University Punished Librarian for Picture Display

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Doane University, a private liberal arts college in Crete, Nebraska which is located southwest of Lincoln, Nebraska, recently punished a faculty librarian for a picture display that she created. In April, Melissa Gomis compiled a picture display that used photos from the university’s historical archives. The display was entitled, “Parties of the Past,” and included two photos of Doane students wearing blackface at a masquerade party in 1926.

After a student complaint, Gomis removed the potentially offensive photos from the display. But, the administration then censored the rest of the picture display and investigated Gomis for “discriminatory harassment.” Gomis was banned from setting foot on campus or use university e-mail as a part of her punishment.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit free speech protection group, issued a press release detailing the above punishment, and said, “Doane University’s punishment of a faculty librarian for refusing to censor the school’s difficult past is one of the worst academic freedom violations we’ve seen this year. The university is effectively preventing people from confronting its history by labeling it ‘harassment.’”

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also issued a statement on the matter, calling it “an unambiguous example of censorship.” The organization added, ““When an educator is pressured to remove content from a lecture, lesson, or display that was created according to the current methods of the profession, then a violation of academic freedom has occurred.”

At the time, Doane University President Jacque Carter sent a schoolwide e-mail which suggested the picture display was offensive and any subsequent and similar exhibits would not be permitted. Gomis was later reinstated and Carter admitted, “[M]istakes were made, but they are also a part of being human.”