Student sues Troy University over removal of nude photographs

October 31, 2005

A Troy University student sued the school Monday claiming his rights of free speech and expression were violated when three photographs of male nudity were removed from a campus exhibit that opened in fall 2003.

The suit filed on behalf of Blake Dews, a fine arts and photography senior, challenges the removal of the three photos from a collage of 16 that was part of a class assignment.

“The photographs in question displayed male full frontal nudity and the university did not consider the photographs to be consistent with our community ‘s standards,” said university spokesman Tom Davis in a written statement.

The suit named Troy University, Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr., art and design department head Jerry Johnson and photography director Robert Joslin as defendants.

The photographs were part of a class assignment with a theme of “birth,” and included nude images of men and women. The suit said none of those pictured “are engaged in sexual activity or posed with a member of the opposite sex while nude.”

According to the lawsuit, a sign was placed outside the hall doors warning:  “This exhibit contains some nudity. Please be advised.”

The exhibit remained open until after Thanksgiving, when it closed because of finals and winter break. The suit alleges that during that time, Johnson told Dews that school lawyers had been consulted about the three photographs, that Johnson told Dews he needed to remove them, and that he may be in violation of Alabama’s criminal obscenity laws.

Dews refused, claiming the removal of these particular images would “compromise the integrity of the piece and distort its meaning,” according to the suit.

On Jan. 11, 2004, Dews’ said he received a call again asking him to remove the photographs. He said that when he arrived at the school, the photos had already been placed into storage.

Nude images by other photographers remained on display, he claims.

Throughout the fall 2003 semester, the collage was evaluated weekly throughout the course by both Johnson and other students, the suit alleges. Dews received an “A” in the class, as well as a school award for the piece. Before the exhibit opened, Dews claims that Johnson and another professor “expressed pleasure with how the work turned out, and did not express any concern over the nude images … .”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Montgomery by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Schools: Troy University Cases: Troy University: Speech Code Litigation