North Dakota State University is investigating complaints about a campus skit in which a white student in blackface portrayed Barack Obama receiving a lap dance.
The same skit, part of a charity fundraiser held at a campus theater, also featured a depiction of cowboys having sex with each other, witnesses told The Forum newspaper, which first reported the backlash Friday.
“We’re trying to find out the right approaches for accountability, but at the same time try to heal wounds that have occurred and allow the campus to move ahead,” Janna Stoskopf, NDSU’s dean of students, told The Associated Press on Friday.
Let me assist you with finding the "right approaches for accountability", Dean Stoskopf.
The events that were described in the article were in extremely poor taste by today's standards, there's no doubt about it. However, poor taste is protected under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. You can make whatever public statements you want, distance yourself and the school community from this 30-second skit segment, even publicly chastise the students for not meeting NDSU's high standards of decorum, or some crap like that.
But the moment you try to punish those students, or impose some "accountability" on them, you're making a constitution-level error. I have no doubt that FIRE would take this case, and even the ACLU might, and you'd end up losing.
Huff and puff, Dean Stoskopf, but don't try to blow down anyone's house. It's all about tolerance, tolerating even those views you find particularly offensive.
I don't know the political bent of that particular university, but I wonder how an anti-conservative, or perhaps anti-Christian, skit would have been received by Dean Stoskopf and the student government.
Update, 3/29/08: The CNN version of this story has the Dean being a little more circumspect:
"One of the issues here is how do we balance what our policies and expectations about behavior are with the issue of freedom of speech," Stoskopf said. "Where does all of that get us?"
It's get you in court if you try to deal with it with a heavy hand.
They'd have been much better off putting out a statement that they're mortified and saddened by the lack of good character displayed by the students involved. The end. But an investigation that's going to take a month and a half? Stupid and wasteful--and doesn't reflect well on NDSU, either.