Censoring "Portraits of Terror" at Penn State:

Penn State Digital Collegian:

For Penn State student Josh Stulman, years of hard work ended in disappointment yesterday when the university cancelled his upcoming art exhibit for violation of Penn State's policies on nondiscrimination, harassment and hate.

Three days before his 10-piece exhibit — Portraits of Terror — was scheduled to open at the Patterson Building, Stulman (senior-painting and anthropology) received an e-mail message from the School of Visual Arts that said his exhibit on images of terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" and the display would be cancelled.

The exhibit, Stulman said, which is based mainly on the conflict in Palestinian territories, raises questions concerning the destruction of Jewish religious shrines, anti-Semitic propaganda and cartoons in Palestinian newspapers, the disregard for rules of engagement and treatment of prisoners, and the indoctrination of youth into terrorist acts.

"I'm being censored and the reason for censoring me doesn't make sense," Stulman 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.

The decision to cancel the exhibit came after reviewing Penn State's Policy AD42 [the policy, which, in my educated opinion, is clearly unconstutionally overbroad even if it actually applies to Stulman's exhibit, can be found here]: Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate, he wrote.


[Stulman] said he was shocked at the university's decision to cancel the exhibit and that he has tried to meet with Garoian on numerous occasions to discuss his artwork.

"It's not about hate. I don't hate Muslims. This is not about Islam," Stulman said. "This is about terrorism impacting the Palestinian way of life and Israel way of life.

Thanks to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East for the heads-up.

UPDATE: Here is a photo of one of the pieces from the censored exhibit. It depicts is titled "Our Greatest Hero" and depicts Palestinian Nazi (I mean that literally) Haj Amin Al-Husseini, whom Yasser Arafat called "Our Greatest Hero."

Correction, from Mr. Stulman: The name of the painting in the picture is "Ramallah" and discusses the brutal treatment of Israeli soldiers in that specific area on at least several occasions including in 2002.

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)]

Penn State Censorship--The Plot Thickens:

Reader Andy Banducci points out that the "harassment" policy AD42 that Penn State has relied on in censoring student Josh Stulman's exhibit of paintings on the culture of terrorism in the Palestinian Territories is under constitutional attack by the Alliance Defense Fund. You can read the complaint here.

According to this news story, Penn State's response to the complaint states: "It is denied that Penn State maintains a 'speech code policy.'" It will be pretty hard for Penn State to maintain that posture when the email Stulman received cancelling his exhibit apparently stated that his exhibit was in violation of AD42 because it "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue."

Not to belabor the obvious, but after federal courts consistently invalidated state university "speech codes" in the 1990s, the universities revived these codes in the guise of antidiscrimination policy. There is no reason to believe that the universities will be any more successful in defending the (barely disguised) codes this time, but neither the Constitution nor common sense seems to be much of a barrier to speech regulation at public universities these days.

Penn State Backs Down

regarding Josh Stulman's exhibit on the culture of terrorism in the Palestinian territories, as per this email letter to Ed Beck of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East:

Thank you for your note expressing concern over the proposed art exhibit. President Spanier is out of town and his schedule will make it unlikely that he can respond in a timely manner so I am responding on his behalf, but I will be sure that he sees your note. I certainly understand your concern, because there has been much confusion on this issue in the media. First, and most importantly, the "administration" does not condone censorship of artwork and had no role in this matter. Indeed, we have worked diligently with the art department to help find a way to ensure that the student has an opportunity to display his work.

On Monday the student was again notified by email and in person that the space was available for his use the rest of this week and that two people from the department were also available to help him set it up. I was informed last night that the student does not feel ready to proceed at this time and would prefer to wait until the fall. We have assured him that the University will help to facilitate the exhibit whenever he is ready.

So let me reiterate that in no way is Penn State blocking the presentation of his work because of its content.

Again, thank you for writing. We appreciate your concern over this matter.

Sincerely, Steve MacCarthy Vice President for University Relations

I like the implict acknowledgement that there was indeed content-based censorship here, contrary to the previous claim by a university spokesman that it was all about Hillel's $75 contribution for a reception. I wonder if Penn State would have ultimately been so forthcoming but for (a) the fact that they are being sued for having an unconstitutional speech code and (b) the attention the matter received on this and other blogs.

More on the Penn State Censorship Scandal:

[Welcome Instapundit readers! If you have not been following this story and want some further background information, you can read my previous posts on the subject here. Ironically, Professor Garoian, responsible for censorship in this incident, previously wrote a series of articles condemning censorship of the arts, including at Penn State!]

