COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Between a rock and a hard place, regents of Maryland's state university system voted Wednesday to defy a legislative order that gave the state-funded universities until Dec. 1 to submit policies on "the displaying or screening of obscene films and materials" on the 11 campuses in its system. The language had been written into the state budget in April, but after months of intense internal deliberation as well as public and student comment, the regents concluded that any such rules would be constitutionally suspect and impossible to enforce.
The problem for the university was how to craft a regulation that was consistent with federal law. According to U-Md Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan, who prepared a report for the Board of Regents, any such regulation "would put the universities in an untenable position and subject [them] to legal challenges” that would "almost certainly go to the Supreme Court."
According to Fox News, “Kirwan also said that such a policy would be difficult to uniformly implement across all university system campuses.” His ultimate recommendation was to not create such a policy, and Wednesday the regents agreed.
The legislative mandate came after an incident in April when legislators intervened in the scheduled screening of Digital Playground’s Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge at the student union of the College Park campus. The screening of the multiple AVN Award-winning blockbuster had been approved by a student programming committee for a Saturday midnight show, but the resulting publicity led to a state Senate debate, after which State Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, threatened to cut off the university's state funding if it aired. The screening was subsequently cancelled.
"This incident in Baltimore is very sad, but we are thrilled that our film has sparked a very important debate about censorship," Digital Playground's director of marketing and publicity, Adella C, told AVN at the time. "The Pirates II screening was unanimously approved by the student programming committee, and there was no legitimate reason to cancel the event."
Kerwin will write a letter to the legislature "expressing the view that a policy would not be in the best interest of the USM or the State because of the First Amendment issues a policy would raise," but the board stressed that not following through on the legislative order does not mean the university will relinquish control over the types and quality of films screened on its campuses.
"We are creating a policy here, and that is to abide by the laws of the land," said Chairman Clifford Kendall, adding that campuses should uphold "high ethical and moral standards" when considering events for entertainment purposes.