Controversy surrounds secretary’s commencement appearance

Oswego State faculty have something to say to the secretary of the army. But they are just not sure how to get the message across.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh will visit campus May 15 to speak at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and School of Communication, Media and the Arts commencement. McHugh was U.S. representative for the 23rd District, which encompasses Oswego, for more than 15 years until he was appointed secretary of the army by President Barack Obama. McHugh was one of only a few Republicans to join Obama’s cabinet.

Yet some faculty members want to use the secretary’s presence at commencement to advocate for an issue they feel strongly about. They want tell McHugh to repeal "Don’t ask, don’t tell," the policy keeping gay and lesbian Americans from serving openly in the military.

Professor Charles Spector in the accounting department introduced a resolution to the Faculty Assembly (F.A.) that would have Assembly Chair Susan Camp express their displeasure to McHugh while she was on the stage with him at the dual commencement ceremony.

Spector said he was making sure that F.A. was being consistent with decisions 15 years ago that booted ROTC from campus because of the military’s "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.

"It’s something that the college’s own record that we had made that motion. I was just reminding them of that."

However, Spector withdrew his resolution, which could possibly embarrass McHugh, after speaking to Joe Grant, vice president for enrollment and student affairs. Grant said he wasn’t sure a public denouncement of the policy was the best way to address McHugh.

"I really want to be sure that the campus community’s concerns are expressed in a reasonable way and that the people at graduation have an enjoyable ceremony, and that the secretary has the opportunity to represent himself well," Grant said.

Grant said that he is trying to arrange a more private meeting sometime before or after commencement to speak with the secretary. That discussion could include faculty, and their views about "Don’t ask, don’t tell." Yet, Grant has been having trouble getting through to the secretary’s office and no such meeting is planned at this time.

McHugh will receive an honorary degree when he speaks at commencement, according to a press release. In that press release, Oswego State President Deborah Stanley said Oswego State was "profoundly privileged" to have McHugh speak at commencement.

McHugh’s own position on "Don’t ask, don’t tell" has been unclear, as he has made statements seeming to support the end of "Don’t ask, don’t tell," but he has also denied that he supports ending the policy.

McHugh once said that he would not pursue discharge against soldiers who had said they were gay.

"What I am trying to do is show the troops that, ‘yes, it’s okay to talk about this,’" McHugh said.

But the next day he seemingly reversed his position in a press release saying, "I was incorrect when I stated that Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates had placed a moratorium on discharges of homosexual service members…There is no moratorium of the law, and neither Secretary Gates nor I would support one."

McHugh could not unilaterally repeal the policy—only the president could so that—but as secretary of the army, he has a strong voice in debate. Obama has promised the end of "Don’t ask, don’t tell" during his presidency.