A very strong statement by the director of the Penn State Hillel, Tuvia Abramson:

Following eight days of misinformation by the School of Visual Arts and the Penn State University spokesman, which resulted in misleading information, I have decided today to issue an official statement as the executive director of Penn State Hillel.

The university is an open market for ideas, creativity, and sometimes debates. Penn State Hillel is a place where Jewish students create, learn debate, grow, and above all feel comfortable to be a Jew. The role of the Hillel Foundation on campus is to educate the community about Judaism, to maintain a high profile so in a case like Joshua Stulman's they will know that there is an organization that supports the students.

The Hillel Foundation, as stated in its charter, must represent the diversity of opinion (religious, cultural, and political) which are found in any Jewish community around the world. Hillel has no political agenda, and as I write this letter today, I have not even seen all of the pictures for Joshua's exhibit.

In my 23 years in Hillel on three different campuses, I have not seen an act so blatant as the act of censorship, discrimination, and anti-Semitism like the one which applies to Joshua Stulman [editor's note: the charge of anti-Semitism seems a bit extreme here, but apparently the Hillel director has been subjected to a flurry of anti-Semitic calls and threats, so you can understand his senstivity to the blame that was put on Hillel].

This was not a single act. This was systematic abuse and intimidation which was applied by the School of Visual Arts to coerce the student and force him to cancel his art exhibition all because of its political content.

The message of Joshua's exhibit was this: When you preach hate, teach hate, and indoctrinate children with hate, you will have terror. When you use the airways and the political system to reinforce hate, you create a mechanism by which these children will learn how and when to destroy innocent life.

This message was blocked by the director of the School of Visual Arts and its faculty without discussion or review of most of the artwork with the student Joshua Stulman. The director issued a statement canceling the exhibit stating the cancellation was based on Penn State's Policy AD42 about Zero Tolerance for Hate and that Joshua's work did not promote a democratic dialogue or cultural diversity.

The second reason stated for canceling the exhibit was due to the sponsorship of Hillel for the reception on opening night.

Both of these statements were false, misleading, and were never discussed prior to receiving the letter of cancellation. They were fake excuses to find justification to shut up the exhibit because of its political content, which did not go along with the political opinion or agenda of Professor Charles Garoian and art lecturer and advisor Robert Yarber.

The mistake was done by the School of Visual Arts, who added insult to injury when Professor Garoian offered to Joshua on Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, that he could put up his exhibit the next day if Joshua would drop the Hillel sponsorship. Joshua refused to accept the offer of removing Hillel because doing so would validate their denial of applying censorship to the artwork.

All the attempts to set the record straight and to have the School of Visual Arts issue an apology to Hillel for falsely implicating the Foundation. In February, Hillel sponsored an exhibit by the same artist in the same gallery with no issues.

An [RTF] attachment to this e-mail details six weeks worth of correspondence related to this incident.

The Hillel Foundation is thankful to [Penn State President] Graham Spanier who issued a statement against censorship. The Foundation also thanks Stephen MacCarthy for understanding the complexity and his tireless work to resolve this unacceptable situation.

On April 27 Johsua received an email from Professor Garoian, which was to represent an apology, but rather it was just a letter full of excuses.

Nowhere in his e-mail was an apology to Hillel for falsely using its name as an excuse to cancel the exhibit, nor was there a specific apology to Joshua in regard to using the Hate Code as a false excuse to cancel the exhibit.

As of today no public apology to anyone has been issued to the media. Additionally the statement from the university spokesman has not been modified. On the contrary, on April 29 Fox News broadcasted the university spokesman William Mahon as saying that it was only the responsibility of one professor.

The Hillel Foundation feels that the School of Visual Arts needs to come clean. It has given a black eye to the college of Arts and Architecture. It has given a black eye to the entire university, it mislead the media, faculty, staff, and above all it projected the university as an academic center where freedom of expression, academic freedom and freedom of speech is denied because of political correctness.

Is this the image that Penn State would like to promote? I doubt it. The mistake was done by the School of Visual Arts. The university needs to find a way to right the wrong. An investigation is necessary of the faculty of the School of Visual Arts, administration, and anyone else at this university who may have been involved in this act of cancellation and the climate of discrimination.

Attached with this email is a more detailed chronology of events, which I have reprinted "beneath the fold" for those who are interested.