IOWA CITY — Some University of Iowa students who said they were offended by a Ku Klux Klan-likened sculpture erected on campus without permission in December asked for and received exceptions from or assistance with class work due to the display’s impact on their schedule or “state of mind.”
“A very small number of students requested assistance with academic courses because the display impacted their ability to fully engage in classes at that time,” said Jeneane Beck, senior director of UI News Media Relations.
Those requests were granted even though one professor told administrators such excuses normally would fall outside university guidelines as acceptable.
“Our interpretation of this situation is that being involved in a protest, however important or meaningful that protest may be, is not sanctioned by either the university or the college as a reason for missing an exam,” chemistry professor Christopher M. Cheatum wrote in a Dec. 6 email to administrators.
Cheatum said one student missed a makeup exam at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5 — about eight hours after the statue in question was dismantled and more than an hour after meeting with administrators on the topic. That student emailed a professor just before midnight Dec. 5 to report he had missed classes and “was not in my right mind to be able to think about chemistry concepts tonight.”
“This student, by his own admission, had 1.5 hours after the event(s) in question were over to gather himself and prepare for the exam,” Cheatum wrote in his email to administrators. “If we were to allow an exception in this case, we would then set a precedent that being involved in some protest or political action is a legitimate basis for missing an exam, which we might then have to accommodate for other protest situations, to which we would not be so sympathetic.”
Cheatum said the faculty was inclined to decline the student’s request — even though the test accounted for 15 percent of the course score and, thus, a significant part of the final grade. But they wanted administrative input before making a final call, Cheatum wrote.
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The next day, Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin sent an email mentioning social media buzz around “extensions for students affected by current and recent events” and said Helena Dettmer, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, had advised faculty to approve it. Rocklin also provided a contact in the Dean of Students Office for others “who need accommodations” to help them “sort through options and sometimes advocate on their behalf.”
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences policy states students can make up exams missed due to illness, religious obligations, authorized university activities, or unavoidable circumstances. Such circumstances could include jury duty, family tragedy, or a car accident, according to the policy.
UI spokeswoman Beck said, “It is up to individual faculty members to determine if an academic accommodation should be made.”
Cheatum told The Gazette he and his colleagues decided to give their student another chance to make up the exam — although he shared concern about the potential for it to become a slippery slope.
“I certainly wouldn’t want students to get the idea that this a mechanism to take a makeup exam — to protest something and get caught up in it,” he said. “But this was an unusual event on campus and, as faculty, we should be compassionate when we can be in response to things that come up.”
UI ranked ‘worst of worst’ for censorship
UI assistant professor Serhat Tanyolacar was behind the 7-foot-tall KKK-likened statue robed in print screenings of newspaper clippings depicting racist incidents. He erected it Dec. 5 on the UI Pentacrest without permission, and the university since has been criticized both by offended students and by those espousing free speech.
Initially, the university released statements calling the statue “deeply offensive” and saying it has “no tolerance for racism.” Tanyolacar said he promptly clarified with administrators the intent of his work — to make a statement against racism.
But, he said, administrators continued to vilify him and the artwork. During an event at Kirkwood Community College last week, Tanyolacar said the university gave those students who were upset with the artwork “absolute power.”
“They manipulated the system,” he said.
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University officials said they took down the statue because Tanyolacar didn’t get the required permissions — not because of the statue’s content. But a group of UI students last week protested on the Pentacrest the UI’s policies requiring authorization for demonstrations, and they were allowed to stay — even though they too didn’t have permission.
For six hours, representatives with the UI chapter of Young Americans for Liberty invited passers-by to write on a large piece of plywood anything from expletives to Bible verses.
Beck said the university allowed the display because it was organized by a registered student group, no one else had reserved the space, and personnel did know about it ahead of time.
But Matt Evans, president of the student group, said he thinks administrators showed a double-standard and should get rid of the restrictive policies.
“We think it’s ridiculous that students have to request university permission in order to exercise their First Amendment rights and freely exchange ideas,” Evans said.
The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Monday announced its “10 worst of abusers of student and faculty free speech rights,” and UI made the list. The group, which was not ranked, also included Brandeis University; California State University, Fullerton; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Marquette University.
UI made the “worst of the worst” list for its “censorship and denunciations of an art professor’s anti-racist art installation,” according to FIRE officials. According to the Huffington Post, which houses the FIRE list, UI should “apologize to Tanyolacar for failing in its duty to reject demands for censorship” and then to students “for the exceedingly poor education on freedom of speech it has given them,” according to the report.
FIRE spokesman Nico Perrino said his group has challenged free-speech policies on campuses nationwide and won. He said eliminating such policies will not cause the sky to fall.
“There won’t be a parade of the terribles on campus,” he said.