LBCC Reaffirms Academic Freedom on Campus
Over 50 students, faculty and community members filled the LBCC boardroom to standing-room only for a heated policy debate on academic freedom on campus.
Academic freedom protects the right of faculty to teach, show and utilize any materials or objects relevant to educating students.
While the board assesses academic freedom along with other college policies every four years, the review became more than just routine after what some deemed to be several sexually explicit or even “pornographic” pieces of art were displayed in North Santiam Hall during fall term.
Some community members and students took offense to the artwork and called for it to be removed. In the same way, faculty and other students refuted the request because they wanted to protect academic freedom and freedom of expression.
After a brief budget meeting, the board opened its regular meeting by listening to comments from 25 people, including students, staff, faculty and local citizens.
There was support for all sides. Some asked for explicit art not to be allowed in public spaces. Others urged posting signs to warn for explicit content, while still others asked that all art be displayed freely without a sign.
“Pornography ruins families and marriages and this is going to promote that,” said community member Charles Nelson. Many speakers were worried that art that they consider explicit would have a negative impact on the actions and morals of the community.
“If my kids wanted to come here, I would be reluctant if they would be subjected to explicit sexual content without consent,” said Rodrigo Henriques.
Many more supported the notion of making sure all areas with potentially controversial art in them have signage warning of mature content.
“It is your responsibility to ensure a safe environment for everyone,” Scott Stimson told the board. “I support signage to warn of mature content.”
“While I think artists should be free to express themselves, it should not infringe upon my freedom to choose what I see,” said student Cecily Coleman.
“Our children do not need to be sheltered from this exciting world. We need to educate them in a compassionate environment,” said student Michael Bosch, one of the college’s current student art gallery coordinators.
“You couldn’t tell a poet what to write or a scientist what to research. This is why you cannot tell an artist what to show,” art faculty Anne Magratten said.
The audience comments were contained to three minutes each, but the testimonies and discussion lasted over two hours.
After all comments were finished, the board resumed its regular agenda, including swearing in new student government officers.
A short time later, the board opened up the academic freedom discussion to only board members.
LBCC President Greg Hamann noted that the revised policy had been recommended after extensive review by both the Academic Affairs Council, which includes faculty from throughout the campus, and the College Council, which includes representatives for students, staff, faculty and administration.
At one point, Hamann said, “It is not appropriate to decide what is mature content.”
“Isn’t it our legal responsibility to minors?” asked board member Keith Frome. But it was shown that the board policy states “faculty members should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.”
“One of the bad things about signage on sexual content is that there would have to be a judgment and someone has to judge it and I don’t know if any of us are qualified to do that,” board member Dick Running said.
After more discussion the board came to a vote. Hushed tension was broken as the board announced that the revised academic freedom policy had been approved by a vote of 5 to 1, with Frome voting against the policy.
Citizens, teachers and students filed out of the board room and while some left in frustration many more rejoiced together in small groups excitedly whispering among themselves.
“We are glad because this passed. Well, more elated because a lot was at risk,” said student Sin Melendez, who also serves as a student art gallery coordinator.
“I am really proud of LB, and the students and faculty that support academic freedom,” Bosch said.
Art faculty member Anne Magratten simply said, “I am so grateful.”