Campus Removes Anti-Racism Art Because It’s ‘Offensive,’ Journalism Dept Head Agrees

December 10, 2014

By Editorial Staff at Red Alert Politics

The University of Iowa banned an explicitly anti-racism art display on campus because it was too “offensive.” And, in what may be the even more horrifying part of this story, the UI journalism department head lauded that decision, and appeared to wish it would’ve gone further.

The display featured the figure of a KKK member fashioned out of old newspapers articles on incidents of racism, dating from 1908-2010. It was intended to call attention to both historical and recent instances of racism, but “many interpreted it as threatening hate speech,” the Daily Iowan reported.

UI officials then decided that the provocative piece was “deeply offensive” and removed it.

One journalism professor objected to the decision, noting that the area of campus where the display had been featured is supposed to be a forum for free speech.

But the school’s director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, David Ryfe, had this to say: “If it was up to me, and me alone, I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

Ryfe admitted that the university “likely made a viewpoint-based distinction, and according to R.A.V. v. the city of St. Paul, the court generally cannot make such distinctions.” But, he contended, “there are exceptions; this happened on a university campus for one thing.”

“One would have hoped that a journalism professor—in fact, the director of UI’s journalism school—would know that speech is not rendered unprotected merely by the fact that it occurs on a public university campus,” responded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Read more from Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who notes, “When you start casting for exceptions to the First Amendment, you never know what kind of other speech—perhaps speech designed to address the very problems you’re fighting against—will get caught up in the net.”

Schools: University of Iowa