In an email to faculty today BGSU Interim Provost Mark Gromko stated that “the piece was initially removed so that [...] legal review could occur.” Apparently BGSU administrators were wondering whether “the sculpture constituted child pornography or breached restrictions on depictions of child abuse under Ohio law.” As is easy to ascertain, child pornography and depictions of child abuse both have to involve real children. Parlin’s sculpture involves metal, paint and ideas. By no stretch of the imagination can anybody claim that real children were abused in the process of its production.
Once the legal status of the work has been cleared, should it not be restored to display? In this country, even at Bowling Green State University, we don’t censor ideas. Sadly, the Mark Gromko’s e-mail (the bulk of which is a personal attack on the gallery director for opposing the administration) sounds a much more sinister note: “These events have made clear that decision-making concerning gallery exhibitions at Firelands needs to be changed,” states the email, “…Committees comprised of persons of varied background review (sic) the exhibits proposed for display.”
Launched as a result of this incident, there is not much room to doubt the goal of the proposed committees, who would impose restrictive and vague criteria of appropriateness on art displayed on campus. Rather than make professional decisions based on artistic merit and educational value, the persons of “varied background” would, in all likelihood, ensure the university doesn’t make the mistake of displaying art that may offend or disturb anyone.
This gives us little hope as to the fate of academic freedom at BGSU. A provost, even if interim, can do much damage to the reputation of a University. Those who still care about BGSU should raise their voice.