Free Speech

Dear President Jackson,

I am writing to encourage you to reopen the art exhibition of artist in residence, Wafaa Bilal. As the Chair of the Art Department at UC Santa Cruz, I understand how complex this situation must be administratively as well as politically. However, I strongly believe that as leaders in universities and institutions of higher learning we must defend free speech and abhor censorship not only as an example to our students, who we are charged with teaching how to exercise their own forms of free speech, but also as an example to society at large. This is so, even if it makes us targets for further insult by those who disagree with our diverse points of view. Just as some students have the freedom to call an art department a “terrorist safe-haven,” (according to accounts in the Washington Post), the freedom of expression of those who voice their viewpoints through various forms of art must be protected. These ideals must be upheld in this county if we are going to continue to call ourselves a democracy. The art department at Rensselaer is an extraordinary department and as such has an excellent reputation among their peers and peer institutions nationwide and beyond. Decisions regarding who is going to exhibit in their art gallery are made by professionals who are experts in their field as is true of any other department of in your university. Given what I know about this work and this artist I am certain that we would exhibit this work in our own galleries at UC Santa Cruz. I hope that you can do the right thing here and not succumb to threats and innuendoes by a student group who hurled the ultimate post 911 insult of being associated with anything terrorist, when they obviously have no understanding of what Wafaa Bilal or the art department is attenpting to express through this work. I sincerely hope that you will allow this exhibition to reopen in an unquestionable show of your support for First Amendment rights in this county.

Elizabeth Stephens, Chair
Art Department
University of California, Santa Cruz

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