Iowa College Grants Hecklers More Veto Power, Resulting In Summoning Of Campus Police To Offending 'Free Speech Wall'

from the taking-your-words-into-custody dept

Last December, an artistic piece appeared on the University of Iowa (UI) campus that rubbed a whole lot of people the wrong way. It resembled a hooded KKK member and was constructed from newspapers containing stories on racial violence. UI, being a typical university, removed and condemned the artwork, apparently unable to see anything past the shape of the object — like the subtext or even what its own condemnation meant in this context. (It was this effigy that prompted a completely ridiculous/trollicious response at Thought Catalog — one that compared free speech to Nazism.)

The school went on to soothe its thin skin by inviting its students — especially those with equally thin skin/inability to contextualize artistic statements — to come up with more ideas for repressing further free speech.

Emails obtained Wednesday by The Gazette reveal UI administrators sent that draft to student leaders who had expressed indignation over the effigy, asking for “suggestions.” The students sent a “response draft” with a handful of changes and stronger language.

UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said in internal emails that “some of what they have written, I think, is out of the question.”

The students, for example, suggested [President Sally] Mason call the statue a “portrayal of hate” and say “this action of an individual at an educational institution at the pedestal of the Pentacrest was not and will never be tolerated.”

They also suggested Mason call for an investigation.

Fortunately, most of the suggestions were never implemented. But the university still forced the artist — a visiting professor who was on hand during the controversial effigy’s very brief appearance on campus to answer questions and explain his motivations — to remove it from the campus’ informal free speech area, called the “Pentacrest.”

The better news is that another local college — Kirkwood University — has found a home for Professor Serhat Tanyolacar’s artwork.

Titled, “Fear of Art: Free Speech, Controversy and Public Space,” the forum attracted about 150 Kirkwood faculty, students and community members — who posed dozens of questions after a 30-minute opening statement from Tanyolacar.

UI, meanwhile, maintains that it didn’t remove the effigy because it was supposedly offensive, but because Tanyolacar didn’t ask its permission before exercising his First Amendment rights. The administration also claims that if it had been asked, it would have granted its permission. This, of course, can’t be proven after the fact, so it’s a safe thing to say, even if most people don’t believe a word of it.

What the university has done with its swift removal of protected expression in response to a heckler’s veto is provide the student body with a blueprint for further attacks on free speech. FIRE’s (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) Ari Cohn phrases it this way:

@uiowa has turned its students into such anti-#freespeech goblins that they are calling police to report suspected unregistered protests.

If you don’t like something, start tattling.

University of Iowa police Lt. Joe Lang, who was on scene at the demonstration, said the police were called to the event because someone saw the demonstration and decided to report it.

“We’re out here to make sure they went through the proper channels to get permission for this demonstration,” he said “We’re protecting the vested interest of the university; we just want to avoid a situation similar to what happened a few months ago.”

The “demonstration?” A public “free speech wall” where any student could write down anything he or she wanted to, provided — with permission from the university — by the school chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty. But someone (or someones) on campus would rather shut down free speech — using law enforcement, no less — than deal with the possibility that someone might be offended.

This is the culture that is indulged by the University of Iowa. It claims (like many other schools that say one thing and do another) to be a supporter of free expression, but its previous actions show nearly no heckler will be denied his or her veto power. The school has decided — through its statements and actions — that free speech can only be defended if it’s popular speech. UI’s president, Sally Mason, has already gone so far as to apologize to students who felt “terrorized” by Tanyolacar’s “unauthorized” artwork. In complete seriousness, she also claimed to support free speech while simultaneously asserting that the UI campus was no place for “divisive or insensitive displays.”

The censoring of Tanyolacar’s artwork has already produced a chilling effect on free expression, as is evidenced by the summoning of police to a free speech “demonstration.” The campus cops are already geared up to “prevent” students from being “terrorized” by protected speech. And now a certain subset of students has been given more power than they can responsibly handle. It’s clear which “side” of free speech the college has chosen to throw its weight behind: the side that limits, rather than encourages, an open exchange of ideas.

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Comments on “Iowa College Grants Hecklers More Veto Power, Resulting In Summoning Of Campus Police To Offending 'Free Speech Wall'”

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Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In my experience, people use “liberal” as a boogeyman,

and many other words too – in fact the term “hate speech” itself, anything ending “phobia” and quite a few other terms (fill in your own favourite) are easily used to stigmatize what might actually be valid criticism.

The problem with these words/phrases is that the people who use them are seldom prepared to say clearly what they mean – that way it is easier to categorise anything that you don’t like with an emotional slur that is deliberately designed to be difficult to argue against.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

heh man, i like a good (and justified) libtard bashing as much as the next guy, and while useless rags like huffpoo and saloon promote this kind of ANTI-free speech rhetoric in the name of ‘sensitivity’ blah blah blah, conservatards are FAR MORE egregious censors…

there are still a number of liberal-ish sites which allow contrary views, but MOST conservative sites will brook NO dissent, period…

really, i hate on both sides for being anti-free speech; but excoriate my liberal brothers and sisters MORE for being more hypocritical and un self-aware about it… they espouse and should know better; LOTS of conservatards will simply say straight up they don’t believe in free speech, so at least (not meaning much) they are not hypocrites about it…

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It depends a lot on the subject, doesn’t it?

