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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Provost establishes campus events committee

Published: February 2, 2007
Section: Front Page

Provost Marty Krauss announced the establishment of an Advisory Committee of Campus Events in a campus-wide email Wednesday. The five-person committee is comprised of Professor Carmen Sirianni (SOC), Professor Sarah Lamb (ANTH), Assistant Dean of Student Life Alwina Bennett, Director of the Office of the Arts Scott Edmiston, and is chaired by Professor Paul Jankowski (HIST).

The committee was formed in response to last years unprecedented controversy regarding the removal of Leor Halperin 08s “Voices of Palestine” art exhibit. The volatile exhibit, comprised of artwork from Palestinian children, included a snake in the shape of the Star of David and a Palestinian flag in the shape of the Israel.

There's no additional hurdle that anyone has to go through, said Krauss. There are procedures and policies that have been around for a while… you can't put up an art exhibit anywhere you want, but that's no different now than it was five years ago.

Krauss explained that after last spring's controversial removal of the “Voices of Palestine” art exhibit, the Committee on Exhibitions and Public Expressions on Campus recommended that I establish an advisory committee should there be something on campus that was controversial or that was potentially controversial.

Still, this committee is not meant to be taken as blocking controversial views, said Edmiston. It will not be specifically an art committee and I don't believe it will actually decide what can be exhibited or not, Edmiston said. My understanding is that the committee will help support programming, not censor it.

This committee is an advisory committeeadvisory to the Provost [and] will provide counsel when controversies pit the claims of free speech against the claims of a group that feels targeted, left out, or otherwise offended, or against the objection that bounds of civility or decency have been transgressed, said committee chair Jankowski. Such controversies are now common on campuses all over the country and, as you know, Brandeis is not exempt. They can sometimes raise difficult questions of judgment, indicating to my mind the need for a committee to provide counsel as needed to the Provost.

When asked how this committee would deal with these grievances, several members of the committee declined to comment, stating that, because the committee had yet to meet, there was no clear plan on how to deal with controversial exhibits. Krauss was quick to add, however, that the committee would only operate in rare instances, because most things that happen on campus don't inflame people.”

It's kind of a standby committeeits not going to get activated until someone says, 'I really want to talk about this, Krauss added. It doesn't sign off on events on campus. It's not part of the routine system by which you organize an event on campus… You don't have to go through this committee to have an event on campus.

Some students have been skeptical about the committee. What happened to open discussion for its own sake? asked Jared Hite 10. I think the whole idea for a free speech committee that happens whenever somebody is offended is a bit superfluous.

Meanwhile, members of the Student Union are working to gain membership into this committee. I anticipate the collective wisdom of Marty Krauss and Professor Jankowski will accommodate my request, said Union President Alison Schwartzbaum 08. Students need to be there.

I believe very strongly in the ability of the community to deal with difficult issues, said Bennett. I also believe that learning is not always comfortable, but that learning is the primary mission of the University. I see the mission of the committee, not as a gatekeeper, but as a means of fostering discussion amongst all parties when conflict arises because of an activity or exhibit.

Jankowski added that it is my hope also that students and faculty will come to see it as a resource as well, and call on it whenever they like, but their resort to its advice is entirely optional.