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OPINION: Governance dilemma

Naila Dhanani: University must encourage pluralism

Published: Monday, July 16, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07

Photo run with permission by Eric Schroeder

Texas Aggie Conservatives submitted this ad to run on campus computers.

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Photo run with permission by Eric Schroeder

Governance dilemma

Naila Dhanani: University must encourage pluralism

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Universities have an obligation to foster experiences that contribute to a mutual respect among peoples of diverse backgrounds.Texas A&M University recently entered this discussion when Texas Aggie Conservatives, a recognized student organization, submitted an ad to run on campus computers. The ad contained an image of President Barack Obama, dressed as a boy, pouting, and read, “Think he NEEDS a time out?”

Many decried the ad as racist and hateful. Arguments made included it demeaned Obama. The Burnt Orange Report, a political blog, wrote, “’Boy’ has been used constantly throughout American history to deride and classify African-American men as inferior people. It is an image which works to justify control over African-Americans through dehumanization.”

A staffer at Evans Library noticed the ad and asked for it to be taken down, as did Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Sarah Bednarz. She wrote in an email “All summer, thousands of current students, new students, and their parents have seen this PSA which is not consistent with Aggie values. Can it not come off ASAP?”

Regardless of whether or not TAC meant to dehumanize Obama, the outcry against the organization is disturbing. This nation has long prided itself on the freedoms it provides — freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to exercise religion.

The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the notion universities are marketplaces of ideas. Our constitutional rights don’t disappear when we enter the doors to the University.

The question remains how far the University will go to restrict students’ right to free speech. It recently announced on its website that “Open Access Labs will end its Public Service Announcement service on July 9. Screen savers will now run for a much shorter time before automatically going into sleep mode in order to save energy.” All PSAs are now gone — simply because the University did not agree with one organization’s ad.

The University should be open to all views and invite debate and dialogue in an effort to increase tolerance among students and exercise the First Amendment to the fullest extent.

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia Stephen J. Troope during an address said “A university education is — or should be — a transformative experience, not only for what [students] will learn in the classroom but also for what they discover about themselves, what they encounter in others whose views and backgrounds differ from their own, and for what they come to contribute of themselves to the greater community.”

Although many will not agree with TAC’s depiction of Obama, it’s not necessary that we do. The point is, as students, we should be exposed to differing views. It’s important we have a safe place to disagree. If all the University allows us to see are non-controversial images, then we have no opportunities to grow.

The University must stimulate an environment where students, staff and faculty can discover and appreciate differences among them. Open engagement with others who have a different set of world views is imperative if we are to interact properly in a globalized society. We cannot do that if our University continues its policy of censorship.


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