I. Call to Order
Chairperson Roth called the meeting to order at 8:35 a.m. in the Ruth Garvey Fink Convocation Hall of the Bradbury Thompson Center on the Washburn University campus.
II. Roll Call
Present were: Mr. Roth, Mr. Blair. Mrs. Paul, Mrs. Parks, Mr. Ferguson, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Warren and Mr. Engel
Chairperson Roth said the purpose of the meeting was to consider the issue of the controversial statue on the campus. A motion to table the statue issue was approved at the Board's October 15, 2003 meeting. Mr. Roth asked Mr. Hackler to explain what steps the University had taken to assure that appropriate notice of the special meeting had been given. Mr. Hackler responded an announcement of the time and place of the meeting had been faxed to all news media outlets, an e-mail had been sent to all members of the faculty, staff and student body, and a notice was posted on the University web site.
Mrs. Parks moved to bring the tabled motion to the Board for consideration. Motion was seconded by Mrs. Lee. Motion carried.
Mr. Roth stated that John Ostrowski had sent a letter to him, with copies to the Board of Regents members, outlining his legal arguments for removal of the statue. In addition, other letters sent to Dr. Farley were sent to the members of the Board. Additionally, a copy of the minutes of the December 16, 1994 Board of Regents meeting at which the Campus Beautification Committee was established was distributed to Board members. He said a copy of Mr. Hackler's opinion was also faxed to all members of the Board.
Mr. Engel moved to adjourn to Executive Session for the purpose of discussing a legal matter and to reconvene at 9:10 a.m. in open session. Motion was seconded by Mr. Blair. Motion carried.
The Board of Regents recessed to Executive Session at 8:40 a.m. At 9:10 a.m., the Board of Regents reconvened in open session. It was moved and seconded to recess to Executive Session for the purpose of continuing discussion of a legal matter with counsel and to reconvene in open session at 9:25 a.m. Motion passed. The Board recessed to executive session at 9:10 a.m.
At 9:25 a.m., the Board of Regents reconvened in open session. It was moved and seconded to recess to Executive Session for the purpose of continuing discussion with legal counsel and to reconvene in open session at 9:45 a.m. Motion passed unanimously. The Board recessed to Executive Session at 9:25 a.m.
At 9:45 a.m. the Board of Regents reconvened in open session. Mr. Roth asked that the motion under consideration be read. Mr. Hackler said the motion before the Board was "The statue 'Holier than Thou' should be removed from the campus ."
Chairperson Roth stated that several individuals had expressed a desire to speak for or against the motion. He asked that those persons who had already addressed the Board limit their comments to two minutes, while those who had not previously addressed the Board limit their comments to four minutes. He invited those in favor of the motion to remove the statue speak first.
Ms. Ostrowski stated she had submitted a letter re-emphasizing points she had made previously. She stated she believed the Board faced a legal question, not a freedom of speech issue. She stated she felt there was a structural problem with the committee which was not attuned to the need to be sensitive to the feelings of others. She said it could not be assumed that the Board of Regents or the President were fully attuned to the hurt and anger the statue caused. She stated the university should work to assure that those on the committee were sensitive to issues that might be hurtful and offensive to some.
Ms. Meister stated she is a practicing Catholic whose relative started attending Washburn this fall. She said she would never have encouraged this relative to come to Washburn if she had known the statue would be placed on the campus. She believes the statue is a hideous piece that mocks the sacrament of confession.
Ms. Evans spoke representing three entities associated with Washburn and the issue of the statue. She is an alumna, a lifelong resident of Topeka and a Catholic. She stated long years of ties to the University and stated she had never felt any animosity previously. She said that the selection and placement of the statue may have been an oversight, but it created divisiveness and demeaned an institution which had always been inclusive and tolerant. She stated that the artist should have known that it was not fit for display on a campus.
Chairperson Roth then invited those in favor of retaining the statue on the campus to speak, using the same time limitations.
Mr. Boatwright stated he is a member of the Campus Beautification Committee, a sculptor and a retired dentist. He had heard the term "assumed" repeated several times and read a definition of the term from the Webster's dictionary. He believed the piece under discussion was "just a work of art" and represents what it says it is, the recollections of a seven-year-old boy's impressions of a person he encountered in his life. He does not believe it was done with the intent to hurt. He believes if no title or narrative description accompanied the piece, the issue would not have been raised. He believes this consideration puts the work of sculpture on trial as it makes assumptions about the piece that are false. He believes if the statue is removed that books offensive to some which are in the library, works in the art museum and newspapers could be next. He drew attention to a friend's son who was serving in Iraq at the current time to assure that others would have the same freedoms enjoyed in this country.
