Not since the separation from the Baptists has Furman found itself in such a maelstrom of controversy. As usual, the problems really started when the local media got involved, and got it wrong. From there, the community has gotten involved, voicing its opinion based on the erroneous information from the Greenville Cage Liner.
First, the run-up…
Bush was invited to speak at graduation by Governor Mark Sanford, and not by the university. Sanford approached Dr. Shi, who put it forth to a committee of seniors, five of whom were present. Shi took this action because several years ago Furman decided not to have outside commencement speakers because of the potential for controversy (ironic, isn’t it?), and only have student speakers. Since this was outside the norm, Shi decided to put this forth for approval.
What Shi didn’t do was inform the faculty, rather, setting it forth as a done deal without any discussion. Having been left out of the discussion, several of the faculty crafted the now infamous “We Object” letter. This letter states objections to Bush’s policies, but says nothing about objecting to Bush actually speaking at Furman. 221 members of the faculty signed the letter.
Enter Dan Hoover. He wrote an op-ed piece for the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago in which he excoriated the Furman faculty for the letter. In it he got most of the salient points absolutely wrong. First, he stated that the entire Furman senior student body had voted unanimously to approve Bush’s visit, rather than just the five seniors who were on the speakers committee. Then he spoke of the faculty disrupting graduation with their actions. He couched everything in monolithic terms – all those “liberal” professors versus the largely conservative student body. You can imagine how that played in this Republican community dominated by BJU and Baptists.
Now for the aftermath…
As one might imagine, in the wake of Hoover’s article, the editorial pages were awash with letters from uninformed people about the actions of the Furman faculty. The rhetoric was ratcheted up on both sides. This was even picked up by NPR’s Morning Edition, who also got their initial facts wrong and had to issue a correction. In yesterday and this morning’s paper, every letter to the editor was about the Bush visit controversy – most chiding the faculty for demeaning a day that was meant to be for the seniors.
At a recent faculty meeting, there was a split vote to admonish Dr. Shi for his handling of this issue in not informing the faculty. Shi himself got up and encouraged the faculty to vote FOR the admonishing. He admitted mistakes, and said that as part of shared governance it was the faculty’s responsibility to keep him in check.
If the faculty had just left it at the letter and the admonition of Dr. Shi, that would have been perfect. You have expressed your concerns, now proceed with the graduation in a respectful manner, proving all of the rabble rowsers at the News and the misguided letter writers to be incorrect. The whole issue would blow over and Furman could get back to the business of educating students. However, now comes word that several of the faculty plan to stand when Bush gets up to speak, take off their robes so that their white “We Object” T-shirts are visible, and remain standing for Bush’s comments. This is far different from a letter, and really crosses a line.
First, I don’t think I would want to do ANYTHING unexpected with armed Secret Service at the ready. Apart from that, this action does disrupt a day meant for seniors. Unfortunately, it also gives more ammunition to the conservative naysayers. These folks will use the same monolithic terms as did Dan Hoover. They will not distinguish between those that simply signed the letter, and those that took more drastic action. Laura, for example, signed the letter, but doesn’t approve of disrupting graduation.
And now we come to Saturday, the big day…
Laura could have gotten me a ticket to graduation. I actually considered it – it is a historic event to have a sitting president speak at your alma mater, regardless of his competency or popularity. However, traffic is supposed to be a nightmare. In fact, the Greenville Sheriff’s Office has advised people througout the city to get somewhere by 3:00 pm and stay there, since roads will be closed along the president’s route.
To Furman’s credit, they are allowing protest groups from both sides of the issue on campus. There is a security zone of 100 yards around the stadium, but protesters will be allowed on the mall. I had thought about heading up to campus to take pictures of protesters, but I don’t think I want to get anywhere near campus today. Laura plans to head up shortly after lunch and just hang out in her office. I expect to see her again much later tonight.
As for me, I’ll probably have the live streaming broadcast of the ceremonies going on my laptop as I watch a re-broadcast of the Andromeda Strain on A&E. I just hope I can keep track of which disaster flick is which.
[tags]Bush, Furman University, Furman, graduation[/tags]