Phi Beta Cons

More Thoughts on Gutmann

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here, I thought I’d weigh in on the Gutmann affair. There seem to be two distinct issues here: (1) free speech; and (2) morality. On the free speech side of things, I tend to side with FIRE. I just don’t see much of a role for administrators in regulating “offensive” Halloween costumes. No doubt there were others in the audience who were dressed as serial killers or worse — with nary a peep from either side of the political spectrum. If you invite college students to a costume party, you get, well, college students at a costume party. With all that entails in offenses against good taste, morality, and manners.
And that is the real problem. A student at an elite college deliberately planned and chose to dress as a suicide bomber, and several of his peers chose to participate in his stunts. We view college students through a strange half-adult/half-child lens, dismissing as “college pranks” behavior that we appall most people in conventional social settings yet elevating them as wise adults when they engage in “activism” for the causes we like. I choose to view the faux suicide bomber as he no doubt wishes to be viewed in virtually every other area of his life — as an adult. And that means not putting the primary responsibility on Amy Gutmann — who probably had at most a few seconds to decide what to do when confronted in a festive social setting — but on the student who made all the relevant and important decisions. We blame parents for the bad acts of their children. We blame adults for their own actions.
I have as much fun pointing out college hypocrisy as the next person, and there is no doubt that Gutmann would have handled the situation differently if she had been approached by a guy in a white sheet. (In fact, she most likely would not have faced the problem at all, since the person almost certainly would have been denied entry.) But the real blame lies with Saad Saadi, the individual who — to all reasonable appearances — celebrated terror.

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