A donor has pulled funds supporting art students at the University of Hawaii after the art department’s chairwoman organized a sign-painting party on Facebook to protest President-elect Donald Trump.
Chairwoman Gaye Chan says she used her personal Facebook page to invite people to paint signs together on campus.
“Regardless of who you voted for, or if at all, there will be long-term results that will negatively impact us all,” she said on her Facebook page. “People are already experiencing misogynist and racist harassment. Let’s unite by showing solidarity by attending two events tomorrow.”
Chan’s post upset donor Mark Blackburn, a Trump supporter, who said he didn’t think a chairwoman of a department should use state property to promote a political agenda.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test, in my book,” Blackburn said. “I said you know what, I don’t think this is right, and I’m going to vote with my checkbook on this thing.”
Chan didn’t violate any university policies with her Facebook post, and professors regularly participate in protests over telescopes built on mountains held sacred by Native Hawaiians, genetically modified organisms and other issues, university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said.
“It’s a university. It’s an institution of higher education. You’re supposed to debate ideas,” he said.
Blackburn estimates he provided at least $40,000 for scholarships and programs for art students at the university over the past couple years. He invested money to start GalleryHNL, a pop-up art gallery that showcases students’ work, and has spent money on airfare to fly students and their work to galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and New York, he said.
Meisenzahl said Blackburn’s direct donations to the university were closer to $14,000.
The difference in estimates could be due to expenses Blackburn incurred opening an art agency outside the university which benefited students, Chan said.
“This guy is trying to limit free speech with his money,” said Alan Ness, a graduate who obtained his masters in fine arts from the university in 2008. “The universities are already underfunded, and now this guy is just exacerbating the problem by pulling his funds for the arts because he doesn’t like what the arts are saying.”
Chan told The Associated Press she drafted the Facebook post on her own time and didn’t use any university resources. The sign-painting happened on “a piece of concrete in a public space that any member of the public can use,” she said.
Chan thanked Blackburn and his wife for their past contributions to the art program, adding that she has no animosity toward them. She said dwindling funding for the arts have led academics such as her to try to raise funds from outside sources.
“The increasing privatization is very dangerous for public education, and it could be in this case swayed by funders who will try to redirect what our educational mission is,” she said.