Tag Archives: democracy

“please restore free speech and expression at RPI”

Dear President Jackson,

I’m writing in protest of RPI’s decision to suspend the work of respected artist and Professor Wafaa Bilal. This decision shocked and saddened me, as it represents an inexcusable violation of our Constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of speech and expression—something which RPI as an institution of higher education should defend, not hinder.

It is particularly surprising and sad that, even after the FBI explained that Professor Bilal was “not a person of interest,” RPI administrators still bowed to the pressure of the College Republicans and Republican alumni. In doing so, you allowed demagoguery and intimidation to win the day instead of reason and our democratic institutions.

RPI should have embraced the decisions and good judgment of the art department, which is seeking to spark dialog about important issues. It should have stood its ground against the outrageous allegations and anti-democratic intimidation of the College Republicans, and insisted that an art exhibit in no way implies that RPI as an institution supports the opinions of all presenters.

Please restore the good name of RPI, and freedom of speech and inquiry, by re-opening Professor Bilal’s exhibition.


Lucia Sommer
Buffalo, NY


Concerned with Democracy at Rensselaer

Dear President Jackson,

I am writing to express my deep concern over the treatment of the visiting professor Wafaa Bilal and the closure of his exhibit at RPI. I think these latest events are part of a trend of restricting open discussion and democratic governance.

The so-called ‘review’ of the work was done behind closed doors and it was determined that the exhibition is not in line with the ‘overall best interests of the institution.’ I strongly disagree.

The best interests of Rensselaer should include a) a healthy and open environment of academic freedom and education that allows for engagement with ‘difficult’ questions – such as the roots of terrorism; b) a Faculty Senate that has real power to make decisions about the governance of RPI; and c) a unionized staff that is able to voice their concerns.

Instead, I see students that are hesitant to voice their views in classrooms because they are scared of suppression. I hear students on WRPI talk about how the airwaves are an inappropriate place to address ‘political’ issues. Platforms for discussion are being shut down at my school and it is contributing to a culture of fear which undermines creativity, dialog, and real education. These authoritarian measures have a terrible effect on Rensselaer’s reputation as a progressive school.

I greatly appreciate your consideration of these issues and hope that you will consider reinstating the Faculty Senate and re-opening Wafaa Bilal’s exhibition.


Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn
MS/PhD Candidate
Department of Science and Technology Studies