Sunday, January 05, 2003

CRs accept apology from VP Church. 

The College Republicans have accepted an apology (in Word format) from Vice President Nathan Church for his role in the dispute over their pro-Israel, pro-war on terror display which we have discussed at length. I repost here their statement of the events as they saw them; we have had coverage of the event here and here (and further upstream in the archive). This is their press release issued this afternoon (and likely on the news tomorrow):
The St Cloud State College Republicans have accepted a formal apology from Dr. Nathan Church, SCSU Vice-President for Student Life and Development, following our complaint that Dr. Church violated our right to free speech at an organizational display in the Atwood Memorial Center on 12/11/2002.

An apology alone does not correct the offenses that took place at our display. Thus, the College Republicans accept this apology with the expectation that the University will never again infringe on the right of any student organization to present its ideas in a peaceful manner.

Our organization hopes that the University will use this incident as an opportunity to reevaluate its approach to supporting the exercise of free speech on campus. We believe that this is crucial to student development and the furthering of critical debate.

Dr. Roy Saigo, SCSU President, in a letter last week, informed the College Republicans that he is aware of our complaints and of our willingness to accept an apology from Dr. Church. He also assured us that the University is taking seriously the investigation into the alleged assault of one of our members, Zachary Spoehr, by SCSU Professor Rona Karasik.

It is our position that Prof. Karasik acted altogether unprofessionally, with total disregard for the University Code of Conduct. We hope that the investigation will be conducted with integrity.

There are a few questions raised here. There have been several reports that Mr. Spoehr may have taunted Prof. Karasik by repeatedly flashing the camera after her request to not be photographed. I do not know if this is true or not, but the report needs to be investigated. This doesn't excuse any physical threat she might have made, but places that behavior in a slightly different context. And as we've discussed earlier, her own justifications for her actions have gone around several explanations, with the taunting camera only one of the reasons offered. Still no word from the Supreme Court on where "the right to not be photographed" appears in the Constitution. We'll be happy to post any response she has in full here.

I'll note that the Code of Conduct discussed is the student code. It's not clear that it applies to faculty. Physical action between students is prohibited conduct; so too is "Intentionally, recklessly or negligently placing any person under mental duress or causing any person to be in fear of physical danger through verbal abuse, harassment (including repeated phone calls), sexual harassment, hazing, intimidation, threats or other conduct which threatens or endangers that person's emotional, mental or physical well-being." You would hope that faculty are held to at least that standard in speaking with students outside of the classroom. There is an area discussing student complaints against faculty that would have the discussion take place with first the faculty member's department and then his or her dean.

As to Church's apology, this strikes me as rather tortured English.

Upon reflection, I accept that I could have managed my concerns about your display in a fashion that would have left these matters clearly within your hands to consider and manage as you thought would be appropriate.
What concerns were these that needed managing? That two professors were upset by a Republican display could hardly have come as a major surprise -- like most campuses, our faculty isn't exactly swimming in Republicans. That it had a pro-Bush, pro-Israeli sentiment was obvious from inspection. Last I knew, the fact that it displayed literature from Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership (one of the various reasons given for the professors' offense) wasn't in and of itself anything that would require one to "manage my concerns". What would have prevented Church from taking the position that University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton gave almost two years ago after an attack on an insensitive poem?
What I want to make clear and unambiguous is that responses to complaints or demands for action regarding constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech CANNOT BE QUALIFIED. Attempts to assuage anger or to demonstrate concern by qualifying our support for free speech serve to cloud what must be a clear message. Noting that, for example, �The University supports the right to free speech, but we intend to check into this matter,� or �The University supports the right of free speech, but I have asked Dean X or Provost Y to investigate the circumstances,� is unacceptable. There is nothing to �check into,� nothing �to investigate.�
In lieu of mandatory First Amendment training, I simply request that Drs. Church, Greenberg, Karasik and Saigo tape that paragraph to their desks.