University Officials Trample Free Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
November 2, 2007 12:00 am

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Censorship of Student Art Project Chills Creative Expression

OXFORD, OH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed concern Friday over the reaction of officials at Miami University to a student art display. The art piece, created by a group of students, was intended to symbolize the Tree of Life and featured a tire swing and seven ropes. The display stood for several hours until police were called and removed it because it was deemed controversial. Following the removal of the display, university officials and police have threatened action against the students involved.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “University leadership, while well meaning in its attempt to avoid offending anyone, has ultimately offended the principles of an institution of higher learning by a reprehensible lack of support for intellectual freedom and robust discussion.”

Link added, “Schools should not shy away from difficult issues or provocative statements. Instead of censoring and condemning the project, university officials should have allowed interested students to view and draw their own conclusions from the artwork. The creative arts have a long tradition of inspiring public dialogue and innovative new ideas, and this project could have been an opportunity for the community to have open and honest communication on important issues.”

University officials have repeatedly condemned the artwork as offensive since the incident occurred. In addition to threatening disciplinary action for the students involved, officials have called for renewed guidelines for displaying controversial artwork. Some restrictions that have been reported include forbidding controversial work to be displayed outside and requiring art to have an explanation of the context posted along with the piece.

“Artwork is meant to be interpreted by the individual and should not be constrained by requirements explaining the intent of the artist. Art is meant to challenge individuals and communities to see new perspectives or address pressing issues. By threatening disciplinary action and restrictions to artistic expression, the university stifles artists’ ability to present new, innovative ideas,” said Link.

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