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Faculty group demands library director's reinstatement, condemn censorship

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A Doane faculty group demanded today that the university reinstate Library Director Melissa Gomis, who was put on administrative leave Monday for displaying photos of past students in blackface.

The Doane American Association of University Professors chapter, in a statement released Friday, argued that the school censored the library director when it removed the exhibit.

Gomis used over two dozen photos from the Doane archives for a “Parties of the Past” exhibit outside of Perkins Library, according to a recent Doaneline article. Two of the photos from the mid-1920s featured students wearing blackface as Halloween costumes.

On April 29, President Jacque Carter sent an email to the campus promising that similar exhibits will not be tolerated in the future.

According to the AAUP’s statement, Carter’s email creates, “A policy of censorship in educational environments.”

A university president deciding what is or is not appropriate for a library display is a violation of academic freedom, according the  statement.

“Such an institutional environment, in which the content of library exhibits can be judged by the University president as sufficiently controversial or offensive that they must be removed partially or in their entirety at the president’s discretion, constitutes an infringement of the academic freedom that is essential to the work of Director Gomis, all other faculty, and, by extension, the students of the University,” the statement says.

On April 19, a student complained about the photos. Gomis removed the two photos after talking to the student.

On April 29, Paul Savory, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and provost, had the entire display taken down. Gomis was escorted from campus and put on administrative leave, according to the AAUP statement.

Carter could not be reached for comment.

Savory defended the administration's actions.

“Displaying these racially inflammatory photos without any context was inappropriate,” Savory said. “Doing so in any part of our campus in the same manner would be a concern.  At times, controversial materials and topics are discussed in our classrooms, but they are done so with educational context.”

More than 20 faculty expressed their anger after Gomis’s dismissal and believed it to be a violation of academic freedom, according to the article.

Not all faculty agree with AAUP, though.

A letter circulating among faculty disagrees with the claim that this is an issue of academic freedom.

“It does not appear that consideration was made to meet the responsibilities placed on faculty members by the person responsible for placing the inflammatory pictures into that space,” the letter says. “Perhaps more troubling is the perceived disregard for the effect on our students of a

faculty body who is willing to cry ‘academic freedom’ in this situation.”

The letter has been sent to faculty members in an email. The email encourages those who agree to add their name to the list of signers.

So far, the letter has been signed by a mix of faculty, staff and administrators. These are:

  • Melissa Clouse, director of Pre-Health programs

  • Amanda McKinney, director of the Online Learning Academy

  • Mark Orsag, History professor

  • Andrea Holmes, Chemistry professor

  • Anna Oommen, adjunct Biology professor

  • Suzannah Rogan, Sexual Assault Education and Prevention project coordinator

  • Allison Hunt, instructional designer and technology specialist

  • Dennis Amoateng, director of Resident Life and Education

  • Matt Franzen, Athletic director

The full statement from AAUP can be found below.

The letter supporting the administration can be found below.