Some supposedly conservative universities still have a long way to go. Virginia's George Mason University certainly has a conservative reputation in the D.C. area. Media Transparency terms the school "a magnet for right-wing money." A who's who of the Federalist Society lends their names to its law school. Now that it defends its display of a morning after pill advertisement, consider GMU conservative in name only.
To folks who have spent time on college campuses in recent years, the conservative-in-name-only school isn't new. Take the University of Chicago. True, its Economics Department may export free market thinking around the world, but most of the university is staked out for wacky liberalism. The 2003-2004 year featured activists--and even law professor Mary Ann Case -- torn up about the transgendered who fretted upon deciding whether to use the men's or women's restrooms. Bowing to pressure from QueerAction and other students, the university converted over a dozen restrooms to "gender-neutral." Bill Michel, deputy dean of the college, told the Maroon, "How we're defining what we're trying to accomplish is a bathroom that an individual can use -- whether they're male, female, or their gender is such that they'd prefer to use a bathroom that does not have a gender designation." If a school convenes panels and throws money at such a thing, when will it ever tackle real academic questions?
George Mason also has had its shakier moments. Only after local politicians complained did President Alan G. Merten agree to cancel Michael Moore's speech there last October.
A campus visit this month revealed more of that wobbliness. Outside one of the major cafeterias, Ciao Hall, at which the school provided meals to families visiting for Family Weekend, is an advertisement for the Plan B "emergency contraceptive." Not hidden away in the student health center or in the dorms, the ad is displayed for wide viewing. Parents, little sisters, college freshmen: take note -- you're a lush market for the latest in abortifacients.
Claiming that Plan B isn't an abortifacient requires semantic gymnastics. For one, Barr Laboratories doesn't mention the word abortifacient on its Plan B website but claims that the drug "prevents pregnancy.... Plan B may also work by preventing [a fertilized egg] from attaching to the uterus (womb). It is important to know that Plan B will not affect a fertilized egg already attached to the uterus; it will not affect an existing pregnancy." A fertilized egg in the body? Generally, that's known as pregnancy. And as Pia de Solenni wrote last month, "Abortion means ending a pregnancy with the specific intention of destroying an unborn life, no matter how young it might be."
How did such an ad wind up at Mason? An outside company purchased the advertising space from Mason and therefore sends the ad copy to be displayed. "It's just an ad," Mason spokesman Dan Walsch told TAS, "It's a company that's purchased advertising space at the university." George Mason has the freedom to reject objectionable ads, but has yet to exercise that discretion on any ad, school officials said. Ads would be rejected as unacceptable if they were obscene, Walsch said. "It's the same standards as any newspaper or magazine. It's a subjective call the university makes," he said. Walsch couldn't predict if an abortion ad would be objectionable.
Why doesn't a conservative school -- or even a state school -- find this objectionable? Walsch said, "It's just an ad," much like the poster for a Comedy Central show next to it. "In no way do we construe it as an endorsement of that show," Walsch said.
An abortifacient is just another lifestyle choice to George Mason. Some GMU students don't agree. Jason Smart, of GMU Students for Life, told TAS, "The GMU Students for Life are offended to see that the management of the GMU Ciao Hall has decided to allow an advertisement for the Plan B pill. This advertisement does not belong on a campus that is paid for by the taxpayers of the fine Commonwealth of Virginia. The GMU Students for Life calls for the immediate halt and discontinuation of this advertisement cycle." In effect, the Commonwealth of Virginia has ceded its space for the right price without regard to content.
Still more troubling, does our culture even notice these things? Students for Life hadn't seen the Plan B ad before TAS called for comment. Students and parents saw it without objection -- or at least a peep to the folks who would care. Plan B is part and parcel with any other form of commercialism. And as soon as the FDA doubts that it ought to be as widely available to juveniles as Advil, resignations and GAO investigations fly. How sad.