updated 3/25/2009 3:25:27 PM ET 2009-03-25T19:25:27

A university official removed a sculpture that depicts a girl and a teacher in a sex act from a campus gallery, prompting complaints from an anti-censorship group.

The piece by artist James Parlin, called "The Middle School Science Teacher Makes a Decision He'll Live to Regret," had been part of an exhibit at Bowling Green State University's Firelands campus. The campus' interim dean removed the sculpture last week.

"Not understanding metaphor makes art a foreign language to the viewer," Parlin said.

Parlin said the man in the sculpture is based on the father of children his own children knew. The artist from Edinboro, Pa., said he was struck by the thought of how powerful an urge must be that a person would commit an act he knows will ruin his life.

"Is there such a thing as a compulsion that overcomes freedom?" Parlin said. "To me, this is kind of the crux of our moral lives."

The exhibit at the campus' Little Gallery had included 13 painted aluminum figures by Parlin, each about 13 to 17 inches tall. David Sapp, an art professor and director of the gallery, closed the entire exhibit to protest the sculpture's removal.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, based in New York City, condemned the university's actions, saying it raised serious free-speech concerns. On its blog, the coalition said removing the sculpture was "an unacceptable violation of the academic freedom to openly discuss ideas and social problems in a public university."

A matter of artistic expression
The university issued a statement saying it "strongly supports the right of free speech and artistic expression. However, we also have a responsibility to not expose the children and families we invite to our campus to inappropriate material."

The coalition said the university could have taken steps short of removing the sculpture, such as posting signs for parents or closing the gallery during children's productions at the theater next door.

Parlin, an art professor at Edinboro University, has an undergraduate degree in religious thought and a master's in fine art. He said the exhibit has been shown in other venues without complaint.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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