Banned in Glendale

Community college literary magazine sparks right-wing censorship battle

Three pictures and a poem, published more than a year ago in a Glendale Community College literary magazine, have more than a dozen conservative Republican legislators demanding more than the right to determine what type art is acceptable.

Some now want the president of the college fired, along with the faculty who approved the art.

If not, the legislators say they will pursue other options, including auditing the college or monkeying with Glendale's state funding when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

"Self-Portrait: Desire As Penitence,"  by Jim Kearns
"Self-Portrait: Desire As Penitence," by Jim Kearns

And they want the material published in the Traveler removed from the college's Internet site. Immediately.

But college officials say they won't limit students' artistic expressions.

"We will not censor it. It's a learning venue," says Trish Vogel, GCC's coordinator of marketing and public relations. "The school stands behind the Traveler. We stand behind supporting students' First Amendment rights."

The material deemed offensive by legislators, published in the award-winning 2000 edition of the Traveler, includes a photograph of a naked male student, an illustration of a German Nazi concentration camp, a historical poem about the atrocities committed within concentration camps, and a photo titled "Just Like Suicide."

But the matter goes much deeper than a First Amendment battle over artistic freedom.

Two House members first raised questions about what they saw as questionable content in the magazine last summer.

Last month, 13 legislators met with school officials at the Capitol after they'd learned the work had been re-published on the college Web site. Most still believe they were misled because administrators had never told them the art was going on the Internet.

"These people have shown themselves to be irresponsible with public trust," says Representative Robert Blendu, a Republican. "You're dealing with a group of people who tell you one thing and do something else. To me, this is the worst kind of lie."

Senator Scott Bundgaard, a Glendale Republican, reviewed a copy of the 2000 Traveler sent to him as part of a complaint from a GCC faculty member.

"The leadership there has really crossed the bounds of reasonableness when it comes to not only accepting, but rewarding this kind of so-called art," Bundgaard says. "When they depict a woman slitting her wrist or a guy attaching clothespins to his genitals or depict the Holocaust as art, it really shows we've got some leadership problems at the college."

Bundgaard, 33, is not new to politics. He's a seven-year veteran of the Legislature. He readily acknowledges that he might be viewed by some as a right-wing headcase on an errant mission.

Asked whether he would censor other artistic works, such as those by Michelangelo, based on content or nudity, Bundgaard said there is a difference.

"I've seen the statue of David," the senator says. "He does not have any clothespins clipped to his 'nads."

Jim Kearns, the 25-year-old GCC student who took the nude picture of himself, says his critics missed the meaning. They overlooked the title, "Self-Portrait: Desire As Penitence," and misconstrued the symbolism.

Kearns says the image, as a whole, was inspired by his study of penitent Jesuit monks who practiced self-flagellation, as well as the Buddhist belief that all desire leads to suffering.

"In this case, the clothespins are attacking the most notorious organ of desire," Kearns says. "The clothespins also [represent] an idea of suppression."

His intent, obviously, was lost on the lawmakers.

Still, the college has made several changes to appease the Legislature.

Guidelines for submissions to the magazine have been drafted and are being reviewed by the college's legal staff. Community residents were added to the selection panel that reviews what work is displayed in the Traveler. Those two changes came after two House members, Karen Johnson and Linda Gray, met with GCC's president, Dr. Tessa Martinez Pollack.

Pollack was out of town and unavailable to comment for this story.

The college beefed up its Web site disclaimer after last month's meeting with lawmakers. The disclaimer, which people have to read and accept before viewing any back issue of the Traveler, states that some material might be considered of an adult nature.

None of the changes have been enough to satisfy the conservative lawmakers.

Now, lawmakers are stooping to the most basic of backyard-bully scare tactics. Besides demanding the termination of key college officials, the legislators are threatening the college's funding.

"I don't think we can fire them," says Blendu.

But if the administration is left intact, he says, "maybe other community colleges deserve the money."

For all their posturing, the band of concerned conservatives aren't as up to speed on the whole brouhaha as they should be.

• The college has received just three complaints about the contents of the magazine. Legislators say they have received more complaints, but typically point to just the one Bundgaard got from a GCC faculty member. Blendu can't say how many complaints he has received; other legislators also could not provide numbers.

But Blendu has been more than happy to drum up outrage.

"Everybody that finds out about it is offended," he says. "When I stood up in front of the group at Sun City West and let them know about it, they were incensed and wanted something done."

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