Not Fit to Teach?
Parsons the New School for Design on Tuesday called off a planned master class by John Galliano, the fashion designer widely condemned as anti-Semitic, amid a debate over whether it would have ever been appropriate to have him as an instructor.
The New School (of which Parsons is a part) had defended the selection of Galliano, but said that it called off the class when an agreement could not be reached for a "frank discussion" of his career. The New School said that such a discussion had been a condition of his teaching at Parsons. Many had criticized Parsons for inviting Galliano under any circumstances, while others had said that it would have been valuable to students to learn from his fashion expertise and his mistakes.
Galliano has for years been a leading force in fashion, but he was fired by Dior after video surfaced of him in which he was seen making anti-Semitic remarks and saying "I love Hitler."
When the Galliano master class was first announced and Parsons started to be questioned about it, the New School defended the selection. "As challenging as it is, even now, to host a workshop with Mr. Galliano at the New School, we believe our students can learn from his talents and achievements as a designer and from his personal failures," said a memo from David E. Van Zandt, the president of the New School, and Tim Marshall, the provost. The memo also said that "[w]e repudiate the hateful, deeply offensive remarks," and noted that Galliano has been working to make amends for his past actions.
That note also referenced an agreement to have a full discussion of Galliano's career. "It is a condition of our agreement to host the workshop that it include frank discussion of Mr. Galliano’s career," Van Zandt and Marshall wrote. "New School doors are open to this kind of exchange and New School students are empowered to make their own decisions. We hope our students will take away not only a rich perspective on design, but also an understanding of how to safeguard their personal integrity and remain accountable for their actions amid the considerable pressures and temptations they may face in the world at large."
An e-mail sent by New School leaders Tuesday night, however, said that an agreement on that forum could not be reached, and so the master class was being called off. Tuesday's e-mail, published by New York Magazine, again defended the concept of having Galliano appear -- had the visit also included discussion of his anti-Semitic remarks.
"As we have expressed over the past weeks, a critical element of a New School education is the connection between creative and intellectual invention and an individual’s actions in the world at large. While we understand the pressures Mr. Galliano faces, we expected to invite students, faculty and staff to ask Mr. Galliano how his trajectory as a designer was changed by his offensive remarks and to learn from that example," said the e-mail. "We continue to believe there is room at Parsons to explore Mr. Galliano’s efforts to make amends for his actions and that members of our community will decide for themselves how to view his contributions. It is certain this would not have been an easy or comfortable conversation but our mission is to provide uncommon learning opportunities that transcend the boundaries of the disciplines."
The planned Galliano master class had been the subject of competing petitions. One against the visit said: "There should be no room for this kind of person as a staff member on the faculty at Parsons. Imagine if the school were hiring a person who publicly voiced support for the KKK — there would likely be backlash because it's not right to have someone like that teaching at a school. But because this is someone who has made anti-Semitic remarks, people are willing to look the other way. This is unacceptable."
Another petition, signed by far fewer individuals, called on Parsons to go ahead with the visit. This petition said: "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to get a one on one with Galliano and experience the true techniques and process of design. We live in a world where we are abandoned by the things we say, yes he said some offensive comments, but we can not let that disrupt our learning process. We must look forward and give people second chances."
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Chair, Department of Theatre and Director of the Undergraduate Program in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies