 2008 @ 10:07 am

But everyone is actually inferior in many respects against not unreasonable standards.

#18 Comment By sophmom On December 6, 2008 @ 10:30 am

True, Frank. Too bad ‘everyone’ doesn’t recognize that. If they did, then we’d all be equally inferior, which would thus make us equal…right?

So I guess the problem isn’t those who insist others are inferior, but rather those who place themselves above those human standards of imperfection.

OMG, I think we’re onto something.

#19 Comment By frank uible On December 6, 2008 @ 11:01 am

Is it okay to blog about a group’s inferiority – for example, old folks in general run less well than young folks in general?

#20 Comment By sophmom On December 6, 2008 @ 11:20 am

I think that all depends. It seems like it’s usually acceptable to insinuate inferiority if oneself falls into that category, but otherwise one must beware.

Besides… I know a lot of folks older than myself, who run circles around me…you, for instance…right now.

#21 Comment By frank uible On December 6, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

It is a demonstrable fact that my three year old grandson runs literal and figurative circles around me.

#22 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On December 7, 2008 @ 1:06 am

LG: (Also noted that the center of your question was not really answered. Will make another stab (if in my usually ‘overwrought,’ literary style) if I get my head above the waters of ‘overwrought’ computer code. )

All in favor of principles and policy in deletion, rather than ad hoc and undeclared/undocumented action.