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Brandeis and the Art Exhibit:

An official explanation from a Brandeis spokesman:

The decision to take down the Palestinian picture exhibit has been seriously misunderstood and mistakenly characterized as censorship. Brandeis encourages serious discussion of all issues, including many that are sensitive, controversial or even painful. For that very reason, the University pays careful attention to the time, place and manner in which exhibits, debates, talks, etc. occur. The concern is heightened when public space at the University is being used.

In this case, a grouping of Palestinian drawings was hung recently in the Goldfarb library. The drawings were part of a Brandeis student's class project. The student described the installation as a way to "bring into the Brandeis community a different narrative about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

The timing (in this case, immediately before final examinations) and physical location of an exhibit often require as much dialogue and discussion before being undertaken as the exhibit itself. In the absence of any larger educational context, various administrators received reports that some students found the exhibit confusing and upsetting.

Out of concern for the community, the University elected to take down the pictures at this time. In this case, as in any other, it would be our hope that interested faculty and students would come together to create an exhibit or event that would allow for thoughtful discussion around the points that the student had hoped to communicate.

The first three paragraphs quoted above actually make a certain amount of sense: whoever decided to allow an obviously extremely controversial art exhibit to be displayed in the library during finals time was guilty of poor judgment. During finals, especially at Brandeis, (which, at least when I went there, was reputed to have the third-hardest-working students in the country, after Cornell and Hopkins) students are focusing on their studies, and it's just dumb to choose that particular time and place to display a provocative, political, display of art.

However, the final paragraph more or less ruins this point, because it reiterates the position Brandeis previously took, which is that this was not simply a "time, place, and manner" restriction (to borrow phraseology from constitutional law), but also a content-based restriction, and that the display would have been fine if it had been "balanced" or on some other controversial topic perhaps less likely to raise hackles at Brandeis.

In short, it makes sense for the library director, or whoever is in charge, to have a policy, "the library is off-limits to controversial political displays around finals time," and for that individual to be overruled if he doesn't enforce such a policy. However, the Brandeis administration is waffling between that relatively cogent rationale, and one that focuses on "lack of balance" and the facts that some students were "upset," neither of which is a justifiable reason to take down a previously approved exhibit. Brandeis would have been on much more solid ground if it had simply announced that the exhibitor was welcome to display the art at any time and in any place on campus, except during finals to a captive audience in the library.

David Sucher (mail) (www):
So, Professor, do you think that it is irrelevant if the work is "art" or "journalism?" i.e. both typs of expression should be judged by the same constitutional rules.

I have heard the opposite claims made -- that "art" doesn't need balance and so should be judged by different standards etc etc -- and i can't figure why it would make any difference.
5.5.2006 11:15pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Brandeis must stand nearly alone as a university in which students pay any attention to an art exhibit in the library at any time. That they do so during finals is most commendable!
5.5.2006 11:17pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Whoever thinks that Brandeis, Cornell and Hopkins students do the most work in the country has never been to caltech.

On the topic I think any post-hoc justification like this should be regarded as BS until shown otherwise. I mean it is one thing to have a policy beforehand but you can almost always come up with some reasonable policy to justify your censorship afterwards. There are just so many reasonable policies that if people get to choose them after they see what the effects will be you might as well just let them censor.
5.6.2006 12:04am
Dennis Nolan (mail):
Even the first three paragraphs are unpersuasive. Are we really to believe that students at a selective school like Brandeis find a one-sided art exhibit "confusing and upsetting?" Or that students (at Brandeis, of all places) cannot on their own provide sufficient context to understand it? Or that students concentrating on exams are going to pay so much attention to an art exhibit as they walk by that they're distracted from their tests? The whole explanation strikes me as a belated rationalization for censorship rather than a legitimate reason.
5.6.2006 12:32am
Federal Dog:
"In the absence of any larger educational context, various administrators received reports that some students found the exhibit confusing and upsetting.

Out of concern for the community, the University elected to take down the pictures at this time."


Is there a conceivable way to read this as anything other than censorship? What am I missing here?
5.6.2006 8:51am
Daryl Herbert (www):
It's almost as if they have improper objections to the content of his speech, but want to hide behind proper-sounding objections...

DarylHerber apologizes for his blatant display of cynicism on the Volokh Conspiracy comment boards at this most sensitive time. He further apologizes for any confusion his sarcastic tone may have created. Further, he apologizes for questioning the motives of school administrators.

to address David Sucher's question: when has a VC member advocated shutting down a journalist because they weren't "balanced" enough? It's one thing to criticize someone (a journalist, an artist, etc.) for their unbalanced views. It's another thing entirely to try to shut them down for it.

Or are you saying that Brandeis, given this decision, is likely to censor student journalism that it finds to be politically incorrect?
5.6.2006 9:11pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
"...to address David Sucher's question: when has a VC member advocated shutting down a journalist because they weren't "balanced" enough?"

Uh...did I ask that? It's not a question I can imagine or remember asking as I don't believe in "balanced" journalism.

I have a different interest:
Why bring art as a factor?

Some people seem to be making a big deal out of the distinction between art and journalism. But it doesn't seem like a germane distinction to me at all as regards to free speech issues.
5.6.2006 10:00pm