Academic Freedom Threatened at Evergreen

AN OPEN LETTER AND EXPRESSION OF CONCERN

Faculty Submission

[two_third]Facts and context:

During spring quarter 2014, eight students have been writing and rehearsing, and are prepared to perform, an original work of musical theater entitled “The Quisney Project presents: O.U.T.: Once Upon a Time.” The project is registered for credit as eight ILCs, with sponsorship from multiple faculty and coordinated by Walter Grodzik, faculty of performing arts. Additional students are volunteering time and effort. This is a work of queer musical theater, the dominant mode of which is parody. As a work of critical inquiry and political commentary, the production situates itself within a long history of queer cultural, intellectual, and political work. Parody is central to this history. From Oscar Wilde to Margaret Cho, comedic forms of queer theater have ripped the mask from the pretensions of binary gender and heterosexuality by staging the duplicity and fakery of socially (and sometimes violently) imposed “norms” that wreck the lives and loves of queer people.

The script itself offers a critical exposé of harassment and discrimination based on gender expression, sexual orientation, and HIV status in an educational institution, the so-called St. Liberty High School.

Research for this project included legal research, as the students wished to explore parodic uses of lyrics and melodies that are generally known to audiences of American popular culture as Disney songs. The effacement of queer people from forms of popular culture marketed to children is understood by many scholars to be part of the structural violence that authorizes discrimination and harassment, the classic example of which is bullying in schools. For these reasons, Disney Corporation is one of the objects of critique in this original work of musical theater, and parody is one of the modes of issuing that critique.

Students proceeded with their project with advice from Washington Lawyers for the Arts that their project is not unusual and is highly defensible under case law regarding fair use. They consulted with Academic Dean Andrew Reece, and the academic deans approved the ILCs.

The administration began to change its tune in week six, apparently under pressure from Provost Michael Zimmerman. The student leader of the project, Fian Grunwald, sat down with Dean Reece and Assistant Attorney General Colleen Warren to discuss the matter. On Monday of week eight, without consulting the faculty sponsors, Dean Reece issued a written request to fundamentally alter the script, with indication that the college would prevent the students from using campus facilities to perform the script as written.

In an email communication sent Thursday, May 22, Dean Reece demanded a written confirmation from the students that they would not perform their script as written, to be received by his office “by 5:00 tomorrow (Friday, May 23). If I do not, I will be compelled to conclude that you intend to carry on with the performance in its present form, in which case the college administration will proceed as I indicated in our conversations and in previous messages. The staff will be directed to withdraw support and to prevent the use of college facilities, and the students and faculty will be asked to cancel the performances.”

The same email communication paradoxically affirms that faculty, and not administration, write evaluations of student accomplishments and preemptively declares that the transcript will not include any mention of the incorporation of Disney materials in the performance.

Performances are scheduled for June 5­ – 8, 7pm Thursday­ – Saturday & 1pm Sunday. Contact for location at TheQuisneyProject@gmail.com.

Resolution:

Whereas Evergreen’s Social Contract ensures freedom of academic inquiry for both students and faculty;

Whereas Evergreen’s non-discrimination policy forbids discrimination based on grounds including “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression;”

Whereas the students of The Quisney Project in their production of “O.U.T.: Once Upon a Time” are currently under threat of curtailment of academic freedom; the sponsoring faculty under threat of sabotage of their professional judgement and their academic freedom; and both are under threat of discrimination for pursuing projects within the long tradition of queer musical theater;

Whereas the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994) that 2 Live Crew’s song “Pretty Woman” did not infringe Acuff-Rose’s copyright of “Oh Pretty Woman” and did constitute fair use because the parody commented on and substantially transformed the meaning of the original;

Whereas fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis;

Whereas in making determinations of fair use, the relevant provision of federal copyright law (17 U.S.C. §107) instructs us to consider:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and;

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Whereas fair use in educational settings is wider in scope than in commercial settings such as that addressed in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose;

Whereas the students who wrote the script, as well as the faculty who reviewed it, concur that in its use of parody “The Quisney Project presents: O.U.T.: Once Upon a Time” significantly alters the meaning of original melodies and lyrics, and offers critical commentary upon the original;

Whereas the administration has offered no indication that it has been contacted by any copyright holder in relation to this student project;

Whereas no copyright holders have contacted the students;

Whereas the actions of the administration create a dangerous chilling effect on First Amendment rights, by attempting to suppress ideas and the expression of those ideas in an educational setting, and to do so preemptively and in the absence of a complaint;

Whereas artistic, creative, and critical work frequently involves appropriating and transforming existing cultural products, and faculty members at Evergreen often teach such works in our programs and encourage students to use these techniques in their own practice;

Whereas overzealous efforts by the administration to interpret Fair Use so narrowly as to exclude any usage of any element of copyrighted material in a parodic transformation of that material pose far-reaching and dangerous consequences for the intellectual life of The Evergreen State College;

Whereas any work of appropriation bears the risk of scrutiny and action by rights holders, so this risk is not in itself sufficient grounds to suppress creative and intellectual freedom by precluding Fair Use;

Whereas college policy requires that when questions of copyright arise that may impact the college the questions be referred to the Copyright and Patent Board http://www.evergreen.edu/policies/policy/patentsandcopyrights, and this body has not considered the matter;

Whereas the academic deans approved the ILCs;

Whereas the C in ILC stands for contract, as in obligations the contracted parties owe to each other;

Whereas the students stand to suffer harm to their educational aspirations if the administration withdraws the material support of their learning it promised in its contract with them;

Whereas the college stands to suffer symbolic and material harm if these threats to academic freedom and non-discrimination escalate and become even more widely known than they already are.

