LAWRENCE — Criticism from a cluster of Kansas Republican political candidates Wednesday prompted University of Kansas officials to order the removal of a U.S. flag embellished with an artist's representation of the nation's political polarization that had been flying on campus since July 5.

Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who are campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor, and Steve Watkins, a U.S. military veteran seeking the GOP congressional nomination in the 2nd District, expressed dismay at KU's participation in a traveling flag exhibition that included the work of German-born artist Josephine Meckseper.

The Meckseper flag that flew in front of Spooner Hall was part of a nationwide public art project, "Pledges of Allegiance," commissioned by the New York nonprofit Creative Time. The privately financed 16-flag series was intended to "inspire a sense of community among cultural institutions." KU's involvement is supported by the Spencer Museum of Art, the KU Biodiversity Institute and the Hall Center for the Humanities.

"The disrespectful display of a desecrated American flag on the KU campus is absolutely unacceptable," Colyer said. "Men and women have fought and bled for that flag and to use it in this manner is beyond disrespectful. I demand that it be taken down immediately."

The governor said he communicated his displeasure to KU Chancellor Doug Girod and to Blake Flanders, president of the Kansas Board of Regents. Girod agreed to removal of the flag, and that was completed about 4:30 p.m. The controversial flag will be relocated to an exhibit inside the Spencer Museum of Art, the chancellor said.

"Over the course of the day, the conversation around this display has generated public safety concerns for our campus community. While we want to foster difficult dialogue, we cannot allow that dialogue to put our people or property in harm’s way," Girod said.

Kobach said it was "outrageous" a public university would feature such a flag. Placing the "art" label on the display doesn't make it any less a desecration of the flag, he said.

Watkins said he was surprised by KU's decision to fly a defaced flag on the campus.

"To those who would trample, burn or deface the flag, thank a soldier," he said. "My thoughts turn to my friends whose coffins were draped in our flag."

Joey Orr, a research curator at the Spencer Museum, helped organize the project for the university. He said in a news release issued last fall that he considered the flag project a "unique opportunity to model support for democratic exchange, allowing the community to come together over a range of topics."

The collection of flags has been displayed at 14 locations nationwide since June 2017. The Meckseper-designed flag is the last in the series and is scheduled to remain until July 30. 

In addition to KU's campus in Lawrence, the flag exhibition has been displayed at Rutgers University, Cornell University, the University of South Florida and the Rhode Island School of Design.