If there’s any doubt left even among the tiny fraction of myopic free-speech fanatics here that University of Oklahoma president David Boren didn’t do his institution and the entire state of Oklahoma a huge favor when he responded forcefully to an ugly racist incident then that doubt will never go away.
Compare how Boren responded to a viral video of a bunch of fraternity-boy yahoos singing a song casually using the “n” word on a white-privileged bus of hate and injustice and how the now disgraced University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe failed to address racial incidents on his campus. Wolfe resigned because of his failure with a qualified statement reeking of hubris and lame justifications. OU stands proud with a campus that, yes, needs tons more diversity, unification and enlightenment about the scourge of institutional racism, but, well, it stands proud. That’s because of Boren.
Boren, as you recall, kicked the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity off campus and expelled two of its members after a video went viral last spring of some of its members caught on tape singing a song using the “n” word that was essentially based on the theme that no African American man should ever be allowed in the SAE fraternity and that, well, lynching was a more appropriate approach to black people than letting them into fraternities at universities or, at least, into SAE. Lynching was a common way United States plantation owners in the nineteenth-century dealt with runaway slaves.
Here’s the video taken on the bus of hate:
Meanwhile, on the MU campus, African American students and their supporters were recently protesting a series of hateful racist incidents on their campus. Their university president, Wolfe, responded to them with arrogance and flippantly chose to ignore their concerns. He HAD to resign eventually, and the MU campus still boils with hatred and distrust. MU has become a symbol of hatred and intolerance. Who would want to send their kid there to school? Does anyone really think the problem is solved at MU under the new leadership? It will take months, if not years, to rectify that situation. MU is home to one of the best journalism schools in the country, and some of the media focus was on a student reporter’s lack of access to cover the story, but, let’s be honest, anyone with a j-school degree from MU knows it has gone down about 100 notches in credibility after these events. Think abut it. Is this what our great journalists-in-training accepted or tolerated while they earned their degrees: Racism, intolerance, hatred? They edit and and work at some of the country’s most elite media outlets. Where are their voices beyond just protecting a young student journalist? What did they experience on campus during their time there? Did they report it?
I’m reminded of Boren’s bold moves after the SAE incident because he recently published an op-ed in Time about how he and other leaders should respond to racism on campus.
— OU Daily (@OUDaily) November 15, 2015
I especially agree with this paragraph:
I learned that quick, decisive action must be taken to confront racism. With immediate access to social media there is no time to advise with lawyers, vice presidents and others. There is only time to consult one’s own conscience and moral compass. Through it all, I kept hearing in my mind the favorite saying of a dear friend, “Do right and fear not.”-OU President David Boren, Time, Nov. 14, 2015
After Boren took his decisive action, some local intellectuals, such as Oklahoma State University media professor Joey Senat, went on a free-speech rampage using Facebook, arguing that Boren was violating the rights of the SAE fraternity members. Frankly, Senat seemed obsessed about this point. The argument was NOT that he or others who supported him condoned the racist language. It was their argument that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the legality of such language.
Those who wanted to argue with Senat over hate-speech laws, Boren’s fiduciary obligation to the university and, well, the basic question of promoting social justice were dismissed as “fools.”
So I go back to Boren’s comments about “decisive action.” When righteous and justifiable anger starts to boil over, when the sordid history of slavery and racism and hate gets watered down by intellectual arguments and even the most well-intended lawyers, then what you’re left with is an institution or, let’s say, a social space conducive to violence and conflict and sadness. There’s too much violence, conflict and sadness in the world. So we must do the right thing in perilous and volatile situations.
Boren not only deserves credit for saving the reputation of Oklahoma’s premier university in a state infamously know for racism and intolerance but he also should be commended for his recent efforts to improve funding for education here by supporting a one penny sales tax increase that would generate money dedicated exclusively to schools and universities. He’s doing something to shake things up. He’s not sitting around debating nuances or calling people names. “Do right and fear not.”