UC-San Diego refuses to cancel course on films of Woody Allen

The University of California, San Diego is refusing to cancel a course on “The Films of Woody Allen” despite a petition that has received tens of thousands of signatures.

In a statement last week, the Academic Senate pushed back against demands that the class be cancelled based on unproven sexual abuse allegations against the filmmaker, stressing the importance of academic freedom on campus.

“As many of you know, a public petition was initiated several weeks ago with the purpose of cancelling a current course on the films of Woody Allen, a staple elective in the Theatre and Dance Department,” the Academic Senate wrote. “This, of course, raises serious issues concerning academic freedom, utterly independent of any specifics pertaining to allegations about Woody Allen.”

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The petition, which currently has more than 21,000 signatures, was created by UCSD theater student Savanah Lyon with the goal of permanently taking the course “off the books forever” so that future students will not “have to see that pedophile glorified” in the classroom.

“I have emailed all of the people in charge in an attempt to appeal to their sense of reason, humanity, and morality to stop this class and take it off the books so that no one can teach this class again,” she states in the document. “I have been met with dismissal, unprofessionalism, and dehumanizing rhetoric.”

Addressing the university’s academic freedom argument, Lyon complains that administrators “do not care about the statement it makes to survivors everywhere,” suggesting that there are “thousands” of other directors whose films could be used to teach the same concepts.

“This class might not be able to be cancelled in its current quarter but it can be taken of the books forever so that no one will ever have to see that pedophile glorified in an educational institution again,” the petition concludes, encouraging supporters to email both the Theatre Department chair and the instructor of the Woody Allen course. 

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The Academic Senate, however, only underscored the university’s commitment to academic freedom, stating that the university “is responsible for vigilantly maintaining and promoting the First Amendment guarantee of free expression of ideas and opinions on campus and for encouraging critical, deliberative, and informed debate on controversial issues.”

The statement adds that “this responsibility is manifested both in our valuing and respecting the right of students to express their deeply held views, and our valuing and respecting the right of our faculty, in accordance with fundamental principles of academic freedom, to choose what they teach.”

The Senate also concluded that “cancelling or removing this or any other course for the reason that it contains the study of controversial material, or even material widely regarded as morally problematic, would undermine both the value of free inquiry and the associated rights of faculty to engage in such inquiry by choosing their course content.”

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Lyon criticized the university’s response in a Facebook post Tuesday, pledging to continue to speak out “every time I feel something goes against what's right.”

“I tried, I tried as hard as I could, and the people around me and across the globe tried as well,” she wrote. “The odds were stacked up against me from the beginning and yet still I took it to the next step each time. It's hard to believe what would've been enough to get them to remove it from the books.”

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