06 March 2008

To Be Read (In Private)

I read an interesting article this morning about an Indiana University employee whose choice of reading material is getting him in trouble. Keith Sampson has been cited for racial harassment for an inflammatory book he brought with him into the employee break room. He was not allowed to participate in the subsequent investigation on the matter and "was ordered to refrain from reading the book in the immediate presence of his co-workers."

For the record, the book was NOTRE DAME VS. THE KLAN: HOW THE FIGHTING IRISH DEFEATED THE KU KLUX KLAN. Just from that title I'm curious to know how, but that's neither here nor there. (Not too inflammatory to be sold on Amazon!) But just because the idea of the Klan is morally offensive, does that mean looking at the words themselves can be considered an offense?

Of course, a university is not a public space any more than a mall or a Starbucks; a school has the right to set guidelines for behavior on its grounds and to enforce those in the way they choose. But it got me thinking about whether there are any books that one truly should not bring out in public because of language. For example, I see people carrying around uber-vegan publishing sensation SKINNY BITCH all the time; I'm not offended by it, but I guess I can see how someone toting a young child with a tendency to read everything out loud might be.

On the other hand, I think IUPUI clearly erred in judgment, and it kind of frightens me that someone might take what I'm reading as advocacy of, to pull a few things from my Goodreads record, murder or Soviet-trained commandos or speed. Do I have a responsibility to edit my reading choices for everyone, or should I rely on the common sense of the masses?

I read about this story on ...a nameless country populated by transparent badgers...


Elizabeth said...

While a university certainly has the right to set guidelines for behavior on its grounds, it seems like just inviting bad press to suppress reading material. (What are universities for, after all?)

Elizabeth said...

I think the idea of judging other people by theirs covers (of their books) is a habit that Amazon is trying to insinuate into our culture so that we will buy its Kindles so that we can read books about the KKK in public guilt-free.

nancypearlwannabe said...

It does seem strange that a university would be a proponent of censorship. Unfortunately, sometimes relying on the common sense of the masses forces you to overlook your own common sense.