Md. University System to Adopt Rules on Use of Pornographic Movies

After a Sunday showing of the hard-core porn flick "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" was canceled by university officials, University of Maryland students -- protesting what they see as a free speech intrusion -- organized a panel and a screening of excerpts of the movie to a packed lecture hall of students and professors Monday night. Video by Anna Uhls/washingtonpost.com
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Maryland's state university system will be the first in the nation to adopt rules governing the acceptable use of pornographic movies on campus, under orders from state legislators who objected to the screening of the adult film "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" at the University of Maryland in the spring.

State-funded universities have until Dec. 1 to submit policies on "the displaying or screening of obscene films and materials," according to language added to the state operating budget in April.

The General Assembly acted after portions of "Pirates II" were shown on the university campus. State Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) had threatened to deny state operating funds to the university if administrators allowed a full screening.

Student leaders have expressed concern that the rules, which have yet to be written, will infringe on free speech.

"We don't want a policy in the first place," said Joel Cohen, a University of Maryland senior and a spokesman for the student government. "For the 500-plus student groups on this campus that show movies, have entertainment events . . . anything on the campus could be affected."

Faced with a potential for student protest and legal conflict, officials of the University System of Maryland queried other states and found that "there are no other policies," said P.J. Hogan, vice chancellor for government relations.

The officials do not relish setting a precedent.

"We didn't ask for this, okay? This was forced upon us," Hogan said.

The legislative requirement applies to the 11 colleges and universities in the state system, as well as Morgan State University, St. Mary's College of Maryland and Baltimore City Community College.

University officials are looking into policy language that might require that any materials considered obscene be presented along with an educational component. They are not likely to ban such materials outright, Hogan said.

"Display of a pornographic movie with a discussion about pornography, free speech, filmmaking -- that, to a lot of people, seems very reasonable," Hogan said. "Higher education is about ideas and discussion."

But student leaders said they cannot be sure what the final rules might be or how many student activities might be affected. A free-speech forum is scheduled for Tuesday evening on the University of Maryland campus, to "gather input from the campus community" on how the university system should approach the legislative mandate, a news release said.

"It's our belief that any policy is going to be a restrictive policy," Cohen said.

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