April 20 2017
The University of Alaska at Anchorage is refusing to remove a professor’s graphic painting depicting a decapitated Donald Trump, saying it was important to protect even objectionable artistic expression.
The painting shows a nude Captain America (as portrayed by liberal actor Chris Evans) standing on a pedestal and holding Donald Trump’s head by the hair. The head drips blood onto Hillary Clinton, who is reclining provocatively in a white pant suit, clinging to Captain America’s leg. Eagles scream into Captain America’s ear, and a dead bison lies at his feet.
The painting, created by Prof. Thomas Chung, hangs on campus as part of an art exhibition this month.
But it became controversial after a former adjunct professor, Paul R. Berger, posted the image on Facebook, saying he was “not sure how I want to respond to this.” On one hand, he posted, “first thing that comes to mind is freedom of expression,” but he also noted the university’s exhibit was publicly funded.
Berger’s post soon prompted outrage, including several calls for the university to remove the painting. By deadline, neither Chung nor school officials responded to Heat Street’s request for comment.
But in an interview with the local NBC affiliate, the chair of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s fine arts department defended his decision to keep the painting up.
“If [students] were taking a class at the university and made art that was considered controversial, no matter what their political or religious bent is, we would do our best to protect them and protect their rights to make that kind of work in the institution, whether it would be a student or a faculty,” he said.
The University of Alaska Anchorage has at least one policy in place that “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech” on campus, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
And in recent years, art has also been censored at the university a handful of times. Nude sketches were covered to avoid offending a church group a few years ago, the Alaska Dispatch News reported, and offended parents also moved a sculpture of a penis, damaging it.
But the university also has a recent history of defending controversial expression. In the early 2000s, administrators defended a professor after a Native American grad student claimed her poem “Indian Girls” was racist. The statement issued by then-president Mark Hamilton is still cited on campus today.
In it, Hamilton wrote: “Opinions expressed by our employees, students, faculty or administrators don’t have to be politic or polite. However personally offended we might be, however unfair the association of the University to the opinion might be, I insist that we remain a certain trumpet on this most precious of Constitutional rights.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.