Facing Protest, McHugh Withdraws from SUNY Oswego Commencement

Submitted by SUNY Oswego

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John McHugh, Secretary of the Army

OSWEGO — Secretary of the Army John McHugh will not attend SUNY Oswego’s 149th Commencement on Saturday, May 15, to receive an honorary degree. He informed college President Deborah F. Stanley of his decision Monday.

Referencing objections by some members of the campus community to his appearance, he explained, “it is clear my presence at the ceremony might well have a disruptive effect.”

A number of faculty, staff and students had planned to wear buttons supporting repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and a few students had more stridently objected to McHugh’s appearance and planned a protest.

The college had stood by its invitation to McHugh in expectation of an opportunity to demonstrate democracy in action. College officials engaged those protesting current policy and McHugh as its symbol. Stanley said she felt confident that the college administration and the potential protesters had reached a mutual accommodation intended to preserve the decorum of the day for graduates and their families while not squelching free expression on a timely issue that is a matter of debate across the nation.

– In late April, the college president responded to e-mail messages from concerned students, saying, “People of good will hold diverse opinions on the issues that matter in our society. We are obligated to inform ourselves on the issues, to speak our minds with civility and to listen to opposing views with respect.”

– An educational session on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding gays in the military was held during College Hour on May 5, sponsored by the union representing faculty and professional staff and by the student organization Pride Alliance.

– In subsequent days, college officials worked with the Pride Alliance on terms of a protest by an expected 20 or so students on a lawn near the Campus Center where the commencement ceremonies take place.

“Civic responsibility is demonstrated as much in free expression as it is in listening to different views on important subjects,” President Stanley said. She said she “regretted missing a chance to see our free society in meaningful and educational exchange.”