Dear President Jackson,
As an undergraduate student at Rensselaer, I am outraged and disappointed
over the closure of Wafaa Bilal’s art exhibit. In the Rensselaer Plan,
you state the goal of achieving prominence as a “top-tier world-class
technological research university, with global reach and global impact.”
The recent action of your administration, instead of working towards this
goal, has only brought RPI notoriety. Worldwide media coverage in the
past week has associated Rensselaer’s name with censorship, suppression
of freedom of speech, close-mindedness, and even cowardice.
In the e-mail sent to the Rensselaer community enumerating reasons for
the exhibit’s closure, Vice President Walker cited concerns that the
video game was “derived from the product of a terrorist organization” and
that it is “targeted to and suggests the killing of the President of the
United States.” You must understand that Mr. Bilal’s video game was a
second level derivation based on an American video game simulating the
killing of Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, you must understand that Mr.
Bilal’s intent in no way is to support or advocate killing President
Bush, but rather to raise awareness of vulnerability, stereotypes, and
generalizations related to the current war in Iraq. If RPI aims to be a
world-class university, we should follow world-class universities’ leads
by having a constant discourse about global events. While closing Mr.
Bilal’s exhibit has certainly sparked a community discussion, it would
have been preferable to have a discourse about Bilal’s art in the
presence of his open exhibit.
In RPI’s handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, academic
freedom is stated to be essential to a university community, and freedom
of speech as essential to academic freedom. Your unjustified restriction
on the freedom of speech of Mr. Bilal, who was an invited member of the
community, has violated academic freedom at Rensselaer.
Fortunately, the decision you made to close the exhibit can be reversed.
It is never wrong for a person to change a decision when one realizes
past errors, and I urge your administration to reinstall Mr. Bilal’s
exhibit at RPI immediately. Continuing to restrict free speech at
Rensselaer will not only be a disservice to the intellectual environment,
students, and faculty, but it will also send the message that as
President, you are not serious about advancing RPI’s reputation as an
Emily K. Schultz
Economics/Science, Technology & Society ‘09