Monday, August 1, 2016

The Coraddi Controversy of 1954

Page 15 of the Fall 1954 issue of the Coraddi, the art and literary magazine of the Woman's College (now UNCG) featured a short story by student Mary Wells Edward titled "Dinah." But, the page also contained an unrelated pen and ink drawing of a nude man. The drawing was done by Lee Hall, a part-time student from Lexington who worked on the staff of the Coraddi. The publication of this piece brought the debate between art and freedom of the press to the WC campus and ultimately resulted in the resignation of the entire Coraddi staff.

Cover of the Fall 1954 Coraddi
On December 15, 1954, the WC Student Legislature met to determine what - if any - actions it would take to reprimand the staff of the Coraddi for publication of this drawing. A resolution was introduced by student legislator Frances Alexander. This resolution declared that "the Fall issue of Coraddi violates the responsibility of freedom vested in student organizations and does not maintain the standards expected of student publications." It also proposed a forma reprimand of the Coraddi staff "for the publication of objectionable material in a magazine distributed to the general public under the name of the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina."

After the resolution was presented, a vote was taken. The resolution passed by a vote of 21 to 17 (with one abstention). But, after the vote was taken, Dr. William Mueller, faculty advisor to the student legislature and professor of English, spoke to the group. He states that "one's sense of taste is closely related to his sense of morals ... One purpose of education is to enable a person to acquire the kind of taste and judgment which allow him to distinguish between a work of art and something that is cheap and tawdry ... It is my conviction that the contents of Coraddi is art; it is my opinion that it is good art. When we judge a picture, we must also take into consideration whether our final judgment is more a reflection of the picture or ourselves." Following Mueller's speech, the group decided to hold a second vote.. By a vote of 18 to 21, the student legislature chose not to pass the resolution and not to reprimand the staff of the Coraddi for their publication.

Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham
Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham, however, would not this decision not to censure the Coraddi staff stand. The following day, on December 16, he wrote a letter "to the student of the Woman's College" declaring that "after Legislature acted, I was faced with the necessity of taking and a stand and I have taken it." He officially issued "a very strong censure" to the Coraddi staff "based on the simple premise that Coraddi, issued in the name of the College, violates the standards of good taste and judgment which any undergraduate publication is morally obligated to uphold."

In his censure to the Coraddi staff, Graham stated that "it is my considered judgment that, even under the most liberal interpretation, the issue of Coraddi in question clearly exceeds the limits of good taste." He continued, "freedom of the press is inevitably hedged about by the relationship and the responsibility of the press to the social and academic groups in which it exists. The strongest protection for a free press is the judgment and the responsibility of those privileged with freedom, and the present censure is directed first of all toward an apparent confusion in the minds of the Coraddi staff with respect to the all-important difference between freedom and license." Graham concluded by noting that "a wide range of opportunity for the self-expression of the artist is not only recognized but insisted upon by the Woman's College. Nevertheless, art galleries, exhibitions to which people may go on this campus, booklets designed for people who are (or should be) interested in art, and comparable places are the right setting for uninhibited realism. Such opportunities exist on this campus in abundant measure without involving an undergraduate publication for general distribution."

Coraddi editor Debbie Marcus
On December 17, the staff of the Coraddi, led by editor Debbie Marcus, resigned in protest. In a note left at Chancellor Graham's home, the student members of the staff declared that "in view of the Chancellor's statement, the staff of Coraddi believes that it cannot continue to function properly - that is, cannot put out a Fine Arts magazine ...the entire Coraddi staff believes that in the future, consideration of political expediency will - because of censures such as this - have to be of prime consideration. And since the Coraddi staff members are not politicians, but students of the arts, they believe that their resignation is in order."

In the aftermath of the censure and resignations, the Coraddi was unable to publish a Winter issue during the 1954-1955 academic year. But Graham's decision was upheld by the UNC Board of Trustees (the group now known as the Board of Governors). And he wrote privately the following month that disagreement with his decision was limited to "excitable aesthetes and a few other disciples of freedom."

Also of note is the career of Lee Hall, the artist who drew the controversial piece. Hall graduated from Woman's College on schedule in 1956. She later went on to serve as dean of Visual Arts at the State University of New York-Purchase before being appointed president of the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975. She held that position until 1983.

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