In the dock for art

March 13, 1998

I AM writing on behalf of the steering committee of the Standing Conference of Arts and Social Sciences, a body whose members are deans of faculties and representatives of subject associations in those disciplines. We wish to express our grave concern over recent events at the University of Central England.

A volume of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs has been the subject of police action and it is possible that the university may be prosecuted (THES, March 6).

The implications of such a prosecution would be extremely serious for academic freedom and for the ability of universities to carry out their function as organisations in which the critical study of culture can be carried out in an atmosphere of informed debate. While Mapplethorpe's images are controversial, we believe that his status as an artist and the academic context within which the book was being used ought to have acted as a clear guarantee of the integrity and legality of the university's position.

We hope that common sense and proportion will prevail in this case and that no further action will result.

Jennifer Birkett. Convenor, SCASS Steering Committee

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