Present: Jim Gaudino, Wayne Quirk, Bill Vertrees, Charlotte Tullos, Libby Street, Shelly Johnson, Jim Schwing, Becky Watson, Emily Washines, Elaine Ames, Judy Miller
Guests: Matt Cziske, Megan Hammond (ASCWU BOD), Sherer Holter, Keith Lewis, Staci Sleigh-Layman, Lauren Short (ASCWU BOD)
Dr. Lewis thanked the group for giving him time to talk to the group today. He added that his discussion is going to focus on censorship. Dr. Lewis' comments are below:
I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you at the suggestion of Becky Watson. The issue that I wish to discuss concerns the censorship of a postcard image of a work by an MFA candidate.
Please forgive the prepared comments but I wanted to be sure to cover all of the issues that I see as relevant.
I will be sharing with you my concerns, not only about an act of censorship, but about the implications to academic freedom, the damage to the mission of the University and the evidence- I fear- of a bureaucracy that shirked its primary function of actively, automatically and courageously representing and defending the work of our faculty and students.
I just had two students mount their MFA exhibitions at the end of spring quarter. Both bodies of work are superb and have already gained national attention. In addition, their joint show was powerful enough that they were asked to remount it in July at Punch Gallery in Seattle-where it was very well received. These are exactly the kind of grad students that we want to attract.
It is customary for Grad students in art to self-fund an exhibition postcard and our Gallery Director instructed my students to submit their cards to the University approval procedure regarding logos, etc.- despite no University funding being at issue.
One of these students, Genne Laakso, is doing work involving jewelry that marks the body- including through the incorporation of temporary piercings. (Pass out card) The work IS a bit challenging, but well within the current parameters of the visual arts. Genne has even received CWU travel monies to perform with a midwestern performance art group while wearing this jewelry.
Well... I found out- at a party, over a weekend -from a staff member that this card was caught up in some kind of drama in Barge Hall. I was not informed or consulted- despite the debate about the card apparently consuming several days. On the following Monday I was able to ascertain from my Dean and from Becky that the image on the BACK of the card that you see was unacceptable to the University and would be censored out.
My first though was- just the one on the back? That's odd- given the image on the front....As I thought further I really became befuddled since the image on the back is intrinsically, unavoidably, logically the result of the image on the front. So wanting to censor the image on the back seemed- well, kinda' like sticking one's fingers in one's ears and saying "la la la ". Then I learned that the proximity to the LOGO was the real issue- we have BRANDING to worry about, we have our "STAKEHOLDERS" who might be offended, we have our "IMAGE". That's when I got mad.
After a day of calling around--- getting no real help or advocacy from my Dean, (though a helpful and informative call from Becky), Wayne returned my call at the end of the day and we agreed that a self-funded card, WITHOUT the University logo and WITH my offer of a disclaimer would be (quote) "acceptable". I agreed, so that my student's card could be printed in time, since this process had consumed the better part of a week.-- but the experience left a very bad taste in my mouth and that is why I am here today.
First: how can a bunch of administrators think that they can meaningfully discuss this- a specialized creative research practice supervised by a senior faculty member - without bringing a specialist into the loop? Decisions were made without relevant consultation- which is an insult to myself and to my department and indicative of- I'm afraid- the imperial mentality so avidly cultivated by our former President.
At CWU, does Barge Hall decide WHICH research is fit to be acknowledged and which is not? For instance, could someone suppress a Geology press release about fossils because our legislature actually contains some crazies who think that the world is only 6000 years old? ANY form of censorship- no matter how minor- is not only chilling to free inquiry it is an open invite to suppress ANYTHING that might offend SOMEBODY somewhere, sometime, somehow....
This sort of caution is not a strategy. Rather, it allows others to define us and forces us to second guess ourselves in reference to some real or imaginary adverse reaction.
It took me a full day of phone calls to resolve this situation and that's probably only because- having been here longer than most people at this table- I'm neither intimidated nor impressed by bureaucrats or bureaucracy. I'm also an ankle biter and will harry anyone until I get an answer. But what would have happened if I'd been less obnoxious? If I'd been a junior or non-tenure track faculty in a similar situation?
Such star-chamber discussions and decisions, without respectful consultation, chill inquiry and diminish faith within the institution. CWU already has an execrable history of treating faculty disrespectfully or cavalierly- and this felt like more of the same.
Particularly ironic is that I wrote- over 15 years ago- a very influential article ABOUT exactly these radical forms of ornamentation and excerpts from that article were just published this spring in a major sourcebook of influential writing on craft. Thus this little censorship flap also essentially called into question my own work.(pass book)
This moment of censorship- as well as the lack of consultation- makes me believe that the university did NOT have my student's back. It makes me feel that the university does not have MY back; that if I or any faculty member is doing any work that might alienate or offend or challenge someone- that the faculty member (or student) could be thrown under the bus.
