The objection to the After Hours production of Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago seems to be founded on two main arguments, both of which I find troubling as a recent graduate. The first is an appeal-to-authority argument that administrative censorship of a student production is not only warranted but necessitated in order to preserve Catholic character. This stance is predicated on the second troubling argument: the syllogism that vulgarity should be censored, Mamet’s play is vulgar, therefore Mamet’s play should be censored. Deeply disturbing is the administration’s admission that these two logical fallacies justified the play’s censorship based on the title alone. The university’s stated ethos, consonant with its Catholic character, of academic freedom, pursuit of truth and the autonomy of disciplines clearly prohibits this particular censorship.
As Christians and thinkers we seek truth, not prejudgment. This brings me to prejudice against content. In the objection to content, there is an illogical disconnect between content (means) and truth (end). Great drama and even great entertainment is concerned with the conflict between good and evil. Necessarily evil will be portrayed. In the Bible, in the Greeks and especially in Shakespeare, sins, murders, incest, oaths, profanity, lust, parricide and, yes, extreme sexual misconduct, are abundantly and even graphically displayed. The point is not to celebrate humans behaving badly but to show that in spite of this we have ready access to grace which directs us toward the truth. If sanitized simplicity were the qualification for great literature then most all of our literary core would be purged.
The question is whether evil or truth is celebrated.
I have read Sexual Perversity in Chicago and it no more celebrates perversity than UD’s previous production of Mamet’s Oleanna celebrated intimidation. It paints a compelling portrait of the human condition and explores how we betray a great many things for the sake of sexual perversity.
The university must rise above emotional appeals and quaint syllogisms in order to enjoy any productive debate on this issue. I have read the play and judged it on its merit rather than my prejudices; I would ask that others do the same.
Alan Charnock, 2010 alumnus
President Keefe has been accused of violating the American Association of University Professors’ dictates on academic freedom. No doubt, he did just that. But should we worry? Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that Keefe is being measured against AAUP policy. Here’s why.
Back in 1940 the AAUP published a statement endorsing “full academic freedom.” The statement, however, allowed religious institutions to place some limits on academic freedom, provided those limits were “clearly stated in writing at the time of [faculty] appointment.”
In 1970, the AAUP pulled this exception for religious institutions. In its Interpretive Comments of that year, the AAUP states: “[M]ost church-related institutions no longer need or desire the departure from the principle of academic freedom implied in the 1940 Statement, and we do not now endorse such a departure.” In other words, a religious institution cannot limit the freedom of professors in order to ensure its religious teaching.
Catholic schools cannot comply with the mandate for such unbridled academic freedom. Pope John Paul II says this much in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (which, by the way, was condemned as a backward document by Daniel Maguire in the AAUP online journal): “All Catholic teachers are to be faithful to, and all other teachers are to respect, Catholic doctrine and morals in their research and teaching.
In particular, Catholic theologians, aware that they fulfill a mandate received from the Church, are to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.” The Pope’s directive stands squarely in opposition to the AAUP’s revised 1970 position on academic freedom.
The AAUP’s long-standing dedication to academic freedom is admirable. The revisions of 1970, however, have unfortunately forced all faithful Catholic universities into a position of non-compliance with its guidelines.
William Hannegan, 2011 alumnus
University News Managing Editor Christian Howard’s assertion that “the title [‘Sexual Perversity in Chicago’] is, in fact, the most salacious part of the play” is false.* The play in question discusses, among other equally depraved things, bestiality, pederasty and World War II-fetishizing arsonists.
Because of these contents, not merely the title, alumni begged the president not to allow the play to be performed.
This action, however, was uninformed. The play is a ribald satire by staunch neocon playwright David Mamet. The alumni were upset that a Catholic university would allow and endorse the depiction of debauchery on its campus. David Mamet was upset that the world has allowed and endorsed the destruction of objective sexual morality, and so wrote this extremely biting satire about our currently empty world.
This fact was simply ignored. That the play features sexual content at all seemed to be a transgression large enough to warrant a demand for censorship.
Such thought is not of a Catholic character, but is literally Puritanical, and should be foreign to an institution that leads students to truth and virtue through the Odyssey and the Aeneid, through Shakespeare and Sophocles, through dozens of texts that indeed feature immoral content of a sexual nature. The presence of sex does not make a work anti-Catholic.
This play, however, is not offensive. Its moral message is in accord with the school’s mission, but it happens to use racy content to portray that message.
The university was here called neither to give in to demands to censor sexual content, nor to advocate a “don’t like it, don’t see it” policy towards productions. Instead, it was called to affirm a principle deeply entrenched in our core curriculum – that good art does indeed lead one to Truth and Virtue even if, or often because of, depictions of immoral content.
Robert Sherron, junior
*Editor’s note: Sherron will please note the definition of “salacious,” which refers specifically to indecent sexual acts performed with enjoyment. While the title conveys this sense, the context of the play suggests disapproval of such an attitude.
Christian Howard’s piece on the recent controversy surrounding the performance of “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” highlights an important point regarding academic freedom. According to Howard, the University of Dallas is a charter member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) that defends “freedom of expression” without subjecting artistic work to “tests of propriety or ideology.” And yet “tests of propriety” seem to be precisely what is expected from a university founded on a creed. If not, what would prevent the drama department from performing The Vagina Monologues, a play conducted by many universities that also pledge allegiance to the AAUP? If final authority in academic matters rested with a department head, a university president would be relegated to the role of deckhand, not captain of the ship. And what would become of our ship were it navigated by twenty captains, all arguing which way to sail?
President Keefe was completely justified in demanding adequate time to review a play called “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” One hopes he would exhibit the same prudence should students or faculty attempt to put on plays with equally salacious titles, like “Bestiality in Paris” or “Rape in Montana.” Trumpeting our commitment to “freedom of expression” via salacious titles may impress some colleagues in academia, but it does not impress this alumnus. And, as several recent controversies have made plain, making UD’s Catholic identity anything other than its first priority does not impress the mass of Catholic families who make up UD’s core constituency.
UD can, and does, maintain professional friendship with many institutions of far greater wealth and prestige. But the prospect of institutional glory, gained by unbridled subservience to the out-of-touch leftists who govern the AAUP, should not blind us to what makes our school “the best Catholic college in America.” May that endorsement remain true.
Chris Wester, 2010 alumnus