UPDATE: UW-Stout caves, claims removal of non-PC art was 'business' move
University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer has revised his controversial plan to remove two historical paintings depicting Native Americans from a university building.
Meyer says the choice to remove the paintings—Cal Peters works that show historical Native Americans interacting with white fur traders—was not meant to “censor” the art, but rather was a “strategic ‘business’ move to encourage more Native American student applications to the university,” the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) claims in a press release.
The paintings had originally been slated for restoration, but Meyer had recently announced that they would instead be moved into storage to avoid their “potentially harmful effect” on Native American students, surmising that continuing to display the artworks would “reinforce racial stereotypes.”
Although her organization lobbied for the reversal, NCAC Director of Programs Svetlana Mintcheva said she was still displeased to learn that “business” was the true motivation behind the original choice.
"While we are pleased that the works will remain on display, the Chancellor's explanation of the decision to move the paintings to a less visible location is even worse than the move itself,” Mintcheva said. “In justifying the decision as a ‘business’ one, whereby more Native Americans may be attracted to Stout were they spared the encounter with a national history which may make them ‘feel bad,’ he appears to be treating future students as mere consumers and education as a mere product.”
Going further, Mintcheva said she believes that Meyer failed his students by trying to protect them from art remindful of a non-politically correct past.
“This betrays the mission of a University, which is to challenge, to help students confront the past critically, to make them think,” Mintcheva said. “Encounters with an often brutal history are part of the educational process; censoring stories that don’t feel good is not. What’s worse is the disrespectful and patronizing assumption that future students need to be shielded from these historical realities.”
NCAC and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a letter to UW-Stout asking them to not place the paintings in storage, claiming the university needed a free marketplace of ideas for students to learn from differing perspectives.
“Removing representations of historically oppressed groups from view will not change the facts of history,” the groups pointed out. “Instead, more representations, more voices, and more conversations are needed.”
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