On Wednesday afternoon, posters popped up around campus with the Greek letters Phi Chi—the name of a former Bowdoin fraternity as well as the title of a traditional Bowdoin fight song now sung by the Meddiebempsters. The posters, which were hung to advertise tonight's a cappella concert, have since been removed, at the request of Student Activities and Residential Life, for the usage of Greek letters. The Meddies responded with a public apology for their "ignorance of the rule that stipulates that Greek letters cannot be posted on campus for advertising purposes."
As journalists, students, and most importantly as Americans, we find this type of censorship alarming—especially given that this is not the first infringement of free speech this year. From strongly encouraging students to limit the public visibility of the "Q" magazine and accompanying "Deviation" art show in the fall, to requesting the removal of a student's prominently displayed McCain poster, student free speech is occasionally and subtly stifled on campus by the administration.
Bowdoin is not a public place, so technically free speech here is a privilege, not a right. However, colleges and universities have a strong history of granting students and professors academic freedom, which necessarily should allow for the expression of a wide range of viewpoints. At Bowdoin, President Barry Mills affirmed this tradition in his 2005 baccalaureate address, when he said that "we are fundamentally a place for students to come to learn with engaged faculty—to study, mature, and grow together in an intellectually charged environment that is not afraid or unwilling to tackle the most troubling issues of today or in the past." The environment that Mills referred to necessarily extends beyond the classroom.
There are certainly instances where the College can limit this right, such as when speech is unnecessarily obscene or deliberately hateful. While it is not always easy to decide where to draw the line, none of the three cases mentioned above fall into these categories. The censorship practiced by the College—whether because of concern for image, outdated policies, or other reasons—deprives students of opportunities for expression or vigorous debate.
The College should take its commitment to preparing students to be responsible citizens seriously. One of the fundamental rights we have as citizens is the right to free speech. Censoring students, even if the topic may be potentially offensive, is in direct opposition to that right. And the use of the Phi Chi symbols is hardly offensive. The Greek system plays an important role in Bowdoin's history, and its traces need not be purged. The Meddies keep alive a piece of Bowdoin tradition in singing the "Phi Chi" fight song and advertising for it with Greek letters. And this should be their right.This article was corrected on March 27, 2009. The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Nick Day, Nat Herz, Will Jacob, Mary Helen Miller, and Cati Mitchell.