Here is what I want instead: I want an administration which- when confronted by challenging or controversial research or teaching -STARTS by gathering the information necessary to defend and explain that research or teaching. That is NOT what happened here-- instead it seems that public-relations panic took precedence over the real mission of the University.
I don't want us, as the famous saying goes: "To destroy the village, in order to save it".
I've have proudly and repeatedly boasted both on campus and off that I have NEVER experienced even a breath of censorship of my own work and have cited that as one reason for staying here for fifteen years rather than seeking a position at a larger school. I will no longer be able to make that boast with as much confidence.
Genne- a fine student and a dedicated, gifted artist and teacher had her thesis exhibition blemished by this institutional caution, this flinching away from what she had openly been pursuing with University support for the last three years. What effect will that have on her as an alumna? Would you give money and support to an institution that showed so little faith in and support for your culminating educational accomplishment?
The outcome of the show in Seattle has been a commitment on the part of Metalsmith magazine- -the journal of record in my field-(here are some recent issues) to publish a review of Genne's show written by Mathew Kangas a nationally significant critit. Just yesterday I learned that Genne's work prompted a call from Doug Bucci, a prominent Philadelphia metalsmith who recently organized our national conference. This is what we WANT our students to accomplish, this is the proof that our teaching is good, that Genne's work is significant, that we have helped launch her on a productive career. We should applaud that accomplishment and take pride in it rather than shying away from it.
What is the longer term impact of this moment where the faith of the institution wavered?
- Should I stop showing images of challenging and difficult works of art to my students? Should I discourage them from pushing the envelope in their own work?
- Should the Spurgeon Gallery avoid showing cutting-edge, challenging or controversial work? Would we be prevented from sending out university-funded postcards representing such work?
- Should we recruit cutting edge artists and teachers as colleagues in the department, or should we instead pick safe non-controversial job candidates? It won't make for a very good department-- but it will make administrator's jobs easier....
- Should I recruit other talented, challenging grad students--- or should I play it safe? Believe me-- in the context of contemporary arts practices this work is NOT that radical or challenging....
As I prepared these remarks I decided to look at the magazine and pamphlets in the art office- the stuff that comes through the mail everyday. Stuff that represents the parameters of the field. Here is a copy of Art Journal that discusses the work of Hanna Wilke, who- dying of cancer- documented every indignity of that dying with a harshness and lack of prevarication that still after 15 years is hard to accept. And here- perhaps more relevantly- are two publications paid for by (and proudly sporting the logo of) the University of South Florida. How would CWU deal with the work of graduate student Rebecca Flanders who decided to pursue a project on the history of- of all things- female standing urination- illustrated with explicit photos? And yet, as I have studied her work I have grown more and more enamored of it's emotional and social significance. Would we have considered censored that work too? The University of South Florida forged ahead and we should to. (PASS MAGS)
Controversy is the inevitable result of much important research and creativity. This administration should expect that, embrace that, encourage that and help us explain it to folks that might find it challenging. But, we should stand by it EVEN if those folks are not convinced.
Brian Eno wrote that "Art allows us to continually practice for the unexpected". In a larger sense that is also is what universities do and I'd like to see a bit more eagerness to support us in such endeavors.
PAC members had a lengthy discussion on the topic. Dr. Gaudino asked cabinet members to review policies and procedures to see if we are being too cautious or tight with some of our rules.
Dr. Lewis thanked the group for the candid discussion. Mr. Vertrees commented that he appreciated Dr. Lewis' thoughts and thanked him for making the group think about these issues. It was one of the most interesting PAC meetings to date. Dr. Watson thanked Dr. Lewis for coming and keeping the conversation open.
The Budget Advisory Committee was revised to include the chair of the employee council and the chair of the exempt employee association.
The role and membership of President's Cabinet has also been revised. The new role states that President's Cabinet apprises the president of ongoing activities of each division, advises him or her about institutional planning and solutions to institutional challenges, and ensures interdivisional communication. As needed, members of the university community are invited to make presentations or participate in discussions of the group.
A new group that Dr. Gaudino is suggesting is a University Council. This body will provide an opportunity for university-wide participation in university planning and problem-solving and will communicate to the university community about matters of importance. It will also provide a forum in which questions can be addressed to the president or other executive officers of the university. Forums will be video-streamed to campus constituents. This group will meet at least quarterly or more often as needed. PAC members offered feedback to the suggested changes to PAC, BAC, and President's Cabinet, and the addition of a University Council. The language for the University Council group will be revised slightly, and all of these policies on advisory groups will be brought back September 2 for final approval.
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