Mr. Engel inquired of Mr. Boatwright what he thought the University was to do with regard to Supreme Court decisions which related to the display of religious items on the campus. Mr. Boatwright stated he was not familiar with those decisions, but that people are assuming the piece is something that it is not. He further stated that a precedent would be set in removing the statue on the basis of an assumption of what it represents. He stated if the Board approved its removal, he would not be able to continue to serve on the Campus Beautification Committee or to maintain his close connections with the University.
Mr. Inkmann read a letter from Joan L who stated that as a long time Topekan, a Christian and Roman Catholic, she was not offended nor disenfranchised by the work. She does not believe it is disrespectful but rather, it serves as a catalyst for discussion and an opportunity to increase understanding of different religions, beliefs and cultures. She stated Topeka needed such an opportunity when confronted with the hatred which is evident on the streets daily.
Mr. Concannon stated he was not speaking from an art perspective nor from a First Amendment perspective. Rather, as a former academic administrator, he had frequently had to deal with calls and concerns over thirteen years when someone was offended by the Law School's discussion of controversial topics, the policies adopted with regard to recruitment of employees, and the support of some student organizations which are offensive to some. He stated he was always grateful that the Board of Regents refused to meddle in matters of an academic nature when someone was offended. He stated when someone elects to interpret a sculpture in a way they find offensive, it would embolden the State legislature to try to control what should be taught and would diminish a vital academic environment if that sculpture were to be removed. He stated that without the stimulus for sharp discussion in the presence of controversy, the campus would become a very sterile place.
Mr. Easley was not speaking as a lawyer but as an academic of over 25 years who came from a long line of professors. He stated that the issue at hand was not simply a conflict of whether to remove the statue because it was offensive to certain persons of faith or to retain it on the grounds of the freedom of expression issue. He believes that as a university, there are two commitments that are critically important.
1) To attract persons of diverse backgrounds, and
2) To create an environment of free expression in which all ideas can be expressed freely
The obligations assumed as a result of the commitment are:
1) To encourage freedom of expression, and
2) To provide a warm and inclusive environment in which all are encouraged .
The conflict between the commitments and the obligations creates the current dilemma. If all things offensive or at risk of being offensive are eliminated, there is not an opportunity to create an environment of free expression. On the other hand, if all offensive things are ignored, there is the risk of offending and creating a hostile environment. What must be done is to draw the line between the two and the distinction is difficult to make. He used a hypothetical example to illustrate how to make the decision. He questioned whether it would be appropriate to have a panel discussion on the subject of "same sex marriage" in the Law School despite the fact there are vastly different views on a subject that is very offensive to some religious groups and it would be a very controversial topic. Would there be adequate reason not to have the discussion? He stated it would be appropriate to have the panel discussion despite the risk of offense. However, he posed the question of whether it would be appropriate to ask the Westboro Baptist Church to be on the panel. In that case, his answer would be not to allow it. He acknowledged that the members of that organization have First Amendment rights, but we would have no obligation to include them, any more than we would have to include the Ku Klux Klan in a discussion of Affirmative Action. Their inclusion would rise to the level of a hostile environment as the words they use are hate words.
He stated the Board had the challenge of balancing freedom of expression with the need to provide a welcoming environment. He did not believe the artist meant to offend. The statue was intended, in his view, to provoke discussion. Mr. Easley does not see offensiveness nor hate, and therefore, believes the First Amendment considerations should prevail. In a final note, he stated that the discussion engendered by the statue was vigorous on the campus, creating thoughtful discussion among people who have never met face to face; students have been talking and thinking about many aspects of the debate and witnessing an attempt to deal with a very difficult issue. He believes it would be a terrible lesson to students to remove the statue, as it would be sweeping the real issue under the rug, stifling the debate and showing that the way to deal with an issue of this magnitude was to remove it from sight and discussion. He implored the Board to retain the statue on the campus.
Dr. Nobo is a professor of philosophy. He stated he had sent a letter to the Board of Regents members. He spoke at the meeting first as the husband of an artist. He stated that artists are often reticent about telling what their works mean or are intended to mean, allowing the viewers to interpret as they choose. As a piece of sculpture, the statue is open to wide interpretation. Speaking as a Catholic, he believes the artist was not "bashing" Catholicism, but rather criticizing. He stated the Catholic church had changed over centuries as a result of criticism and if it had not, the church would still be persecuting Jews, burning heretics, and committing atrocities. However, he believes that criticism, while often uncomfortable, is good for the church. He stated he is a member of the Catholic faith.
