Good news from Kennesaw State University in Georgia! Two weeks after President Daniel Papp ordered the censorship of an exhibit in the university’s brand-new art museum because it was “not aligned with the celebratory atmosphere of the museum’s opening,” KSU announced Friday that the installation by Ruth Stanford will be fully restored before March 25.
Papp’s original order came when he previewed the exhibit shortly before the museum’s debut and saw that Stanford had alluded to racist views held by Corra Harris, a long-deceased writer whose homestead the university acquired in 2009. In an 1899 letter to the editor of The Independent, Harris simultaneously denounced lynchings of black men and blamed the victims as “hideous monster[s], a possible menace to every home in the South.” Presumably because this cast Harris in an unflattering light, Papp threatened to shut down the entire multi-artist exhibit if Stanford’s portion was not removed before the opening.
An official statement by KSU initially tried to placate protesters by promising that the installation would be shown separately at some unspecified later date, but last week the administration finally concluded that it would be better to confront the issue head-on. In announcing the reinstatement of Stanford’s artwork, the university stated:
Campus officials also will provide explanatory materials and host public programs that address the complexity and controversial nature of the subject matter….Kennesaw State University officials also reaffirm the administration’s full support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Our intention is to use this entire experience as a learning and engagement opportunity for all of our stakeholders.
Indeed, we hope that this has been a learning experience for the administration! Stanford also issued a statement in which she said that she and KSU “continue to disagree on certain issues related to the removal of my work,” but she is optimistic “that the conversations it has generated about art, place, history, academic freedom, and free speech have been, and will continue to be, productive.”
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.