University of Iowa: Art Professor’s Controversial Display Removed After Student Complaints

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Iowa

On December 5, 2014, University of Iowa (UI) visiting assistant professor Serhat Tanyolacar placed a piece of public art consisting of newspaper clippings about racial violence printed on a Ku Klux Klan-style robe and hood in an open outdoor area of campus. Tanyolacar’s goal was to spark discussion about contemporary racial issues in the United States, and for much of the time the artwork was displayed, he stood in the vicinity and engaged with viewers. After some students complained that they felt threatened by the art, UI officials forced Tanyolacar to remove it, and sent multiple statements to the campus community apologizing for the “divisive, insensitive and intolerant” art that “immediately caused Black students and community members to feel terrorized and to fear for their safety.” Because the university’s primary stated concerns appeared to be the art’s content, FIRE and the National Coalition Against Censorship wrote to UI on December 18, asking the school to reaffirm its commitment to its First Amendment obligations.