A Disheartening Account of Censorship at UNC-Wilmington

July 22, 2009

Janet Mason Ellerby, a Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), who until recently also served as interim director of UNCW’s Women’s Studies and Resource Center, has written an interesting article for Inside Higher Ed detailing her frustrations with the administrative censorship she witnessed as interim director.

Ellerby’s article centers on an incident this past spring when the Women’s Studies and Resource Center was forced by administrators to censor its presentation of The Century Project, an exhibit by photographer Frank Cortelle. The Century Project, according to its website, "is a chronological series of nude photographic portraits of more than one hundred women and girls from the moment of birth to nearly a hundred years of age." As Ellerby relates, the center’s plans became a source of controversy when a professor from an out-of-state institution wrote to the administration raising fierce objections to what he deemed the exhibit’s "exploitation" of underage women.

UNCW’s handling of the controversy is telling:

Based mostly on these misconceptions, which either Frank Cordelle or I could easily have easily dispelled, a handful of administrators let their own perceptions about the impact a controversy might have on the university’s image (i.e., brand) prevail…Their decision was issued as an ultimatum either censor the project or cancel.

This kind of disjointed decision process, in which the desire to maintain a healthy public image comes above all else, is something FIRE sees all too often. Read Ellerby’s article to learn the whole story.

Schools:  University of North Carolina – Wilmington