First, I would like to say that I agree with the underlining message this editorial is trying to convey. It was wrong for the faculty, university, URCAD board, administration or whoever did this to move this research without a discussion. That was completely wrong on their part and they should issue an apology and think twice about doing this in the future without first their concerns with the student and the student’s advisor.
However, it becomes problematic when people begin to insinuate the intentions for moving this research. Yes, whoever did labeled it as “inappropriate material,” and the fact that the restriction to the age of 17 is pretty high and the message was quickly scribbled on a white board shows this action was hastily done. But to claim that this is “censorship of the female anatomy” in a “purely academic setting” is a stretch too far.
UMBC is a PUBLIC honors university and URCAD research is presented in a PUBLIC ballroom where anyone, not just students and professors, can waltz in and view the research that is being presented. The point I am attempting to highlight is that the university would be liable if a complaint, or in the most extreme a law suit, was made saying that a minor was submitted to “inappropriate material” while attending this event.
I believe this action was taken to cover the asses of the university or administrators who took the risk of permitting a presentation of this research at a public event. The student who did the research is not the one who would have to deal with a potential disgruntled parent or member of the community who would take public action because they unknowingly exposed their child to what they expected to be a harmless event of undergraduate research. This could then be blown out of proportion by this community member, defaming the reputation of a university that relies heavily on state funding. In turn, the student’s research, while harmless in its portrayal, could cause the university to lose funding because an overly concerned parent becomes too emotionally defensive about their son/daughter seeing images of the female anatomy before the parent believes they are ready.
The little action the university did take by moving the research to the back of the ballroom and posting this sign removes their liability because it can be argued that the university did take action to inform the public before anyone was exposed.
Now, it is a valid debate that this display shouldn’t be viewed as inappropriate to anyone but not everyone feels that way and the university doesn’t want to have to take the risk if someone stumbles upon this and does become offended.
Again, where the university went wrong was not conveying this to the student before they made the action but I would guess that someone didn’t consider this till the last minute and took action before they had time to discuss with the student why they felt the need to move the research.