[Censorship] BYU art student J. Michael Wiltbank knew his entry in a student art show might be controversial--but he didn't know school authorities had quietly removed it from the exhibition until a classmate told him. His photo portraits were stealthily taken down, and the remaining entries carefully redistributed throughout the gallery so as not to leave a noticable gap.
"I wish that they would have asked me to remove it, or at least had the courtesy to ask that I remove it or discuss it with me prior to its removal," Wiltbank wrote on his blog. "It seems that censorship is favored over support and love. This really saddens me."
His subject was a series of photo portraits. Each pair of portraits depicted a gay BYU student, and a friend or family member who provided that student with love and unconditional emotional support. (Neither portrait was identified as being either "the gay one" or "the supportive one.")
We can expect the campus secret police to go into action now, tracking down the subjects of Wiltbank's portraits. Neither member of each pair is safe, of course. Naturally, being gay is a violation of BYU's infamous honor code. But, then, so is "advocacy"--defined as "promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable." That means even offering unconditional support and love for a gay family member or loved one could get you booted off campus. I wish all these people good luck.
Stories of academic suppression emerge from BYU with predictable regularity. Around these parts, they're generally told with a roll of the eye and a measure of cynicism ("Well, what do you expect? After all, it is BYU").
But cynical acceptance is still acceptance. And it is widespread acceptance that allows BYU's dishonest academic policies to continue. A typical excuse is that BYU is privately owned and can therefore do as it likes. But this doesn't wash: Is BYU not an accredited institution? How can other universities accept credentials issued by a university which, time and again, has clearly demonstrated that it does not honor the basic principle of academic freedom? If BYU wishes to practice blatant censorship, it may do so. But, in doing so, it risks losing the respect of the academic community, and forfeits any claim that this loss of respect has anything to do with religious discrimination.
Rather than cynical acceptance, maybe it would be more sane to express something real, something sincere. Dismay, shock, outrage. Mild irritation. Searing anger. Venomous spite. Hell, anything. This world-weary act doesn't work anymore in this weary world. Perhaps the time has come to sincerely seek revocation of BYU's accreditation.
BYU's accreditation is under the aegis of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities every 10 years. According to Standard Nine on which NWCCU grants accreditation:
Hence, institutions may hold to a particular, social, or religious philosophy, as may individual faculty members or students. But to be true to what they profess academically, individuals and institutions must remain intellectually free and allow others the same freedom to pursue truth and to distinguish the pursuit of it from a commitment to it. [Emphasis mine.]Was Wiltbank allowed the "freedom to pursue truth"? Perhaps--his camera wasn't destroyed outright, his legs weren't broken and he wasn't actually imprisoned. But was he allowed to "remain intellectually free"? Um, no. Were his fellow students and others who attended the art show "allowed to pursue truth and to distinguish the pursuit of it from a commitment to it"? No, absolutely not.
In fact, it seems clear the university does all it can to remain technically close to the line while violating the principles of academic freedom left and right. The photos were removed quietly and without any statement because university officials know they are skating on thin ice, and they wanted to leave as little documentary evidence as possible.
Do you have any problems with BYU's take on academic freedom? I'd say the NWCCU deserves to hear about it.
P.S. If anybody's curious where I learned about this story, it was from Dan Savage on SLOG. Yes, that Dan Savage: the one who supposedly was in charge of the whole Proposition 8 Utah boycott. He ended up seeming a bit less demonic during his KRCL RadioActive! interview with Troy Williams. And, frankly, he seems to do a damn good job at covering gay issues in Utah. (In other words, this is a mia culpa: Where the fuck was I?)