Franklin & Marshall College’s Protest Tree, November 3, 2023. Photo Courtesy of An Bach.
I am writing to share my concerns about administrative censorship of the Protest Tree.
Three senior administrators have been monitoring the Tree and removing signs that they believe fall into one of three categories: hate speech, falsehoods, or signs directed at an individual. One administrator assured me that if I had a concern about an individual sign and wanted it taken down, I should email an image of the sign to the Committee for evaluation. I explained that my concern was instead the existence of a secret administrative committee censoring material on the Tree based on unannounced and unpublished criteria. I have not found any criteria for posting on the Tree in the Student Code of Conduct.
I have learned that two signs have been removed since the outbreak of the Israeli-Hamas war. The Committee removed a sign that accused Israel of bombing a hospital. This was removed because it was considered to be a falsehood.
Another sign – that read “F— Zionists” – was removed by Public Safety without the knowledge of the Committee. What did the Committee do when it learned of Public Safety’s action?
No institution of higher education should operate a system of secret censorship.
I therefore respectfully request the following:
The administration should present to all members of the campus community a full written account of the membership, history, and decision-making processes of the Committee. The account should be presented at a DipCon meeting, a meeting of Staff Council, and a faculty meeting.
The College should immediately disband the Committee.
In consultation with representatives of the student body and Faculty, in a spirit of shared governance, the administration should draft a set of guidelines for the Protest Tree in keeping with the College’s Freedom of Expression statement that was endorsed by the Board of Trustees in 2017. Once developed and approved by Faculty Council, Staff Council, and DipCon, the guidelines should be announced publicly, including at a faculty meeting and a DipCon meeting; and mounted in permanent form on the Protest Tree.
M. Alison Kibler
Professor, American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies