University at Buffalo
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Art & Design

Art History

Visual Studies

UUP Resolution of Support for Dr. Steven Kurtz

February 11, 2008  by: Dom

The United University Professions Delegate Assembly adopted without dissent this resolution of support for Dr. Steven Kurtz, at a meeting in Albany, NY, February 9, 2008.  UUP is the union for faculty and professional staff in SUNY:

Resolution of Support for Dr. Steven Kurtz

Dr. Steven Kurtz is a Professor of Visual Studies at SUNY Buffalo and a founding member, with his late wife, Hope, of the internationally-acclaimed art and theater collective Critical Art Ensemble, which works within educational and art contexts to raise awareness of a range of social issues, biotechnology and the many issues surrounding it,

In participatory theater events, CAE publicly and legally perform basic scientific processes to explain and demystify them, helping audiences obtain a clearer understanding of the issues surrounding aspects of the biotech revolution like genetically modified agriculture, advanced reproductive technologies and bio-warfare,

In May 2004, the Joint Terrorism Task Force detained artist and SUNY Buffalo Professor Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble as a suspected “bioterrorist,” seizing documents, computers, and equipment used in four of CAE’s projects, including materials for a project that was to have been part of an exhibition and performance at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and three other projects that had been safely displayed in museums and galleries throughout Europe and North America with absolutely no risk to the public,

The Public Health Commissioner and the FBI’s own field and laboratory tests concluded that these materials did not pose any health or safety threat to people or the environment,

After a costly investigation, the Department of Justice (DoJ) instead brought charges of “wire fraud” and “mail fraud” against Dr. Kurtz and his colleague Dr. Ferrell, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, punishable under the USA PATRIOT Act by up to 20 years in prison, and continues to expend vast sums of public money on this outrageous prosecution,

The DoJ is now claiming that Dr. Ferrell used his contract through the University of Pittsburgh to purchase the samples from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), which he then gave to Dr. Kurtz for use in one of art CAE’s projects, thereby “defrauding” the University and ATCC, and which, if true, this would constitute a minor contract discrepancy concerning $256 of harmless commonly available science materials, to be settled between the parties involved,

Neither the University of Pittsburgh, nor ATCC, nor any state authorities, have brought any complaint against Ferrell or Kurtz and scientists frequently share materials in this manner because such academic collaboration is necessary for research,

The DoJ is going far outside its own guidelines in an attempt to make this into a federal “crime” (the DoJ publishes a Criminal Resource Handbook available online in which it states a general “Prosecution Policy Relating to Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud” as follows: “Prosecutions of fraud ordinarily should not be undertaken if the scheme employed consists of some isolated transactions between individuals, involving minor loss to the victims, in which case the parties should be left to settle their differences by civil or criminal litigation in the state courts”),

The case has drawn international attention because its threat to the right to freedom of speech and academic freedom; so much so that the editors of the pre-eminent British science journal Nature have called on scientists to support Dr. Kurtz and Dr. Ferrell, and innumerable other academics, artists, and concerned citizens worldwide have gone on record to respond to this outrageous case, passing resolutions and letters of support, and organizing fundraisers for Drs. Kurtz and Ferrell,

This case indeed has profound implications for constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech, expression, and inquiry, and seriously compromises independent scientific research in which artists and academics must have the right to openly and honestly contribute to vital public discussion about the actions of their government,

This case threatens to erode the boundary between civil and criminal law and to intimidate and criminalize those who would legitimately and legally criticize government policy, while the DoJ’s radical interpretation of mail fraud law would maximize the department’s power for selective prosecution, and enable it to bring felony charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison for any minor discrepancy in a civil contract involving the mail or internet,

That the UUP insists that all charges and legal proceedings against Dr. Steven Kurtz be immediately dropped,

That the UUP President engage that office in such a way which would aid the dropping of charges against Dr. Steven Kurtz, including but not limited to Prosecutor’s Office at the Department of Justice in Buffalo, New York State’s Congressional representatives, the American Association of University Professors, the SUNY Faculty Senate, and the UUP publication The Voice.

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