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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Minnesota Professor Sues to Display Custer Poster

Updated: Thu, Jul 26 6:29 PM EDT

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. (Reuters) -- A college history professor sued his school on Thursday, saying he was unjustly disciplined for displaying a poster of American Indian fighter General George Custer.

Jon Willand, an American history professor for more than 30 years at North Hennepin Community College, said he was reprimanded for hanging a recruiting poster depicting Custer and seeking soldiers to fight "militant Sioux", a reference to the Indian tribe.

The school, located in a suburb of Minneapolis, also received a student complaint after Willand made comments to his class that Pocahontas, the 17th Century Indian princess who married a white settler at Jamestown, Virginia, "did handsprings in the nude."

"It wasn't meant to be offensive, it was just an offhand remark meant to perk attention," Willand said in a telephone interview. "We've always had a problem with censorship, but with political correctness hitting full tide here within the last five or 10 years its gotten worse."

According to the suit filed in federal court, the school forbade Willand from using "examples which are provocative or inflammatory" or "phraseology which does not manifest a clear concern for student sensibilities and which may promote student misunderstandings."

Willand said he is battling for his right of free speech, though he is aware some students were offended. "The problem with censoring what someone considers offensive is that offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder," he said.

Northwestern Law School professor Martin Reddish said the courts have tended to protect academic freedoms in higher education, but Willand may have difficulty winning because he teaches at a community college.

The courts have ruled elementary and high schools have the right to determine curriculum, not the teachers, Reddish said.

A spokeswoman for North Hennepin said she would not comment on the suit or the restrictions placed on Willand.

Rob's comment
If it isn't clear Willand's poster is offensive, imagine using a Hitler poster to recruit demonstrators against the Israeli government. The situations would be analogous.

Willand's Pocahontas comment shows he's less than sensitive to Indian concerns. Most people who are "politically incorrect" use the label to hide or excuse their prejudices.

A reprimand seems about the right reaction to me. Willand's claims of censorship and his filing a lawsuit seem an overreaction. If he wants to push an anti-Indian agenda, the idea that homosexuality is a choice, or a creationist doctrine, let him do it on his own time. Public schools aren't the place for it.

Oh, and Pocahontas wasn't a princess. That's a typical Anglo-American stereotype.

As for the "political correctness" charge, see Political Correctness Defined for more on the subject.

Addendum (7/22/02)

You might want to revise your comments.

This lawsuit was settled at the end of June with the administration withdrawing all of its limitations on Professor Willand as well as paying $10,000 for his attorney's fees.

There is an article on this in the June 29, 2002, issue of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and a letter to the editor from Willand a few days later.

Gerald Morine

Thanks. Of course, I didn't take a position on the lawsuit. I mainly criticized the professor's choice of poster. But I want to have the latest and most complete information, even if it isn't directly relevant to my posting.

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