Regarding the controversy over Montclair State University’s showing of The Passion of the Christ (“Screening of Gibson film stirs debate on campus,” May 5): For the university to say that all views are acceptable with no urgent necessity for placing them in an educational, historical, ethical, or scholarly context is to negate the role of a university and to make it no more informed and informing than the neighborhood multiplex.
Washing one’s hands of the issue in the falsely cleansing waters of unmediated “public discourse” or academic freedom because they are “essential to the education of our students,” as the university claims in NJ Jewish News’s story, has just the opposite effect; it is in fact a disservice to students because it deprives them of the academic tools to evaluate what they are seeing and hearing.
It is precisely because there was absolutely not even a hint of any “respectful exchange of ideas” around the film — as the university puts it in defending its publicizing and facilitating the film’s showing — that some 48 faculty and staff members protested. The only thing the announcement e-mailed campus-wide by the university said was that it was being shown by the Newman Center “in preparation for Good Friday.”
Would the university conceivably promote films celebrating gay bashing, lynching African-Americans, selling women into prostitution without presenting them as part of a fully developed, informed, scholarly program? And absent that, would it just step aside and say the films had value because they “spanned the ideological spectrum”?
The issue of censorship also raised by the university is a red herring. No one said the film couldn’t be shown, only that it shouldn’t because without a proper educational framework its falsehoods are antithetical to the mission of the university.
Montclair State rightly prides itself on the diversity, understanding, and tolerance that are among its shining accomplishments, worthy of emulation. But to show The Passion with no corrective scholarship is to betray those values.
Prof. Ron Hollander
Director, Jewish American Studies
Montclair State University