Earlier this month, Kennesaw State University (KSU) offered to reinstall an exhibit that was removed just before the grand opening of its new Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art because of concerns that it wasn’t “celebratory” enough for the occasion and might might offend some visitors. The exhibit, created by Georgia State University professor Ruth Stanford, chronicled the history of writer Corra Harris’ homestead and included text by Harris in which she rationalized the lynching of African-Americans. Stanford has agreed to allow KSU to restore the exhibit but expressed concern that KSU “continues to control the conversation” surrounding the art.
A statement from KSU posted Friday purported to “reaffirm the administration’s full support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.” But the university is allowing Stanford’s project to appear only if it is accompanied by additional information provided by the university, and it has not acknowledged that its initial decision was an unacceptable act of censorship. In an email to Inside Higher Ed, KSU attempted to defend itself against criticism:
We have openly communicated the university administration’s perspective and articulated the rationale for the action that was taken through three different media statements. … Members of the museum staff also have remained in frequent and consistent communication with the artist to ensure that the line of communication has remained open.
Yes, KSU articulated different rationales in its three media statements but still managed to offer no content-neutral or otherwise acceptable justification for its censorship of Stanford’s work. Further, a “line of communication” with the artist post-censorship means little when the university has not demonstrated either an understanding of why its decision was problematic or a willingness to let Stanford’s work speak for itself.
KSU is taking a positive step by agreeing to display Stanford’s work, but it should go further in showing its commitment to free expression by admitting its error and pledging not to impede the Zuckerman Museum’s exhibits based on their content in the future.