The Mandarins of Alabama


above: Rose Administration Building, University of Alabama

To stop distribution of the ASA newspaper, The Alabama Observer, officials at the University of Alabama claimed that the ASA was not a “recognized” campus organization.

In fact, no regulations governing “recognition” even exist. But that will soon change. The Provost of the University, Judy Bonner, on October 14th released a draft of a new policy whose stated aim is “to define what constitutes a bona fide University organization and to extablish a procedure for University recognition of faculty and/or staff organizations as a bona fide University organization.”

Sound familiar? It should. The Chinese government has used the same tactic for decades to harass and forestall independent organizations, from the Catholic Church to the democracy movement. You can be Catholic in China, of course, but only if you belong to the government-recognized Catholic Church. You can belong to a political party, too, as long as it is recognized by the state.

“Recognition” as a means of enforcing censorship and restricting competition is a tried and true method, mostly associated with the former Soviet Union, its satellite states, and China. Now we find it here, in Alabama, at an institution of higher education.

What prompted this action? That’s easy enough to say. It was the publication in early September of the first issue newspaper — the only independent source of news and opinion on the campus. University officials did not like it. No surprise there. Total institutions like to control the message, or better yet, the medium.

Now it turns out that administive mandarins have taken a leaf from Mao’s notebook. Administrators would be wise, however, to remember that political repression — whatever its guise — is a failed strategy in the long run. “Recognized” or not, the ASA will continue stronger than ever.