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Art history professors at Yale tight–lipped as historic campus artwork censored

Faculty decline to comment on university’s censorship, planned removal of stone carving

The 15 professors in Yale University’s Department of the History of Art are remaining silent on the censorship and planned removal of an 88-year old stone carving at the Ivy League campus, apparently declining to criticize or condemn the decision.

Every single one of the 15 faculty members listed on the department’s website has either failed to respond to or refused to weigh in on the controversy despite repeated emailed requests for comment from The College Fix.

The storied university made national headlines recently for its decision to censor the artwork — a stone carving of an armed Native American and Puritan flanking each other while appearing to look off into the distance. Some deemed it a depiction of “colonial violence,” prompting the decision to cover the Puritan’s musket while leaving the Native’s bow revealed.

Shortly thereafter the decision was made to take the image down altogether and move it to a yet-to-be-disclosed location where the carving can be shown without covering up the musket, and also be accompanied by some sort of plaque or display that gives it “historical context.”

As to what faculty within Yale University’s Department of the History of Art think of the matter, they refuse to say.

Only three of its 15 professors responded to The College Fix’s repeated requests for comment. The other 12 appear to have ignored the emails or decided against publicly weighing in.

Of the professors who responded to requests for comment, Professor Nicola Suthor told The Fix that she is currently on sabbatical and Europe and “would like to be better informed about the many issues involved in the case” before commenting, while Professor Mary Miller wrote: “I decline to comment.” Professor Jackie Jung wrote that she is currently on leave and “not informed enough about the situation to comment.”

Yale made headlines in early August when the university’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces decided to censor the stone carving. At the time, Yale’s head librarian Susan Gibbons was quoted by the alumni magazine as saying the censorship was necessary because the carving’s presence at a major entrance to a campus library was “not appropriate.”

Yale’s media relations office did not respond to numerous requests from The College Fix seeking to determine when the carving would be taken down and where it would be put on permanent display.

The Fix also reached out to the President’s Office directly via phone calls and emails, but was referred back to the Public Affairs Department, which failed once again to respond.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy was willing to tell The Fix that in 2016 the carving had been given a more prominent place, as the “little-used doorway” it hung near was remodeled to become a new main entrance to Sterling Library.

Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces “determined that leaving the depiction in place would have the unintended effect of giving it a place of honor that it does not deserve,” the alumni magazine reported.

Yale President Peter Salovey, in alerting the campus to the decision to un-censor the carving but move it to a less visible location and add context to it, stated “we cannot make alterations to works of art on our campus. Such alteration represents an erasure of history, which is entirely inappropriate at a university.”

MORE: Yale University censors ‘hostile’ historic artwork

MORE: Yale cites ‘colonial violence’ in decision to take down censored artwork

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About the Author
Matthew Stein -- Swarthmore College