Censorship at Penn State Update:


I emailed Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon, who was quoted as stating that the Joshua Stulman's exhibit on the culture of terrorism in the Palestinian territories (see linked post below) was not censored for content, but for other reasons, to explain what those other reasons were. Here is the response I received:

This story is dead wrong. The headline in the student newspaper is wrong.

The student may exhibit his class work in the space provided for class projects — as long as he has no sponsor.

There are other places all over campus that sponsored exhibits are displayed. This hallway outside of faculty offices is for class projects not commercial projects.

If the student puts up the exhibit without a sponsor funding the exhibit it is fine with the art faculty. He has been told this.

That has always been the intent for this hallway and that has not changed because of this exhibit or its content.

I hope he puts up the exhibit and the claims that art faculty want to censor his work end.

Thanks for asking.

This cached Google page shows that Mr. Stulman was scheduled to have an exhibit April 23-29 at the Patterson gallery, topic TBA. Mr. Stulman had previously exhibited there in February.

As near as I can tell, no one has denied that Mr. Stulman received an email stating that his exhibit may not go forward as scheduled, or that he was told that his exhibit was objectionable because it "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue."

If I'm reading Mr. Mahon's email correctly, however, he is focusing on the fact that Hillel sponsored Mr. Stulman's exhibit the reception for Mr. Stulman's exhibit, to the tune of $75-$100, which somehow makes it a "commercial project" ineligible for display. However, according to the news story, "Stulman said he created his paintings on his own and he approached Penn State Hillel in February to help with advertising costs and food for the opening. He said the School of Visual Arts did not object to his earlier exhibit, also sponsored by Hillel. Tuvia Abramson, director of Penn State Hillel, said while Hillel sponsored the Stulman's exhibit, the group had nothing to do with his message or content." [Hillel's continuing interest in Stulman's work is documented here.]

So we have two possibilities here: (1) Penn State's art faculty has a rule against displaying any student work that has any sponsorship, including sponsorship by a recognized student organization such as Hillel. However, this rule is only applied when the faculty doesn't like the message the art is sending or (2) there is no such rule, or at least it wouldn't apply to a noncommercial, student organization such as Hillel, but pretending there is such a rule is a convenient excuse for what would otherwise look like pure heavy-handed enforcement of political correctness.

Needless to say, neither option reflects well on Penn State.

UPDATE: I found the Patterson Gallery guidelines for exhibits of student work online, and I don't see any rule prohibiting sponsorship.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Centre Daily Times has more:

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said in a separate e-mail that "the heart of this issue is the student never mentioned outside sponsorship" when the exhibit was approved.

But e-mails from Stulman to Garoian, obtained by the Centre Daily Times, show that Stulman wrote March 1 that "the opening is sponsored by Penn State Hillel" and offered contact information for Penn State's Hillel director, Tuvia Abramson. Hillel is a Jewish organization.

On April 11, Garoian e-mailed Abramson and Stulman and suggested the three get together to write a news release about the exhibit. Garoian and Abramson corresponded several more times without mentioning the sponsorship.

Hillel was providing $75 to $100 for a reception, Abramson said. Hillel did the same for a February exhibit, Abramson and Stulman said, and encountered no problems.

YET ONE MORE UPDATE: This is precious. Professor Charles Garoian, who is apparently responsible for refusing to allow Stulman's exhibit to be displayed, published (with a co-author) a series of three articles in 1996 in a journal called School Arts entitled "Censorship in the art classroom," with the final article in the trilogy called "Fighting censorship in the art classroom." The good professor wrote, prophetically:

Increasingly, attacks on learning are also coming from the political left with objections predicated on issues of political incorrectness as in the following: depictions of gender or race which are alleged offensive, such as female nudity; what are perceived as sexist or racist images or language; any kind of religious content; and other politically sensitive subjects. In many cases, teachers have been fired, disciplined or harassed in the wake of such attacks. In some cases, teachers have suffered damage to their careers and reputations.

