Dear President Jackson,
We are writing to support the Art Department’s decision to present the Wafaa Bilal’s ‘Virtual Jihadi’ exhibition, in order to spark debate about the Iraq War and the stereotyping of Iraqis in video games. What is the role of art, let alone education, if it is not to encourage public discussion about pressing issues of our time? By shutting down the exhibition, the administration of the RPI has deprived their students of a valuable space to consider, question and discuss these issues. We are also concerned that the censoring of this exhibition sets a dangerous example, and that artists and students will be much more hesitant about creating work about controversial issues in the future.
We are also expressing our shock that the RPI administration bowed so easily to student members of the Republican Party and the Republican alumni. The Republican Union website at RPI has in fact been shut down due to breaches of the computer conduct code, and as such, is hardly a credible source on which to base the decision to censor the exhibition. Furthermore, the statement on the RPI website includes language describing concerns that ‘the work may be based on a product of Al Qaeda’, even after the administration was explicitly told by the FBI that Bilal was not a ‘person of interest’. Such actions do not reflect well on RPI’s commitment to academic and artistic freedom, and can only serve to damage the Institute’s reputation.
Paul Jaskot, Secretary
Kirsten Forkert, Co-President
Karen Kurczynski, Co-President
Barbara McCloskey, Treasurer
Angela Miller, Co-President
Radical Art Caucus, College Art Association
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