Declaration:

We the undersigned faculty of The Evergreen State College do demand that the administration:

1) Provide the facilities and staff support it has promised to this theatrical production;

2) Desist from any effort to harass or retaliate against the students or their faculty sponsors or the undersigned;

3) Vigorously defend the First Amendment rights and the academic freedoms of all members of the campus community;

4) Comply with the college non-discrimination policy.[/two_third]

[one_third_last][box_dark] Faculty Signatures
as of May 28:

Walter Eugene Grodzik, Performance and Queer Studies
Greg Mullins, Literature and Queer Studies
Laurie Meeker,
Film/Video and Media Studies
Brian Walter,
Mathematics and Computer Science
Jon Davies,
Teacher Education and Sport Sociology
Julie Levin Russo,
Media Studies
Ruth Hayes,
Animation, Visual and Media Arts and Studies
John Baldridge,
Member of the Faculty
Anthony Zaragoza,
Political Economy and American Studies
d. wolach,
Poetry and Poetics
Elizabeth Williamson,
Literature
Kabby Mitchell III, Dance,
Performing Arts and African American Studies
Grace Huerta,
Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, ESL Teacher Education, Literature
Liza Rognas,
U.S. Legal & Public History
Karen Hogan
Martha Rosemeyer,
Sustainability and Justice
Savvina Chowdhury,
Feminist Economics
Dr. Joye Hardiman,
Faculty Emerita, Arts & Humanities
Miranda Mellis,
Writing & Literature
Anne Fischel,
Media Arts and Community Studies
Lin Nelson,
Sustainability and Justice
Naima Lowe,
Experimental Media
José Gómez,
Law and Politics/Constitutional Law
Karen Gaul,
Anthropology and Sustainability Studies
Peter Bohmer,
Political Economy
Jeanne Hahn,
Political Economy and History
Arun Chandra,
Composer
Kevin Francis,
History of Science
Marilyn Frasca,
Faculty Emerita­­Visual Arts
Larry Mosqueda,
Political Economy and Social Change
Maria Trevizo,
Wellness Education Specialist and Evergreen Alumna ‘98
Therese Saliba,
International Feminism
Sally Cloninger,
Faculty Emerita­­Media Arts
Julia Zay,
Media and Visual Arts
Kathleen Eamon,
Philosophy and Critical Theory
Shaw Osha,
Visual Art
Tom Womeldorff,
Economics
LLyn De Danaan,
Faculty Emerita­­Cultural Anthropology
Chuck Pailthorp,
Faculty Emeritus­­Philosophy
Carolyn Prouty,
Health Sciences and Public Health
Sarah Williams,
Feminist Theory
Michael Vavrus,
Education and Political Economy
Candace Vogler,
Social Work, Mental Health
Rob Esposito,
Expressive Arts
Laura Citrin,
Social Psychology; Gender and Women’s Studies
Ryo Imamura,
East­-West Psychology
Lisa Sweet,
Visual Arts
Vauhn Foster­Grahler,
Mathematics
Frederica Bowcutt,
Botany
Cynthia Kennedy,
Leadership and Consciousness Studies
Steven Hendricks,
Writing and Literature
Stacey Davis,
History
Paul McMillin,
Historical Sociology and Information Studies
James J Neitzel,
Biochemistry
William Bruner,
Faculty Emeritus, Economics
Alice Nelson,
Latin American Cultural Studies
Zoltan Grossman,
Geography / Native Studies
Peter Dorman,
Political Economy, Environmental Studies, Statistics
Douglas Schuler,
Social Innovation and Civic Intelligence
Bob Woods,
Visual Arts ­ Sculpture
Dr. E.J. Zita,
Physics & Philosophy Steven G. Herman, Environmental Studies
Ted Whitesell,
Geography, Environmental Studies, and Sustainability and Justice
Joe Tougas,
Philosophy and Visual Arts
Sara Huntington,
18th Century Satire
Susan Preciso,
American and British Literature; American Studies
Trevor Speller,
Literature
Stephen Beck,
Philosophy
Michelle PenOziequah Aguilar-Wells,
Public Administration, and American Indian Studies
Steve Niva,
International and Middle East Politics
Joli Sandoz,
Humanities and Social Sciences
Eric Stein,
Cultural Anthropology and History
Nancy Koppelman, American Studies and Humanities
Evan Blackwell,
Visual Arts

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