One result of censorship is that teachers become increasingly reluctant to use materials in their classrooms that may raise difficult social questions, communicate values, portray potentially controversial subject matter or cause students to think about important issues. Is art education in danger of being reduced to the study and creation of decorative images devoid of values, social issues or other content deemed offensive to particular individuals or groups? [School Arts v95.n5 (Jan 1996)]

Compare this to the email Stulman received [not clear from exactly who] from Garoian stating that his exhibition would be canceled because it "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue," and Garoian's reported statement that Stulman's controversial images did not mesh with the university's educational mission!

Even more precious, in Part II of the three-part series, Garoian criticized "self-censorship" at the Penn State School of Visual Arts:

An example of self-censorship recently occurred at the School of Visual Arts on the University Park campus of Penn State University. The undergraduate committee for student exhibits in the Patterson Gallery was asked to develop its own guidelines for exhibitions after several incidents in which the content of previous exhibitions was called into question by administrators and visitors to the gallery.

This committee, composed of students only, was given permission by the director of the School of Visual Arts to take full responsibility for the gallery space and to define its own policy. What the director did not anticipate was the committee's interpretation of the following rule: "Since the exhibit space is in a public hallway, and is the main entrance to the administration office, obscene or inappropriate work will not be permitted. Unlike a traditional gallery space, passersby have no choice in entering or avoiding this area. Every attempt will be made to accommodate all artwork, but sensitivity on your part is encouraged. Work that may fall into this category should be shown to the committee before it is displayed."

Upon reading the acceptance criteria developed by the students, the director and several faculty members advised students to reconsider this rule based on the premise that "a free exploration and expression of ideas and images in art must be preserved," which is a major purpose of art study in the school. Was the students' fear of possible future active censorship by the school's administration and faculty influential in their development of the language of the policy? Was it an acknowledgment of their intent to self-censor their own work? How do we judge between what might be regarded as such or just prudent decision-making?

And finally:

Yet, regardless of our individual beliefs, we rely on some basic principles to guide our search for solutions. As students enter our art classes, it is important that they be provided with a clear rationale regarding the purpose of art education in the schools. That rationale is to learn that works of are are not created in a void. Instead, the conditions of our culture influence the nature of images and ideas in works of art which, in turn, become part of the discourse that comprises the culture.

Members of the school community, including the students, ought to be clearly informed that in our classes they may experience strange, fantastic and controversial works of art - ones that are conceptually and emotionally challenging. Our intention as art teachers is not to shock nor to deny them their cultural values, attitudes and beliefs. They may not like what they experience, and it is not the art teacher's role to force them to do so. On the contrary, in a cultural democracy, students are taught to understand the purpose of such artworks despite the fact that they may not like or agree with them. Without such understanding, the knowledge of, appreciation and respect for our myriad differences may never be possible. [School Arts 95.n7 (March 1996)]

Lawgirl (mail):
Are there any other pictures of his work which would show exactly why these works have got the university in such an uproar?
4.23.2006 6:45pm
Dutch (mail):
"This story is dead wrong" sounds like a categorical denial, which is stupid, because it would seem fairly easy for this kid to produce the email, right? The email that doesn't mention sponsorship?

I hope he puts up the exhibit and the claims that art faculty want to censor his work end.

Don't censor his exhibit and the claims will end. It's pretty straightforward.
4.23.2006 7:03pm
There's always possibilities (3) that the student has other outside funding, but didn't for the other project, (4) that the failure to block with other exhibit was the exception, not the rule, and (5) that the original article doesn't present the facts correctly in other ways. This is a student newspaper, not the New York Times.

