Would a university still forbid Erasmian satire today?

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Abstract

Would A University Still Forbid Erasmian Satire Today? Peter A.G. van Bergeijk, : bergeijk@iss.nl, international Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam The Praise of Folly published by Desiderius Erasmus, one of the most important and influential works of Western civilisation, is a satire that deals with the authorities of Middle Age European society including the clergy, the bureaucrats and – of course - the academics. The reaction of the authorities to Erasmus’ Praise of Folly was predictably harsh. The Universities of Cambridge, Louvain and Oxford put it on their Index of forbidden books. But did human folly change? A unique field experiment at Erasmus University funcovers evidence on academic folly. Organization: Modern European universities cannot forbid books, but do have a large hidden power to censor materials on their websites. They are excessively serious about marketing investing a lot that would be better spend on research and education. An April Fool internet announcement provided a well defined testing ground. Location: Erasmus was born in Rotterdam. The University proudly uses his name. April 1, 2012 is an appropriate cause to introduce the satire. “April Fool Day” is not only a day for jokes and hoaxes but also the official “Praise of Folly Day” of the Erasmus House in Rotterdam. Content: Early 2012 the hottest topic in Dutch society was leaving the euro. Interestingly, Prespo, the official press agency of Spocania in January 2012 reported on the Spocanian decision to abandon the exchange rate link between herco and euro. An official visit by minister Bulger-Ÿriymme (Finance) led to an invitation to share his experiences on the research report Poirr ef Herco! (www.eurosceptical.blogspot.com). (Note that Spocania is not an April Fool hoax, but an example of successful geofiction; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spocanian). The March 30 issue of the economics weekly ESB hosted the hoax and announced his lecture “Eurosceptic Advice and Europolicy” for the late afternoon of Sunday April 1at the international Institute of Social Sciences of Erasmus University. An announcement appeared on the website of this institute Experiment: A press notice send to the PR department, basically repeated the web announcement’s text with the printer’s proof of the ESB article annexed. The press notice ensured that the PR department would know about the announcement of the April Fool lecture on the website and would have to make a decision. At 9.45 on March 29 a message was send by the head of the PR department: “Hello Peter. We took a closer look at your messages and we are a bit surprised. Could we please consult you on the content? I am very surprised by the fact that this has already been announced on the website…” At 14:33 on March 29 the Rector Leo de Haan send a follow-up “Hello Peter. A very good April Fool about Eurosceptic Advice. I had a good laugh. My decision is that this will not be published on the ISS website." At that time the item was deleted from the website Analysis: Academic procedures are extremely slow and time-consuming so the speed of action tells that the Rector recognized a clear and immediate threat to his institute’s academic reputation. Indeed, the satire was beating the normal Erasmus University news receiving higher Google search ratings than the appointment of professors in the Social Economic Counsel and the instructions on admission to the university. What did we learn? Not much in the past 500 years. In contrast with Dutch traditions and the ideas of Erasmus, the self-titled university of Rotterdam deletes harmless satire with a clear societal message from its website. It is difficult to find a more appropriate comment than the following quote of Erasmus: “For how unjust is it, if when we allow different recreations to each particular course of life, we afford no diversion to studies; especially when trifles may be a whet to more serious thoughts, and comical matters may be so treated of, as that a reader of ordinary sense may possibly thence reap more advantage than from some more big and stately argument”
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)5-6
Number of pages2
JournalThe humourous times, Newsletter of the International Society for Humor Studies
Volume25
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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