Just how much do conservatives want to hold serious discussions on the prevalence of racism? Wage inequity? Gun accident frequency? Global warming? Business subsidies? The giveaways of privatization?

Right. If liberals created “political correctness” (and even though conservatives bitch about it incessantly) conservatives have adopted it just as wholeheartedly as liberals.

Just on different subjects.

David says:

Who was heckled here?

Making a Ku Klux Klan hood from hate speech articles is contextualizing hate speech.

Who can be offended at that?

Klan members and supporters. Hate speech writers and supporters. And people lacking the mental capacity for recognizing the not really subtle statement the art is conveying.

Frankly: catering to any of those categories should be beneath the dignity of an institution of higher learning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who was heckled here?

Honestly, I’m used to naïve half-wits who don’t really understand how free speech works. It’s sad, but it’s been around for a long time.

What really creeps me out is the utter lack of awareness of symbolism, metaphor, and basic methods for juxtaposing ideas. Tanyolacar’s art was not complicated. A kid in Jr. High should be able to analyze it.

I’m worried that these people would be baffled by the Jesus imagery in The Matrix, for craps sake.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Who was heckled here?

And people lacking the mental capacity for recognizing the not really subtle statement the art is conveying.

I think this pretty much sums up the situation. She got the job because when it was offered, she was the only one who didn’t run screaming from the room (or, perhaps she just couldn’t find the door).

The USA: where you can become the dean of a university and remain blissfully ignorant of the principles, and their meanings, upon which your country was founded.

DNY (profile) says:

Re: Who was heckled here?

Alas, most institutions of higher education are quite willing to abandon their dignity to grovel to as you put it “people lacking the mental capacity for recognizing the not really subtle statement the art is conveying,” provided said people are members of any group which is the beneficiary of any affirmative action program or non-discrimination law or ordinance anywhere in the United States, excluding clauses about non-discrimination on the basis of religion when the religion involved is any variety of Christianity or Judaism.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Who was heckled here?

Alas, most institutions of higher education are quite willing to abandon their dignity to grovel to …

I was looking at it from another perspective not noticing that institutional doctrine weighing on her, which was shallow of me. I guess I shouldn’t lay all the blame on her thickheadedness. She’s got to comply with PC policy just to get and keep the job. That limits her options considerably.

… excluding clauses about non-discrimination on the basis of religion when the religion involved is any variety of Christianity or Judaism.

Maybe it’s just me (growing leaps and bounds more USA cynical by the day, it seems), but the US sure has come up with a virulent form of PC. The litigious crowd has made everyone bend over backwards in attempts to avoid any whiff of official discrimination or non-“egalit’e”.

Yet, then there’s Ferguson anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

One issue that has had a very chilling effect on free speech at colleges and universities is Zionism. As most institutions of higher education rely on donations, all it takes is a few wealthy benefactors to voice their disapproval, and the concept of free speech can easily be pushed to the back seat.

The controversial (but highly popular) Professor Norman Finkelstein got kicked out of DePaul a few years ago because of his views on Israel and The Holocaust Industry. Campus Watch, a censorship-promoting lobbying outfit run by Neoconservative and rabid Zionist Daniel Pipes, has been at the forefront of this nationwide effort to censor free speech and essentially transform criticism of Israel into designated “hate” speech.

DNY (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Really? The Zionist cabal you are fretting about must not be very successful considering the number of universities that have vibrant and sometimes successful divestment movements calling for the withdrawal of university investments from companies doing business in Israel, not to mention lively Muslim and Palestinian student organizations. At UCLA they even openly worry about letting Jews serve on the highest student judicial body in terms that sound an awful lot like the Dreyfus affair.

I’m afraid your post sounds an awful lot like an updated version of the railing against the “evil Joooooos!” that hood-wearing folks used to engage in when not maltreating people of African ancestry.

JustShutUpAndObey says:

Liberal vs Conservative

From my observation, those who accuse the liberals or the conservatives of being anti free speech are both right. Given the opportunity, almost no one favors free speech in practice.
They all favor it in theory, but just not in this one particular instance (there are always a lot of particular instances).

Windsong01 (profile) says:

Strategic Partners of Young Amercians for Liberty

Read like the who’s who of the hard right wing.They appear to have morphed from another group that used the same tactics and had the same backers.”Campus Reform” who became famous for staging confrontations with liberal college staff with the intent of getting them fired.

freedom of speech isn’t on the agenda of these folks

here is a few from the list that can be found at

1.The Advocates for Self Government
2.The American Conservative Magazine
3.American Majority
4.America’s Future Foundation
5.Americans for Prosperity *Koch
6.Americans for Tax Reform
8.Bill of Rights Institute
9.Campaign for Liberty
10.Cato Institute
11.Competitive Enterprise Institute
12.Downsize DC
13.Foundation for Economic Education
14.(FIRE) Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Roger Strong (profile) says:

The KKK: Intolerance.

