Like the three Knights in T. S. Eliot's play who defend their crime while Becket lies bleeding on the steps of the altar, three college presidents in last Thursday's issue of the Cornell "Daily Sun" came forward to defend the censorship of college publications. They too spoke calmly and rationally. There was none of the fascist in their words; their arguments were built on the homely, utilitarian premises of present-day America. And the reader paused to re-examine those premises.
President George B. Cutten of Colgate University thought that the university was always held responsible for what its paper said and that therefore "it seems necessary that some control should be held over the paper." President Edmund E. Day of Cornell University said that although the "Daily Sun" was usually well-behaved, the "need" for censorship might arise elsewhere. President Dixon R. Fox of Union College agreed that censorship might be necessary "inasmuch as it is perfectly possible for such a publication to damage the public reputation of an institution severely." And the reader paused to re-examine the reputations of America's colleges.
Actually the censorship of college publications occasions very little immediate harm. The college is spared one or two embarrassing editorials, and gets along nicely despite a few very mild corruptions which the paper might have brought to light. The students still consider themselves pretty important and have a lot of fun with their telephones and typewriters. But this is murder none the less.
It is the murder of a tradition which in the course of two centuries has become a trait, a characteristic of the American mind. It is the murder of that feeling of responsibility that accompanies unqualified freedom. It is the murder of that firm conviction that freedom of the press is a necessity. For a long time now, Americans have held that conviction, and they have never had cause to doubt it. At the same time, the obligations implicit in this mandate have steadily advanced the American press in accuracy and responsibility. Often, to be sure, it has damaged the country's reputation abroad, but censorship has always been too high a price to pay for reputation.
A free undergraduate press has the same power over the reputations of colleges, but in resorting to censorship to protect them, educators are killing something very dear to this country. Funeral services will be held when this new generation, brought up to regard repression as a natural condition of life, inherits the nation's government and the nation's press.