Arts policy discussions tend to revolve around arts funding, how to articulate the value of the arts, the importance of arts education, building communities through the arts, and the like. We are so lucky we can be having these conversations. We are so lucky to not be talking about the most fundamental of arts policies, the right to free speech. That is, until earlier this month. That’s when some Arizona State Senators proposed SB 1467, which calls for the fining or firing (for a third offense) of any person who teaches in a public classroom who
“engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the federal communications commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.”
These public classrooms include not only K-12, but also community colleges and public universities. I teach at a public university. I take my responsibilities to maintain a respectful and professional learning environment very seriously. Yet, I think this idea is fucking crazy. There is no provision that the speech or conduct would have to occur in the public classroom either, just that it be engaged in by someone who teaches in a public classroom. As one website put it, teachers would no longer be allowed to have sex.
Universities are supported, conceptually if not financially, by the free exchange of ideas. When ideas are constrained by limits on speech, research does not happen and creativity does not happen. I’ll go so far as to say learning does not happen. The list of classic plays that could not be read aloud would be too long for this blog; the list of contemporary plays even longer. I would not be allowed to utter the name of a certain play by Stephen Adly Guirgis that had a successful run on Broadway last year. Let me reiterate: if this bill passes I COULD LOSE MY JOB IF IS SAID THE NAME OF THIS PLAY ALOUD.
Is this the Arizona we want?
I want the Arizona Jaime describes, not the one that would allow a student to carry a concealed weapon into my classroom but would fire me for uttering the F word.
[Just in case I need to say it, I am writing this at home, on my own time, and my opinions are solely my own]
Update: Here’s an AP/abcnews story about this. Note that the instigator is a party in the Citizen’s United case. My question, should corporations have a right to free speech when teachers would not?
Update #2: On February 28, 2012, the state senate voted down this and two related bills that would have limited the ability of faculty to teach effectively.