Still, this doesn't look good for Penn State's art department.
4.23.2006 7:29pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
SLS 1L, your suggestions are contrary to available evidence, but have no evidence of their own in support. Especially with respect to (3), I'm sure that if the kid had other outside funding, the Penn State mouthpiece would have been all over it.
4.23.2006 7:45pm
Tony (mail):
Sounds like a trip down the rabbit hole to me. It seems that the minute one party cries "censorship" and another party cries "misunderstanding", any sense of reality becomes instantly inaccessible.
4.23.2006 9:14pm
Can't find a good name:
For the record, Hillel is an officially recognized student organization at Penn State, of which you can be 100% sure.
4.23.2006 9:15pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Not when the party crying "misunderstanding" previously provided a different explanation, and has not been able to explain away that other explanation.
4.23.2006 9:16pm
great unknown (mail):

Precisely. This is a student newspaper, not the New York Times. Therefore, the information can be assumed accurate until proved otherwise.
4.23.2006 9:25pm
Cornellian (mail):
I think someone needs to write an article on just how truly valuable Google cache really is.
4.23.2006 9:47pm
Inebriated Arsonist (www):
As a former Penn State student, I'll have to second the motion to disregard information found in the Daily Collegian until supporting evidence is found. Perhaps new blood in the past few years has changed the situation at the paper, but I wouldn't bet my lunch money on it.
4.23.2006 9:52pm
davidbernstein (mail):
We now have two sources, the Daily Collegian and the Centre Daily Times, that give basically the same story, so there is no need to focus on the credibility of the Daily Collegian.
4.23.2006 9:58pm
senioritis (mail):
If the university had paid attention to its own rules, this never would have happened. The regulations posted by Prof. Bernstein state explicitly that students can only use the space one time each semester. If he exhibited in February, he shouldn't be allowed to exhibit now. So, 1) Mr. Stulman can't use the gallery rules in his defense, and 2) no one running the gallery has it together enough to look at the rules.
4.23.2006 10:01pm
sls1l et al, if you check out today's kausfiles, you may find your youthful estimation of the New York Times's credibility somewhat shaken.
4.23.2006 10:08pm
Prof. Garoian said he'd let Stulman run the exhibition, if Stulman agreed to not accept Hillel funding for the opening. So why doesn't Stulman just turn down the Hillel offer? Then he gets his exhibition.
4.23.2006 10:27pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I don't know where Horowitz gets his silly ideas about professors.
4.23.2006 10:37pm
frankcross (mail):
wm, if you're talking about the kausfiles on Burkle, that is amazingly poorly reasoned. No legit criticism of the NYT on this one.
4.23.2006 11:57pm
Spade (mail):
I'd really like to know why Mahon is saying, "If the student puts up the exhibit without a sponsor funding the exhibit it is fine with the art faculty. He has been told this" when this first article said, "Charles Garoian, professor and director of the School of Visual Arts, said Stulman's controversial images did not mesh with the university's educational mission." That sounds like its almost quoting Garoian. So why is Mahon saying one thing now, after Garoian said another.

We either have a)a communications problem or b)Mahon is covering his ass. I didn't much care for the Collegian when I was there, but I couldn't see them flubbing that comment from Garoian.

It sounds like Garoian tried to censor some work he didn't like, figuring he'd get away with it. When he didn't PSU had to go into CYA mode, and this is what they've come up with.
4.24.2006 12:16am
Christopher Fotos (mail) (www):
David Bernstein: Thank you for this detailed post. My dear Penn State has been one of the worst offenders in the PC wars; this would be only the latest example.

The first rule in these cases is to disbelieve whatever school officials say.

Christopher Fotos
BA, English, Class of '78
MPA, '80
4.24.2006 12:25am
Das (mail):
It's amazing that these colleges keep doing this.

Even after blogs and The FIRE embarrassing them and making them back down again and again, they keep at it.

There's another possible reason: fear. Not fear of offending or hurting feelings, but fear of violent, riotous, murderious resopnse by Muslims.
4.24.2006 12:44am
Have we gotten to the point where somebody official announces "The problem doesn't exist but steps have been taken to fix it" yet?
4.24.2006 1:02am
sunship (mail):
Spade: That's because they didn't talk to Garoian before they published. The article quotes him, but in the very next paragraph admit that they weren't able to reach him. Very strange. The email Josh got was from "School of Visual Arts" of which Garoian is Director, granted, but I doubt he approves every email that goes out regarding policy. It's a big school, as you know.
4.24.2006 2:08am
sunship (mail):
Christopher Fotos said: The first rule in these cases is to disbelieve whatever school officials say.

