DES MOINES, Iowa, December 17, 2014—In a letter sent last Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) joined in criticizing the University of Iowa’s (UI’s) chilling censorship of faculty artist Serhat Tanyolacar. UI forced Tanyolacar to remove his artwork from an outdoor campus area after some students claimed they were disturbed by its imagery, consisting of newspaper clippings reporting on racial violence printed onto a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. UI also publicly denounced the artwork, ignoring its anti-racist intent and its success in facilitating dialogue on race relations among its viewers.
“The University of Iowa betrayed its purpose as an institution of higher learning by censoring Tanyolacar’s art,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “Far from fostering critical thinking, it declared that certain methods of expression are too dangerous for campus regardless of context, doing a profound disservice both to its students and to the Constitution in the process.”
FIRE and NCAC wrote to UI on December 12, criticizing the university for “effectively announc[ing] that Tanyolacar’s artwork is not protected by the First Amendment due to the discomfort it caused to some of those who encountered it” and decrying UI’s response as “an unacceptable abdication of its duty to uphold its community members’ constitutional rights.” FIRE and NCAC have called on the university to issue a public statement affirming Tanyolacar’s First Amendment rights and have put the university on notice that it may not bar such work from the campus simply because of the offense some in the community take at its content.
“Purging disturbing images and ideas from college campuses in the name of protecting vulnerable groups goes against the very mission of the university as the quintessential marketplace of ideas, governed by the principle of academic freedom,” said Svetlana Mintcheva, NCAC’s Director of Programs. “A university cannot limit inquiry just because some of the questions raised may prove unsettling. Indeed, university administrators should trust students and expect them to be able to argue against ideas with which they disagree. Students coming from vulnerable groups are no less capable of speaking up than other students; college administrators need to encourage them to do so rather than misguidedly purging the campus of potentially controversial material.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
NCAC, founded in 1974, is an alliance of over 50 national nonprofit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups dedicated to promoting the right to free speech. More information on its nationwide work combating censorship can be found at ncac.org.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473 x403; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dara Plath, Administrative Assistant, NCAC: 212-807-6222 x106; email@example.com