SIGNIFICANCE: PIAROWSKI V. ILLINOIS COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Case NamePiarowski v. Illinois Community College 
Citation: 759 F.2d 625 (7th Cir. 1985)
TopicsObscenity; Public Forum

Professor Piarowski, the head of the Art Department at Illinois Community College, contributed eight stained-glass windows, five of which were abstract and three of which were representational to the “Art Department Faculty Exhibition.” One of the representational works depicted a naked woman masturbating and another depicted a woman engaging in sexual acts with a man. The main floor of the College’s principal building is a large open area, and the gallery where these works were displayed was not separated by a wall from the rest of the space. The Professor claimed the college violated his First Amendment rights for demanding that he move his artwork from a faculty exhibit in the College’s gallery to an alternate location in the Art Department because of the art’s alleged sexual explicitness

The Court found the representational stained-glass windows depicting nude and semi-nude figures not to be obscene or devoid of artistic merit, but upheld the College’s action. Central to the Court’s decision was its finding that the gallery was not a public forum, and the Professor was acting as an employee of the College – in fact, he was the head of the Art Department and manager of the exhibit for the College. Exhibitions in the gallery were typically by invitation and the Professor’s choice of placement, as an employee of the College, was not immune to the College’s public relations interests, especially since the issue was relocation rather than removal. In other words, since the Professor was an employee of the University, and the exhibit was billed as a faculty exhibit, then the College’s public relations interests and power as an employer trumped the interests of the individual, particularly where the issue was one of relocation of art rather than total suppression of art.

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.