December 1, 1999
An often under-recognized mission of institutions of higher education is to foster amongst its students ideals such as due process and equality. The goal is that the graduates, upon completing their education, will bring these ideals with them into the society at large. The late Ernest L. Boyer of the Carneigie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching put this most eloquently when he said a goal of higher education is to "make the world a better place."
Institutions of higher education foster the ideals of due process and equality by practicing it within the university community. Everyone, regardless of ethnic origin, religious belief, and gender, or whether they are rich or poor, powerful or powerless, are treated equally, and no one receives special preference.
Unfortunately, these ideals of due process and equality are under assault at the University of South Alabama. The most recent example of gross disregard for the ideal of equality can be found in the Mitchell Center where Trustee Mayer Mitchell ordered the staff of the university to work for his own personal benefit and whim by changing the height of seats that he bought in the sports complex -- see accompanying story. In December 1998, the Board of Trustees, led by the Mitchell faction, trashed the ideal of due process when it appointed Gordon Moulton as president without carrying out a national search as it is commonly done at every institution of higher education.
Why is this latest assault on university ideals such a big deal? After all, Trustee Mitchell has donated $1.1 million to the arena and has bought season tickets for the seats in question (they come with the Mitchell-family skybox behind these rows). Furthermore, Row 6 is located on the aisle, and if his family members and friends who will be sitting in Row 6 don't object, isn't he entitled to do as he pleases since he is a major donor and a season-ticket holder?
The antic of Trustee Mitchell raises a host of questions: If USA is to uphold the ideal of equality, then it must treat everyone, including all season-ticket holders, the same. What if some other season-ticket holders, with the consent of those sitting in the rows in front of them, make similar requests to USA? What about the use of university resources, which should have as their primary function that of supporting teaching, learning, and research, for the personal benefit of a powerful trustee? Can a productive work environment be maintained when unreasonable demands are being placed on the time of university staff, especially near the end of the semester?
Once again Trustee Mitchell has demonstrated that he has no understanding nor regard for the mission of institutions of higher learning. Through his crass actions, Trustee Mitchell is saying that the rules of due process and equality don't apply to the powerful and the mighty.
Trustee Mitchell is a bottom-line type of guy. Surely he must know, as any kid knows, that he can accomplish his goal of getting a better view without undermining the ideals of higher education or misusing USA resources by placing two Mobile telephone books on his seat.
-- Edmund Tsang
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In the November 16 issue of The Harbinger, Pat Downing of Mobile dismisses my interview with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, director of the School of the America's Watch as misguided propaganda.
I would like to comment on some of Mr. Downing's observations.
He refers to Fr. Bourgeois as a "churchless priest," a less than honorable reference. Fr. Bourgeois is very much a Catholic priest. He is a full and active member of the Maryknoll order, one of the primary missionary orders of the Catholic Church. He has full backing of his order. He is recognized by the Catholic Bishops, and at last count 140 Bishops have signed a resolution to close the School of the Americas.
It is safe to say further that every major Catholic missionary order, who had its members serving in Central America, are on record to close the School. That represents thousands of Sisters, Brothers and priests, many of whom were martyred there.
In addition major non-Catholic churches, including the Presbyterian Church, USA, the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ, have called for the School's closing.
While in Mobile, Fr. Bourgeois said mass daily at Spring Hill College and at the Sisters of Mercy Center. He was received in a personal interview by Archbishop Lipscomb. He baptizes, hears confessions, and celebrates weddings and funerals.
So Fr. Bourgeois is very much "churched," not "churchless."
Mr. Downing says as well that if Fr. Bourgeois is serious about helping the poor of Central America, he should be there as a missionary. He has been there, done that. He was a missionary in Bolivia under General Banzer. He was forced out of that country because of his work with the poor. It was his missionary experience that led him to undertake opposition to the School of the Americas.
Mr. Downing says that the SOA manuals never taught torture, assassination, or repression of human rights. The manuals came to light in 1991 under the Freedom of Information Act. The manuals included recommendations to interview children about the activities of their parents. It specified labor leaders, community organizers, and church activists as potential subversives. They spoke of penalties, including "neutralizing," a euphemism for killing.
