The Art of Darkness

ASU art professor Joe Young has spent four years telling the world he's the victim of institutional homophobia. But he's no victim. He's the incredibly persistent aggressor in a long, vicious game of smear-the-boss.

Because he is gay, Young says, the Harry Wood Gallery's budget was cut.
He says he has an inferior computer--because he is gay.
He says he asked Codell's assistant to inform his students that he had to cancel class at the last minute earlier this year--he had to attend a conference, he says--but she didn't do it. Because Young is gay.

Young says he suspects Codell threw a rock through his window because he is gay.

And Young firmly believes he has endured an abusive work schedule the entire time he's worked at ASU. The only reason he can come up with for this vindictive scheduling, he says, is his sexual orientation.

It's because he's gay.

One of Young's major gripes revolves around ASU's refusal to give him credit during his annual reviews for the studio art he produces each year. He says credit is withheld because his artwork focuses on ASU's homophobia. Codell and Young's colleagues say Young is employed as an art historian, not a studio artist, and he should undertake research in his field if he wants credit for doing university-level research.

Young is right about one thing: ASU's refusal to consider his studio art as research has reduced his performance ratings. But that is not the only reason he has received less-than-stellar reviews at the university.

As early as 1989, before Codell came to ASU, Young was receiving low evaluations from students he had taught. That year, according to his review, students ranked him 31st out of 46 professors in the School of Art, and ninth of the 11 art history professors.

In her 1991 review of Young, Codell wrote, "We need to see some definite improvement in research, teaching and service."

Mark Fuller, who took an art history survey course from Young in 1995, isn't gentle about the teaching aspect.

"There's no nice way to put it," Fuller says. "I think without doubt he was the worst teacher I'd seen. I mean, he made my high school teachers look good by comparison. He was just embarrassing."

Fuller, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from ASU, took Young's art history class because he was thinking about changing professions. Fuller didn't know anything about Young; the class fit his schedule.

The course covered the history of art from the Renaissance to contemporary times, and Fuller says he was astonished when Young skipped over entire historic periods.

"He made me not like it," Fuller says. "He took probably the most interested person in class and made me just sort of despise coming to class."

Fuller and other students who asked not to be identified note that Young often spoke of his personal life in class--and in ways they considered improper or unprofessional. Fuller says he wasn't disturbed when Young told the class he was gay. What bothered Fuller was Young's assertion in an art history class that his sister had been sexually abused by their father as a child.

Another student who found Young's incest allegation disturbing and inappropriate says he couldn't help wondering: "What is this really teaching me about art history? Shouldn't you be spending this time introducing me to new artists that I don't know about?"

The student, who is gay, says Young also spoke incessantly of his battles with Codell. The student says he's never seen any evidence of homophobia at the School of Art.

"I think he's blowing it out of proportion," the student says.

People who are willing to go on the record about Joe Young's complaints against ASU almost invariably fall into two camps: those who disagree with him and those who say they haven't reviewed Young's material thoroughly enough to make up their minds.

Young's art dealers in Scottsdale and New York City, his mentor Leonard Lehrer (now director of the School of Art and Art Professions at New York University) and the professor who invited him to show his work in West Virginia this fall all say they don't know whether he's being discriminated against.

Carol Bernstein, a University of Arizona biology professor and the Arizona representative for the American Association of University Professors, says she's not certain Young has enough documentation to convince her to write a story for her organization's publication.

Reidun Ovrebo, chair of the art department and associate professor of art at West Virginia State College, wants to be on the record: Exhibiting Young's artwork was not a signal that she or her university support Young's claims of homophobia at ASU.

"We don't know the case," she says. "He was invited as an artist. So in that sense we wash our hands of that specific case because we don't have all that information."

Ovrebo says Young was invited to her school because, as a historically black institution, West Virginia State is sensitive to issues of discrimination. She says she did not realize Young's work was solely about himself.

She says, "It became kind of his personal issue, and people did respond negatively to that, because that was not what was expected."

A few people are willing to go on the record and say they believe Joe Young is just plain wrong when he accuses Julie Codell of homophobia.

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