Was this a case of censorship or religious liberty?

Colleen Flaherty reports at Inside Higher Ed.

Fired Over a Phallus?

During the week, David Hillman was one of the most popular instructors at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, attracting students to study Greek and Latin not only through his expertise but his vast knowledge of the peculiarities of the ancient world (he’s written a book on drug use in ancient Rome and Greece, for example). On the weekends, the single dad cleaned Saint Mary’s toilets as a custodian to supplement his $15,000-a-year adjunct’s salary. But now, after three years at the university, he’s out of both jobs. Why? Hillman says he was the subject of vague sexual harassment claims — which he denies — but that the university was looking for any excuse to get rid of him after he ruffled administrative feathers by introducing phallic props into a play.

Hillman was contracted by the Catholic university this fall to translate Seneca’s version of Medea, a story largely about a woman’s revenge on a husband who’s abandoned her for a more politically advantageous marriage. But Hillman — technically the production’s playwright — also highlighted Medea’s undertones about greed, and suggested that cast members deliver admonishing lines about corporate greed while pointing fascina at the audience.

Used in the ancient world in certain rites and to ward off evil, fascina are supposed to embody the divine power of the phallus. In that spirit, the props being prepared for the show looked distinctly like erect penises (one of the props is pictured at right). But they arguably weren’t any more obscene that what one might see, say, wandering around the ruins of Pompeii or, for that matter, flipping through a classics textbook (or even spending a weekend on a college campus).