Porn to Be Wild

From Inside Higher Ed:

The University System of Maryland flirted with adopting rules at the request of state legislature to ban public viewings of pornography, but its leaders voted Wednesday against adopting such a policy on the grounds that it would present unwanted legal and logistical challenges.

William E. Kirwan, the system’s chancellor, and its Board of Regents had been weighing a policy since last spring, when the Maryland General Assembly included in its budget bill the requirement that all public colleges and universities enact a policy “on the use of public higher education facilities for the displaying or screening of obscene films and materials” by Dec. 1 or lose state funding.

The legislature’s demands came after students at the University of Maryland, College Park planned an early April public screening of “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge,” the sequel to a popular hardcore movie. State Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Republican representing Baltimore County, called the proposed showing “shocking” and responded by introducing the budget amendment blocking funding for any institution that did not adopt an obscenity policy. The Democratic Senate president, Thomas V. Mike Miller, said public porn viewings were “really not what Maryland residents send their young students to college campus for.” After the budget amendment passed, Kirwan and other officials said they would work to find a way to comply without restricting free speech.

But, following months of research and deliberation, Kirwan told the regents, he had concluded that the best option was to defy the legislature’s joint budget committees and not adopt a policy. “It is my recommendation that the board ask that I write the joint chairs [of the legislature’s budget committees],” he said, “expressing the view that a policy would not be in the best interest of the University System of Maryland or the state because of the First Amendment issues such a policy would raise and because of the administrative burden and costs of implementing a potentially flawed policy.”

Three things jump out at me here:

1. Unless I am missing something blazingly obvious, “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” has to be the least porn-sounding pornographic movie title I have ever heard of.

2. Miller argued that watching porn is “really not what Maryland residents send their young students to college campus for.” I have a cool idea: Let’s make a really long list of all the things Maryland residents don’t send their young students to college for, and then cut off state funding to any school that allows its students to engage in behaviors on the list. It will be fun!

3. This story is a nice encapsulation of something that culture warrior types have become increasingly aware of in recent years: there’s a difference—often a large one—between those things which personally make you uncomfortable and those things you can ban without trashing the Constitution. A lesson that should be heeded.

(Of course, a huge percentage of the culture war consists of fiery blasts of self-righteousness issued forth by politicians who who don’t realistically expect to see their advocated policies enacted, but who find said blasts to be extremely valuable politically [see: the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage]. That’s kind of the point.)

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.