The original artistic piece: A statement that intolerance should not be tolerated.

The university’s reaction: Intolerance of the statement of intolerance of intolerance.

This Techdirt story should whip up some intolerance of the university’s reaction.

(I like being voted insightful or funny just like everyone else, but I’ll be disappointed if this post isn’t reported and hidden.)

eye sea ewe says:

Re: Intolerance - the common factor of mankind

Funnily enough, intolerance of intolerance is the normal response by most people to whatever their worldview is.

They see something that offends their specific sensibilities and they react with intolerance.

KKK: They view non-white (as in non-white american, non-white northern and western european descendent) individuals as second-class not necessarily even human – justifiable so in their minds. They get offended at any suggestions that such sub-humans should have any rights in civilised society.

However, this is the general state of all of mankind. It can be based on skin colour, it can be based on locale, it can be based on language, it can be based on nationality, it can be based on religion, it can be based on money, it can be based on political affiliation, it can be based on technological viewpoint, it can be based on sports, it can be based on scientific viewpoint, it can be based on sexual orientation, it can be based on hobbies, it can be based on artistic bent, it can be based on colour preference, it can be based on fashion preferences, etc, etc, etc.

Any differences between people can give rise to intolerance. This is the fundamental state of all mankind – whether a particular difference is right or not is a completely different matter.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Avoiding a subject

It is amazing what people will due to avoid discussing–or even having to think about–an uncomfortable subject. The message of the image was impossible to miss, yet it is attacked on the wrong grounds entirely.

What do you suppose those same people would have done if his newspapers had been formed into big, boxy letters spelling “HATE”?

That would drive these same people bananas…because such a construct wouldn’t carry the built-in excuse that was implicit in the KKK symbol.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Avoiding a subject

The attitudes of the KKK and similar have been characterised as hate – but I do not think that that is the correct usage of the word.

Some people are cruel to animals but no-one accuses them of hating animals.

True hate requires some knowledge (even if inaccurate) of the object – whereas the racist attitude is almost always based on a lack of knowledge.

The root cause of all these bad things is actualy much more straightforward. It is a lack of empathy, the inability to imagine yourself in the other’s place.

The trouble is that “lack of empathy crime” doesn’t roll of the tongue so well.

TruthHurts (profile) says:

Salman Rushdie must have liked my original statement, since he's used it and has been given credit for it.

You do not have the right, not to be offended.

I’ve been saying this for 2 decades now, and people around the globe still think the opposite is true.

If something I say offends you, too damned bad. Next time, don’t read what I write, don’t listen to what I say.

Nobody has the right not to be offended. That right does not now, nor has it ever, existed.

To quote Kid Rock, if you think you have the right not to be offended by someone else, then all I can say to you is this. FOAD… (you can find this as a bonus song on Kid Rock’s latest compilation entitled “First Kiss”)

For those who don’t want to look it up, it’s an acronym.


I just love the reprise in that song. 🙂

Zonker says:

Re: Salman Rushdie must have liked my original statement, since he's used it and has been given credit for it.

Also being offended by anything is a choice people make. People can choose to be offended by everything, something, or nothing. Because it is a choice, the source of the offense comes from within those who made that choice, not from that which they chose to take offense.

If you want to stop something from offending you, either choose not to be offended or remove yourself from what you chose to find offensive.

cornanon (profile) says:

Context is everything

I grew up on the West Coast and moved to Iowa City about 6 years ago. Iowa City is a typical university town with all the pros and cons that go with it. To CCCP, LA has more ignorant dipshits per capital than any place I’ve ever lived, so I wouldn’t tar a place you surely haven’t been.

I’m 100% against censorship of any kind. I think this blew up because of the lack of context. Given the tensions at the time, it’s not surprising that the appearance of a ‘klansman’ without context at the Pentacrest elicited extreme reaction. I suspect it’s hard for us ‘white folk’ to understand the visceral impact the image of a klansman would evoke. And while it’s obvious when viewing the object close that it’s an anti-racism piece, that’s not obvious to an observer from 20-30 yards away. The difference between the art’s exhibition on the Pentacrest and Kirkwood is miles apart — the Kirkwood exhibit has context and the Pentacrest display didn’t.

The U of I’s response was predictable. Universities hate controversy and tend to move to quash the source as quickly as possible. As mentioned by a previous poster, this is especially true of anti-Israeli policy debates. In short, poor display judgement by artist of very worthy and interesting piece. Predictable reaction by x percentage of students. Extremely predictable reaction by major university allergic to controversy.

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