The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) are urging University of Iowa president Sally Mason to issue a statement recognizing the First Amendment rights of Professor Serhat Tanyolacar and make clear that his artwork is fully protected under the First Amendment.

The letter was issued in response to the forced removal from campus of Tanyolacar’s temporary sculptural installation, which featured images of newspaper articles documenting instances of racial violence printed on a KKK robe. The artist’s intention was to raise awareness of persisting racial tensions in the U.S. in the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo. The college administration, however, considered the imagery in work too disturbing and threatening for some students and had it removed.

Purging disturbing images and ideas from college campuses in the name of protecting vulnerable groups goes against the very mission of the university as the quintessential marketplace of ideas, governed by the principle of academic freedom. A university cannot limit inquiry just because some of the questions raised may prove unsettling. Indeed, university administrators should trust students and expect them to be able to argue against ideas with which they disagree. Students coming from vulnerable groups are no less capable of speaking up than other students: college administrators need to encourage them to do so rather than misguidedly purging the campus from potentially controversial material.

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