Sunday, November 5, 2006

Posing with the suicide bomber.

People keep sending me this picture of University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann standing next to a student dressed as a suicide bomber at a Halloween party. (She's dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch.) As you know, I hold people to account for the way they pose at festive events. But I am not going to slam Gutmann for this. Her mistake, only really visible in retrospect, was giving a costume party for students. The lesson of this incident is utterly clear: University administrators must never, never, never have a costume party ever again.

Once students are there and in costume, how could she single out one student to snub? If she had had time to think about it -- and now she says she didn't -- she might have considered that the young man would turn out to be a naive foreign student who meant well and was trying to get in the spirit of America's Halloween. Aren't you supposed to dress as someone evil?

By the way, it is exactly this sort of tolerance and unwillingness to offend a foreigner that Sasha Baron Cohen exploits in the big new hit comedy movie "Borat," which is apparently the funniest movie ever made or the greatest comedy of all time or something.

Bonus discussion question: How will "Borat" affect the election?

ADDED: Eugene Volokh defends Gutmann. (Evil characters for Halloween are the norm!) Glenn Reynolds responds. (Bet she wouldn't have posed with someone dressed as a Klansman!) Eugene responds to Glenn. Glenn "remain[s] skeptical." This interchange, which I read after I posted my observations, brings up the question whether university administrators are politically slanted in their tolerance. More important, I think if a student had arrived dressed as a Klansman, many guests at the party would have reacted vociferously. That student would never have reached the point where he could pose with the president. So what is notable in the Gutmann incident is not so much that she posed with the student, but that other party-goers accepted him into the group without protest. That says something about the political climate at the university.

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