Ethics Dunce: Friends University (Kansas), Or “Why Do Colleges Find That Free Speech Thingy So Complicated?”

Cutting to the metaphorical chase: Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, refused to allow a student recital honors project titled “The Shows They Don’t Want Us to Produce: A Study of Censorship Throughout the History of Musical Theatre,” to take place on campus. Yes, Caitlyn Fox’s show about censorship was censored.


Some of the songs Fox would sing in her recital were “Aquarius” from “Hair,” “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret,” “Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Schadenfreude” from “Avenue Q” and “My Unfortunate Erection” from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” among others. The program had been approved, Fox had been assured that all was well, and then the university’s vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty sent Fox an email that kicked the recital off campus. He wrote in part:

“I’m writing to let you know that in the past few hours we have received significant complaints from staff members and donors regarding [your] Recital/Honors Project. People who have worked at and/or supported the university for a long time are considering withdrawing their support if we move forward with having the recital at Friends.”

Stoltzfus noted that the recital was promoted on the Friends fine arts Facebook page, and that

“[T]his gives the appearance that the university is sponsoring the event, which has concerned a number of people. We work hard at Friends University to be a close-knit learning community and to find ways to support all members of our community. There is a delicate balance between promoting academic freedom and entering into territory that alienates and offends other members of the community. In light of the complaints we’ve received this evening, I think we are losing that balance and at risk of losing some important members of our community.

Now get this: Fox’s song choices hadn’t been publicized. All of those concerns and complaints, all of the offense and “alienation” were based on the title alone, and perhaps the fact that the promotion said that the show was for “mature audiences”—unlike, apparently, the school’s staff, faculty and donors.

I bet you can guess the words that are storming through my mind regarding the school’s leadership. Weenies. Cowards. Hypocrites. Fools.

Friends University spokeswoman Laura Fuller dutifully blathered in an email,

“The university had to make a difficult 11th-hour decision after receiving a formal complaint from the fine arts department regarding offensive language and sexually explicit content in the recital. We determined that we could not require staff to work at the recital and therefore it would need to move off campus. The university supports academic freedom and the student completed her recital and none of her content was altered.”

How is that for Yoo’s Rationalization, or “It isn’t what it is”? The University supports academic freedom, except that when someone complains, they don’t allow that freedom on campus. Of course the school could require staff to work at the recital.

Fox and five other Friends students presented the recital at a local church, where, for some reason, they didn’t find Jesus’s climactic (and brilliant) song  “Gethsemane” to be “offensive.” Friends is a Christian school, I know, but I thought that nonsense about “Jesus Christ Superstar” being blasphemous was settled in the Sixties.

The Arts Integrity Initiative  (which I am adding to the Ethics Alarms links today), notes,

“Fox still has to write her thesis on theatre censorship and now, thanks to the school’s actions, she will be part of her own study.The university might well just give her the highest marks already, because thanks to their actions, she has already shown that censorship is ever-present, even when a student merely sets out to examine it.”

And what does a degree from an institution that behaves like Friends signify?

I think she should get the Hell out of there.


Source: College Fix

Pointer: Legal Insurrection



6 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Friends University (Kansas), Or “Why Do Colleges Find That Free Speech Thingy So Complicated?”

  1. With Friends like these…

    Actually, I rather like the idea of someone starting a rival school called “Enemies University”.

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