Speaking as an educator, he stated that inherent in any idea is an element of offense or risk of offense. Ideas must therefore be debated, discussed and fully explored in an academic environment. An educational environment cannot be maintained if ideas are prohibited only because of their offensive nature. He encouraged the Board to leave the statue on campus.
Mr. Brown is an employee of the University. While performing his duties, he saw many people come to the campus to view the statue and directed many to find it. He did not believe there was much to the controversy surrounding it. He did not think there would be much controversy if the title and narrative were not there. He likened the seven-year-old's perception of the priest to a child seeing a fire fighter in an enormous fire suit and thinking the person was the "Abominable Snowman". He stated his first reaction to the statue, as an African American, was that it was a statue of a Klansman. This made him realize that all people have different interpretations of the same thing., He believes the work was not meant to offend and should remain on the campus.
Mr. Bohm is President of the Washburn Student Government Association. He stated that the statue and ensuing controversy had engendered many conversations, arguments and discussions among students. The matter was discussed again at the WSGA meeting on October 15. He raised a number of points regarding the proposal to remove the statue.
1) Separation of church and state
Mr. Bohm stated the statue is not a clear symbol of religion when compared to the existence on campus of the Bible Room in the Bradbury Thompson Center, the Washburn Bible and the addition to the campus of the chapel which was approved at the Board of Regents meeting in September. He stated in the chapel was a stained glass window which depicted an Old Testament image of a pillar of fire, a much more clearly religious symbol than the statue.
2) Funding of the statue
No state funding was used in the procurement of the statue, as was the case with the chapel.
Mr. Bohm believes the statue is open to interpretation and that students (who often attribute sexual innuendo more frequently than other groups) had not expressed that view. He believes the statue is open to interpretation but that the attribution of sexual connotation was not coming from students. He believes most accept the artist's description of the piece as the memory of a seven-year-old child.
Only two students have complained to him and many others have expressed that they wonder why the Board of Regents does not think students can think for themselves. Daily students are challenged with ideas that challenge their ethics, morals, values and students agree to expand their minds when they decide to pursue their education on campus. This statue enhances this activity, he believes, and should remain.
The public session ended.
Mr. Roth asked Mr. Hackler to re-read the motion. Mr. Roth called for discussion. None ensued. Mr. Roth called for the vote by show of hands. The vote was 2 (Regents Engel and Blair) in support of removing the statue and 5 (Regents Ferguson, Lee, Parks, Paul and Warren) in opposition of removing it from campus.
Mr. Roth asked if any member of the Board wanted to comment.
Regent Ferguson stated his vote was based upon freedom of expression and academic freedom. He believes a university is a place where divergent ideas must be allowed to be expressed. He rejects any and all forms of censorship. He cannot pass judgement on the work itself and recognizes there is a sharp division of opinion regarding it. He is not persuaded that the statue is anti-Catholic. It was done thirteen years ago, prior to the recent very public struggles of the Catholic church. He recognizes there are many with sensitive feelings, but thinks in this matter, the individuals are being over-sensitive. He believes the Board of Regents must take a stand in support of freedom of expression.
Regent Lee expressed appreciation to persons on both sides of the issue in coming forward. She stated that to please everyone would be to please no one and sometimes sacrifice is needed to defend freedoms. She stated that artistic expression is very subjective and open to interpretation.
Regent Blair explained his vote to remove the statue was not a vote against freedom of expression but that he does not believe a religious symbol should be on display in a public place. The statue is an expression of a religious viewpoint and as such, should not be retained on the campus.
Regent Engel said he had made most of his statements at the previous meeting. He stated he was speaking as a trained journalist who had worked many years as a journalist and does not believe his vote to remove the statue was related at all to an attempt to censor. As a Catholic, he is deeply anguished over the statue, as is his family. He stated the reason for his vote was to address the issue of who controls what goes on on the campus.
Regent Parks expressed her sincere appreciation for the opportunity to hear both sides of the issue. She thanked especially the student representatives for expressing the student viewpoint of the issue.
Mr. Roth called for any additional business to be brought before the Board. There was none. It was moved and seconded to adjourn. Motion passed unanimously, The meeting was adjourned at 10:55 a.m.
Carol L. Vogel
Assistantt Secretary to the Board