People rarely get killed or jailed in American over art. But it would be wrong to suggest that Muslims outraged over depictions of Mohammed are the only people getting upset about artistic endeavors.
It's also unfair to focus on modern university administrators being censorious, as if they have an active interest in suppressing dissenting speech. Sometimes they're just cowardly and servile.
In Laramie, Wyoming, the University of Wyoming allowed the installation of a piece called “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around, Comes Around,” by British artist Chris Drury, which uses coal and Wyoming wood to make a point about coal mining, or the environment, or man's inhumanity to man, or something.
The piece was removed ahead of schedule. University administrators claimed that it was removed early because of rain damage.
Yes, the University lied. It lied in the face of coal industry indignation, and threats of reduced support:
The sculpture felt like a “stab in the back,” said Wyoming Mining Association President Marion Loomis, in an email that day to Don Richards, then the university’s director for governmental and community affairs.
The energy industry pays millions in taxes, royalties and fees, he noted. Left unsaid: Those millions flow through state coffers to the university.
“Don, what kind of crap is this?” Loomis asked.
Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, fired off an email to oil and gas company officials and major university donors slamming the university for the sculpture.
“The next time the University of Wyoming is asking for donations it might be helpful to remind them of this and other things they have done to the industries that feed them before you donate,” Hinchey wrote. “They always hide behind academic freedom but their policies and actions can change if they so choose.”
The university also lied in the face of elected officials who were eager to attack art to please their donors:
State legislators joined the attack. Legislators, primarily from coal-rich Campbell County, wrote university officials. They threatened to restrict the university’s funding, called for a hunt to find out which university officials knew about the sculpture ahead of time and decried the university for not knowing about the piece.
“It never ceases to amaze me how the UW invites folks in that spit in the face of the very system that writes the checks to pay the bills at the university,” wrote Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, in an email to Buchanan.
Must the coal industry donate to a university system that features a rather mild piece of abstract art that wounds its tender fee-fees? No. It's free to withhold, and threaten to withhold, its donations for whatever damnfool reason it wants. But citizens should judge the industry and its executives (not to mention their legislative lapdogs) based on their actions, and act — and vote — accordingly. Next time the industry attempts to burnish its image with a donation, citizens and the media should ask: what strings come attached to this gift? Does the industry believe that the gift entitles them to ideological compliance from the recipient, and will their backers in the legislature reward that expectation?
Moreover, when a university reacts to pressure about something as mild as this piece of art, it's fair to ask — on what substantive issues is it caving to pressure? What academic classes are being vetted to comply with the demands of industry donors and their governmental supporters?
Michelle Nijhuis at The Last Word on Nothing contrasts this response to braver responses from administrators at other universities, and considers what might have been. She's also got good links to information about the case.
Hat tip: Alex Wild.