That's funny. I thought the first rule in these cases was to disbelieve anything on blog comment forums
4.24.2006 2:11am
starimomak (mail):
So, ethnically motivated student works up a bit of anti-Palestinian propaganda. Gets explicitly ethnocentric group to sponsor said exhibit. University demurs, saying he can't foist this on the general public (exhibit in a public hallway.) Ethnically motivated blogger/law professor gets irritated, contacts Penn State etc.

Mearsheimer and Walt would have, actually did, predict this.
4.24.2006 2:33am
Spade (mail):
Sunship, I noticed that but figured that it was the artist providing emails that had Garoian's sig. Or it could be the Collegian being useless again. They were uselss a lot, so it is a possibility.

BA, History, PSU Class of '05
4.24.2006 3:09am
davod (mail):

The vast Jewish cabal strikes again to attack university. This truly does vindicate the respected authors you list.
4.24.2006 6:32am
Federal Dog:
"Mearsheimer and Walt would have, actually did, predict this."

Ooooooo. "The Lobby" is at it again, huh? Quick, everybody, HIDE!
4.24.2006 8:11am
Smithy (mail) (www):
Thanks for the update on this. It seems to me that this could easily become one of the most important free speech debates of our generation.

What you basically have here is a government-funded educational institution preventing students from displaying art with a pro-American message. It doesn't get much more obvious than that, does it? This has the potential to be huge.

Why is the MSM ignoring this story?
4.24.2006 9:37am
raj (mail):
Dutch 4/23/2006 6:03PM

Don't censor his exhibit...

Just to remind you, Penn State is not censoring his exhibit. The issue is whether the exhibit can be shown on Penn State property. There is no suggestion that, if Penn State refuses to allow it to be shown on Penn State property, it cannot be shown elsewhere.

"Censor" is thrown about way too much.
4.24.2006 9:46am
raj (mail):
Smithy 4.24.2006 8:37am

Why is the MSM ignoring this story?

Probably because it is little more than a local story, and it is relatively rare that national media pays much attention to local stories.

David Bernstein's rather lengthy postings notwithstanding.
4.24.2006 9:55am
Bill Lalor (mail) (www):

near as I can tell, Penn State Hillel is an official PSU club, though I'm not 100% sure

Great post and btw PSU Hillel is in fact a recognized "student organization" at PSU's main campus:
4.24.2006 11:23am
I think buried in the Garoian quote is the key to the seeming inconsistency. Whatever rule is applied, he doesn't want to jeopardize depictions of "female nudity."
4.24.2006 11:41am
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
I really don't see how this is a local story any more than the Duke Lacrosse Team is a local story.
4.24.2006 12:10pm
Steve P. (mail):
What? The Duke story has it all -- rich priviledged white boys acting crazy, rape, racism... this story is a sleep-fest by comparison.
4.24.2006 1:11pm
raj (mail):

I really don't see how this is a local story any more than the Duke Lacrosse Team is a local story.

The Duke LaCrosse team story is a local story.

Why is it on CNN and Faux News? Because it involves sex, (alleged) rape, race and privilege. Oh, and because they have to fill 24 hours a day (less commercial time), 7 days a week with something. That doesn't mean, however, that it isn't a local story.

Where is the sex, (alleged) rape, race or privilege in this story?
4.24.2006 2:06pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
raj - exactly my point. That involves flashy questions, and this involves substantive ones.

Oh, and no need to correct the name - I know it's not proper German just from classical CD labels for the Trout Quintet - it's from the computer game Sam and Max Hit the Road.
4.24.2006 3:59pm
the real Eric:
Obviously they are referring to support from "The Lobby!"
4.24.2006 7:27pm
The exhibit that Mr. Joshua Stulman is trying to promote is fully sponsored by Hillel, a Jewish student organization. The portrait shows a Muslim man with Middle Eastern dress wearing a headband that says "I am a killer" written in Arabic.

This portrait is promoting hatred and is an anti-Muslim. It classifies Muslims as killers and promotes for conflicts. This exhibit HAS to be canceled and I don't understand Penn State's decision to reallow Stulman to show his hatred exhibits!
4.28.2006 1:42am