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Graduate School of Fine Arts Dean Lee Copeland yesterday defended the school's decision to bring controversial artist Andres Serrano to campus last week. He added that he did not personally invite Serrano and was reluctant to restrict the decision of the GSFA Lecture Committee, a student group that functions independently of the dean's office. The dean also denied charges that he is insensitive to Christian beliefs. Representatives of the Newman Center sent a letter to Copeland last Friday objecting to Serrano's appearance on the grounds that his work was offensive to Catholics and Christians. Copeland said he will write a letter in response later this week. The school sponsors several lectures a week, and Copeland said he did not want to place restrictions on who would be allowed to speak. "We don't censor speakers, and there has been a tradition on our campus that even if many of us would find certain speakers offensive, we would uphold the free exchange of ideas," he said. Copeland added that he trusted the judgment of the students who selected Serrano. The Newman Center letter, signed by Father James McGuire, director of the Newman Center, Campus Minister Bob Cardie and several student leaders, also charged that the GSFA was less sensitive to Christians than it would have been to another religious group. Both the dean and members of the lecture committee said that Serrano was chosen because he is a central figure in the debate over National Endowment for the Arts funding for controversial artists. Lecture Committee member Becky Acker, a third-year fine arts student, said yesterday that she considered Serrano's work a critique of Catholicism, similar to author Salman Rushdie's statements about Islam. Neither Acker nor Copeland said they anticipated a negative reaction to the speech. Acker said she thought the academic nature of the University community would make it more tolerant of controversial issues. Copeland said that a similar incident, an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs at the Institute of Contemporary Art, had drawn little attention because it happened before the NEA controversy began. Serrano's work makes use of many Christian images, and his most notorious is Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine. Copeland said that while Serrano is important as a figure in the controversy, he thinks Serrano's work has little artistic significance. "Personally, the lecture and the display of his work certainly did not strengthen my own opinion of him as a creative artist," he said. "I found the work to be not very interesting, artistically speaking. Both the creative content and the technical work were not outstanding."

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