SALISBURY, N.C. A community college instructor who was suspended for showing classes "Fahrenheit 9/11" in the week before the presidential election says he is unapologetic and believes he should be able to teach as he sees fit.
"This story is now about academic freedom ... the movie is ancient history," said Davis March, who served his four-day suspension and returned to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College on Nov. 2, which happened to be Election Day.
The Michael Moore documentary, which criticizes President Bush's actions regarding the Sept. 11 attacks, was shown in its entirety to March's film class, and administrators pulled the plug with about 20 minutes left when he tried to show it to an English composition class.
School officials said March disobeyed orders by refusing to meet with school administrators before showing the film in class. But March disputed that, saying no edict to seek that permission was issued.
"If I'm wrong about this I've been wrong my entire career," said the 54-year-old March, who has taught at the school for two decades. "If I backed down, how could I go back into the classroom and face my students?"
The confrontation has become a major topic of discussion on this campus 45 miles northeast of Charlotte, where students are divided over the film and the school's response.
"As a college instructor ... he should be expected to know that he needs to show both sides of an issue," said 29-year-old Christina Helm, whose husband is serving in the armed forces in Iraq.
But Brett Fernald, 24, said he believed March was well within his constitutional rights in showing the movie.
"It's a freedom-of-speech issue," he said. "If you can't discuss this kind of thing on a college campus, then where can you talk about it?"
Ann Hovey, executive vice president at the school, said the board of trustees has a clear policy of nonpartisanship regarding political issues. She said the school's president, Richard Brownell, has issued several memos on the topic.
One dated Oct. 25 said, in part, that no college employee "is authorized to use the classroom or college environment as a platform to promote their own personal, religious or political views or to advocate for specific political candidates."
Hovey said March asked school officials in August if he could send out flyers promoting a screening of Moore's movie. The school rejected that request.
"He was insistent about wanting to show it before the election, which implied some possible political intent," Hovey said. She said March erred by not also presenting an opposing view to the film.
"We are not about trying to suppress critical thinking or academic thought," she said. "But if you are trying to promote critical thinking, then both sides need to be presented."
Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called the school's actions deplorable.
"Every so often we see a new trend of censorship rearing its strange little head," he said. "This is been absolutely devastating to political free speech. It's true the university cannot endorse a candidate, but the distinction of what a university professor can do is increasingly getting blurred."