The UC San Diego Academic Senate issued a statement on Thursday announcing that UCSD will continue to offer its class titled “The Films of Woody Allen” even though a petition to cancel the course has garnered more than 15,000 signatures. The petition was initiated by Thurgood Marshall College junior Savanah Lyon, a film studies major whose argument for ending the class is hinged on the sexual assault allegations against Allen.
The controversy is reflective of the current debate regarding how celebrities accused of sexual harassment and misconduct should be portrayed. Allen, who has been accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct including instances involving his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow, has repeatedly denied the allegations.
“There are many issues with having a class devoted to the films of Woody Allen. The biggest being the rape, pedophilia, and assault allegations lined up against Woody Allen, most of which are recurring themes in his movies,” Lyon wrote to the UCSD Guardian.
The debate also calls into question the possibility of appreciating an artist’s work without condoning the negative attributes of the artist themself.
Lyon’s petition has generated backlash as members of the Academic Senate, as well as Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, have spoken out against the movement, citing academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Academic Senate Vice Chair Robert Horwitz told the Guardian that the issue at hand is whether faculty members’ courses should be dictated by others.
“The debate is not about the Films of Woody Allen course; it is about the principle of academic freedom and the right of faculty to teach courses on subjects they believe are interesting and important,” Horwitz said.
Chancellor Khosla shared a similar opinion, stating to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “I would have told her to move on and get out of my classroom. I get to teach in my class.”
Lyon told the Guardian that the responses she has received are indicative of an even bigger issue.
“Students don’t have a voice on this campus and we need to discuss as a community what needs to be done to solve that problem,” Lyon told the Guardian.
While student organizations such as the UCSD College Democrats and Anti-Oppression Committee have reached out to Lyon in support of her petition to remove the course, other students are speaking out in favor of academic freedom.
Gregory Lu, a Roger Revelle College senior, told the Guardian that Allen’s behaviors should not take away from the discussion of his films.
“Woody Allen’s actions, while traumatic and disgusting, should not undermine what the purpose of this theater class is attempting to teach,” Lu stated.
Theater professor Steven Adler, who teaches the course, was unavailable for comment. The film course has been offered to UCSD students since the 1990s.
When asked if artists with controversial pasts deserve societal recognition, Lyon responded “The question is whether or not these artists should be taught in an academic institution … which is what is happening currently with the Films of Woody Allen. Should these artists have a platform where they are glorified? No. That is what is being addressed here.”
In a recent statement made by the UCSD Academic Senate, the group announced that it plans to “support the right to the continued teaching of this course now and in the future.”
Photo by Alexia Silvagni