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Friday Ephemera

Great Subtlety of Mind

Our new guardians of morality flex their mental muscles

University of Iowa (UI) students, faculty, and administrators are speaking out in support of the censorship of a statue created and displayed on campus by visiting professor Serhat Tanyolacar that they say constitutes “hate speech.” Tanyolacar’s piece comprised a seven foot tall sculpture of a Ku Klux Klan member whose robes are crafted from newspaper articles about racial violence. Many members of the UI community, however, ignored the intended anti-racist message of the piece and instead demanded that the university take action against what they perceive as a racist display — and the university is complying. 

The statue, which survived unmolested for a mere four hours, can be seen here. Yes, it’s crummy, but not, I think, a basis for fainting with rage. 

Tanyolacar erected the statue last week on an area of campus called the Pentacrest with hopes to “facilitate a dialogue with a community on a college campus,” responding to the controversy over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. But students judged the piece to be racist and offensive, and within hours, university police instructed Tanyolacar to take his piece down.

The article, by Susan Kruth, notes the similarity with a bizarre and sorry episode from 2008, in which a janitor and part-time student named Keith John Sampson was found guilty of “extremely poor judgment” and “racial harassment” - and threatened with “serious disciplinary action” - for quietly reading a history book in his own time. The book in question, which is available in the university’s own library, is an account of a notable defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. If Mr Sampson’s treatment by the university’s Affirmative Action Office doesn’t sound sufficiently Kafkaesque – a reminder that the absurd and the sinister aren’t mutually exclusive - take a few minutes to watch the video. If it makes you a little angry, maybe that’s no bad thing. And remember, these are the mental horizons of our self-imagined betters. A model for us all. 


More on the farce at the University of Iowa from Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason

David Ryfe, director of UI’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has different ideas, however. “If it was up to me, and me alone,” he told The Daily Iowan, “I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

By “speech” Mr Ryfe presumably means Professor Tanyolacar’s unimpressive artwork - and by implication any number of other things that he may find uncongenial. And note, this is the view of the director of the university’s journalism school. 

Update 2:

The psychodrama rumbles on unimpeded by reality or a sense of proportion. Apparently, students and faculty aren’t feeling “respected and safe.” Some are “traumatised.” Because of all the art. The campus is now abuzz with pretentious apologies, meetings, demands for more committees, more meetings, a “detailed plan of action” and enhanced sensitivity training. Counselling is of course being offered to “anyone negatively affected by the incident.”