Thursday, June 14, 2007

Two Australian professors suspended in the Laughing at the Disabled film/thesis controversy

...and from The World Today, an Australian radio show:

"PETER CAVE: The Queensland University of Technology has defended a decision to suspend two academics who raised concerns in the media about a PhD thesis called Laughing at the Disabled. The project involved a reality television style comedy starring two men with intellectual disabilities.

Doctors Gary MacLennan and John Hookham from the university's film and television school spoke out about the PhD project because they felt it was offensive and unethical, and set the men up to be ridiculed.

Well, they've now been suspended from the university for six months but QUT's Vice-Chancellor says the two academics breached the university's code of conduct.

Kathryn Roberts reports.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: In a newspaper editorial earlier this year, QUT academics Gary MacLennan and John Hookham went public with their concerns about a PhD thesis project involving members of the disability community.

The project by a film student was entitled Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains.

The two academics aren't talking today, but on the Internet site YouTube, they've posted a video about the serious misconduct charges brought against them as a result of the newspaper editorial."

Click above to read the rest of this interview.


Contrary to some of the assertions in this video, the disability community has varying opinions on what/how/when humor juxtaposed with disability is appropriate.

This is an interesting scenario because it pits freedom of speech against freedom of speech. Is the student entitled to complete freedom in his exploration of the subject of disability? Some would say that any other conclusion would "chill" future student work.

Keeping in mind that it's a thesis done by a student, what are the ramifications of suspending two professors for going public with their concerns about a PhD thesis project? Some will argue that the university has the right and even an obligation to discipline these professors for writing a newspaper editorial. Others will see that issue in itself as an encroachment on their right to free speech.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Humor and disability is a tough issue. Some humor can be cruel but handling the subject as if it's too precious backfires. My twin is an amputee who lost his leg when we were teens. I remember how our friends and family tip toed around the subject and apologized for every inadvertent reference to legs "not having a leg to stand on" "That will put you a leg up" etc until we finally got back a sense of humor about his disability. We couldn't live with it any other way but that's different than holding disabled people up to ridicule. I've seen my brother in tears after dates, after being told he couldn't participate in things and by cruel remarks. So I won't just say bring the humor on whatever it is without even seeing this film.