601 South College Road
Wilmington, N.C. 28403-3297
February 27, 2009
Dear Chancellor DePaolo-
On behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of over 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression, I would like to express deep concern over the removal of a substantial part of The Century Project photo exhibit, to be displayed at UNCW March 2-6. The University has stated that the ban on the photos of anyone under 18 was prompted by its desire to "be sensitive to concerns raised about nude photos of young people under the age of consent." According to press reports, "The ban was declared after receipt of a complaint from Oklahoma. It claimed that The Century Project is pornographic and harms women."
For a public university to censor an integral part of an established and highly regarded art project in response to one person's highly subjective complaint presents serious First Amendment issues. It is impermissible for a public university to cede to ideologically motivated demands and prevent its students from seeing an art show in its entirety.
The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically declared simple nudity, whether it involves children or adults, constitutionally protected expression.
Moreover, images of nudes no matter how young or old are an integral part of art history. A ban on underage nudes would put a large part of the heritage of world art off limits including masterpieces like Michelangelo¹s David, many of Caravaggio's works, Thomas Eakins' paintings and many others.
It is thus absurd to treat any image of a nude under 18 as potential child pornography. The long history of exhibiting The Century Project without incident provides ample proof of the proposition.
Besides being constitutionally suspect, the University's decision violates well-established principles of academic freedom and displays disregard for the core mission of an educational institution: to advance knowledge, to promote the exploration of ideas, and to train a new generation of informed citizens and competent leaders by exposing them to a wide diversity of views.
According to the AAUP's statement on Academic Freedom and Artistic Expression, "[a]cademic institutions are obliged to ensure that regulations and procedures do not impair freedom of expression or discourage creativity by subjecting work to tests of propriety or ideology." Censoring The Century Project demonstrates both a lack of understanding of the importance of preserving the integrity of an art project and an ideological intolerance that is inconsistent with the basic principles of academic discourse.
Removal of the art is likely to damage UNCW's reputation, and your legacy as its leader, vastly more than permitting display of a well-regarded art project. Indeed, UNCW is the only institution to censor The Century Project in its long history of travel around the country.
We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that the project is displayed in its entirety, out of respect for the rights of students and faculty and to avoid further damage to the University.
Svetlana Mintcheva, Ph.D.
National Coalition Against Censorship
275 7th Avenue, Suite 1504
New York, NY 10001
phone 212-807-6222 ext. 23