When the manuals came to light, the SOA denied they had ever been used in the classroom. They said they had only been distributed as workbooks. Clearly, they were not proud of the contents and wanted to distance themselves from them.
Mr. Downing refers to the "democracies" of Central America, and attributes credit to the graduates of the School and so to the School of the Americas for creating democracies.
While it is true that most Central American countries do now have open or democratic elections, that is quite different from saying they are democracies. Surely, they are not democracies as we know them in this country. So the democratic claim must be tightly circumscribed.
The history I read says that the movement that has occurred toward democracy did not happen because of the Central American military nor the influence of America. Those movements were achieved by the pressure of the mass organizations -- the poor people themselves, who wrested concessions from the oligarchies and the military. The military were, in fact, a major obstacle against the democratic movement, not creators of it.
It is stated that the School has, over the past ten years repeatedly "been examined under a microscope" and has always come through with flying colors. I presume that the reference here is to the annual certification by the Defense Department.
On February 12, 1998 the Latin American Working Group of the National Council of Churches issued a critique of that certification. Theirs is a highly critical analysis. It says the SOA used its own microscopes to examine itself. It says, for example, that the reviewers of course content were the SOA instructors themselves. "Not surprisingly, no problems," the report concludes. The entire report is well worth review.
Mr. Downing refers to Fr. Bourgeois' movement as "using any measure including intimidation and law breaking in their attempts to close the school."
When 2,000 marchers silently cross the line two by two carrying small white crosses, a highly militarized Fort Benning is hardly being intimidated. Yet, that is as close to Mr. Downing description I can come. Holding protests, locally and nationally, is in the noblest tradition of our country. It is a tradition of the Christian churches.
Yes, crossing the line at Fort Benning is "breaking the law." And many people, college students, college instructors, Catholic Sisters, Catholic and non-Catholic clergy, youngsters, and people of age have crossed the line, gone to jail and paid heavy fines. Fr. Bourgeois has been among them more than once. More will "break the law" on Sunday, November 21, 1999 at the annual vigil at the main gate of Fort Benning. Imprisonment for civil disobedience in matters of conscience is also a proud Christian tradition.
Finally, Mr. Downing asks that letters be written to Representative Sonny Callahan, asking that he continue to defend the School. We too suggest letters to Representative Callahan -- asking him to step over the political line and help close the School of the Americas.
Perhaps you are aware of the effort underway to raise the necessary funds to construct The National World War II Memorial in our nation's capital. If you would kindly publish, in the spirit of public service, the following Press Release, it would go a long way toward publicizing The Memorial and increasing public awareness of the financial need to, at long last, realize this fitting tribute to our gallant WWII veterans.
With sincere gratitude,
11684 Ventura Blvd (PMB 525)
Studio City, CA 91604
Of the 16,000,000+ Americans who wore the uniform of our country in WWII, more than 400,000 made the "supreme sacrifice" on our behalf. Additionally, 800,000+ service members were either wounded, captured or missing-in-action. More than 80,000 remain MIA to this very day! The scale of the suffering endured by these brave souls (and their loved ones on the home front) is beyond comprehension, and yet, more than 50 years later, there is still no National World War II Memorial in this country to stand in silent tribute to these genuine American heroes.
But, in the words of Bob Dylan, "The times they are a-changin'." There is a major effort underway at this very moment to raise $100,000,000 to erect The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2000.
There's only one problem. Before the government will give its final authorization to commence construction, all the moneys need to have been collected and deposited. At this time, more than $60,000,000 has been donated, but the goal of $100,000,000 must be met by May, 2000.
For more information on how to contribute to the WWII Memorial, log on to the Memorial's official website at http://www.wwiimemorial.com/.
We owe the veterans of World War II our respect and admiration for their valor, gallantry and intrepidity. The least we can do is to ensure that their sacrifices will be permanently memorialized for future generations to contemplate and appreciate. We are losing these brave WWII veterans at the rate of more than 1,000/day now. We must erect The Memorial while we still have some of these great Americans living among us.