For the last 11 years, professor Ricardo Dominguez has taught a course at UC San Diego titled Visual Arts 104A: Performing the Self.
As part of the final exam, students are asked to make a nude "gesture" in front of the class in a darkened room.
Such a gesture can be to disrobe, or to remain fully clothed and say something revealing about yourself that makes you feel vulnerable.
The class, which is not required, is popular with students, as is Dominguez, a tenured associate professor.
But a controversy has erupted after the mother of a UCSD student complained to a local television station that her daughter was required to be naked or risk failing the course.
"It bothers me, I'm not sending her to school for this," the anonymous woman told KGTV. "It makes me sick to my stomach."
As media requests began to swamp the university, the chairman of the visual arts department issued a statement supporting the class and the professor and noting that there has been misinformation about what 104A entails.
"The ambiguity around the question of 'nudity' and 'nakedness' is intentional," Jordan Crandall, professor and department chairman, said Tuesday in an email to The Times. "It is intended to be provocative, to raise issues. That is what performance art does."
This is not the first time Dominguez has been described as provocative.
Using a software program that continuously reloaded on the website of the UC president, Dominguez encouraged an act of "electronic civil disobedience" over the issue of the university's policy on the rights of immigrants. Hundreds of students flooded the comment section of the homepage.
Dominguez said he wants to blur the line between political advocacy and performance art.
"I'm interested in how different forms of power respond to this," Dominguez told The Times in 2010. "Our work has always been to bring to the foreground what artists can do using available low-end technologies that can have a wider encounter with society than just the limited landscape of the museum, the gallery and the scholarly paper."
He was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Dominguez is co-founder of the Electronic Disturbance Theater, which has developed "virtual sit-in technologies" in support of indigenous Indians in Chiapas, Mexico.
Among his projects has been development of a GPS cellphone app to help people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at remote desert locations to find where activists have placed water containers for them. He calls the innovation a "Mobile Statue of Liberty."
Students are advised at the beginning of 104A about the "nude/naked self" aspect. Some opt not to take the course.
"Our advising team is very willing to discuss the options for doing the performance without having to be actually naked and they have done so for many years," Crandall said.
The class "is an extremely successful one in visual arts," he added. "Nudity as been a core part of the history of performance and body art since the mid-20th century."
On an informal website where students are allowed to "grade" their professors, Dominguez rated an A.
"This course truly teaches you about yourself and [the] skills learn[ed] are actually applicable to daily life," wrote one student about the 104A course.
Wrote another, "I couldn't make heads or tails of this class when I got there but in the end I'm so glad I took it. Definitely covers some shocking material but this class changed the way I think about art."
Since the flap arose, similarly supportive comments have been left on social media.
"I've taken this class," wrote a student, "and known the professor for years and it's not some evil, lecherous event. It's performance art and it's the nature of it and build around a very supportive community."
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