I had the good fortune to attend the Angels Theatre Company’s reading of David Wiltse’s 2007 play, "Sedition," at the UNL Student Center, sponsored by the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska.
A week later, I read the letter by three Nebraska legislators ("UNL's treatment of conservatives is troubling," Nov. 2) attacking free speech and academic freedom at the university, and I wished that they had attended the reading with me.
"Sedition," set in Lincoln, examines the challenges to free speech and academic freedom in the U.S. prior to and during World War I. The play is based on the experiences of the playwright’s grandfather, Andrew Schrag, head of the German department. Schrag was one of 15 UNL professors and one staff member put on trial for disloyalty.
“A playwright who rattles the way you see things must be doing something right,” a New York Times critic wrote when the play was first produced. Angels Theatre Company’s reading did the play justice at the Union and at the First Unitarian Church in Omaha this past weekend.
While there are parallels between the unthinking, knee-jerk reactions to Woodrow Wilson’s and George W. Bush’s push to war in Europe and Iraq, respectively, the play reveals what can happen to individuals, families, educational institutions and a nation when free speech and academic freedom are attacked from within.
Had those three legislators attended the reading, I believe their letter to the university, if written at all, would have been tempered by a genuine search for truth, respect for the intelligence and good will of their fellow citizens and pride in the university.
Kudos to David Wiltse, Angels Theatre Company and AFCON for reminding us that we all have an important and honorable role in safeguarding the principles on which our nation is built.
Mary K. Stillwell, Lincoln