Dear Mr. Mrasek,
I find myself of a similar mind in our reactions to the controversy TU has recently endured: the knee-jerk deletion of an individual’s contribution, simply because they are “persona non grata” of the week. The way viral media has developed means lots of uncomfortable pressure about a particular topic can arise for an ultimately forgettable amount of time (See Cecil the Lion). In TU’s case, this means having John Rogers’ (a man with ties to the KKK in Tulsa) name on a building can generate a large amount of bad publicity very quickly. In fact, TU is still reeling from the negative press of the student expelled last year under murky justification. TU being on the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list you mentioned is a very public marker of that.
This phenomenon of viral media has forced organizations like TU to perform immediate damage control to alleviate these pressures and possible far reaching consequences in the public eye. Unfortunately, these often rash decisions ignore the impact of the removal and the context and story of the individual who is being removed.
I believe TU did what it could to cover its ass by removing John Rogers’s name from the building. At the same time, I do not think TU took the proper steps to preserve the good name of John Rogers, and at the same time, acknowledge the controversies inherent in their unconditional acceptance of a Klan member’s contribution. TU could have left the name and done a myriad of things such as including a “history of TU” aspect into freshman orientation, or even the first seminar courses that students are required to take. Just removing John Rogers’s name from the law building fails to “teach the controversy” and does a disservice to all parties involved.
Touching on another aspect of your letter, I believe we have a misunderstanding on the terms of misplaced righteousness. The phrase “Where does it stop?” is usually employed by those attempting to speak from the moral high ground. While their reaction was an overreach, and ultimately a mishandling of the issue of how to deal with historical racial tension, TU is at least trying. A slippery slope claim of throwing the baby out with the bathwater because “everyone has a bad history” is fundamentally a derailment of the intent. Statements about the Black Panthers’ sordid history, Jefferson and Washington’s flaws, and the unpleasant facts of how the land TU resides upon was stolen from Native Americans, do not negate the importance of this discussion. In fact, I would claim that it reinforces the idea that all major individuals and organizations must be critically evaluated, inclusive of all the good and bad they have done.
But you, Mr. Mrasek, cannot speak of misplaced righteousness and imply that nothing should have been done at all. Considering that you presented no alternative action, it leads me to believe that your letter is a call to inaction, regardless of any other supposed intent. That idea holds no one accountable. I think that we owe it to each other, and to TU, to be critical of all our organizations and figures, and to hold them accountable for their decisions, especially if we are to support them.