Secretary of the Army John McHugh, slated to attend commencement on Saturday May 15, has withdrawn from the ceremony.
McHugh did not want the planned protest to disrupt the commencement ceremony, Julie Blissert, head of public affairs, said.
McHugh contacted President Deborah Stanley Monday morning to inform her of his decision. A letter officially announcing that he would not attend was received later that evening.
Michael Johnson, president of Pride Alliance and creator of the Facebook group "Protest Sec. John McHugh on May 15th!!" said that he did not expect McHugh to withdraw from commencement. The goal of the group is to prevent McHugh from receiving an honorary degree from Oswego State, Johnson said. He wanted to inform students about McHugh’s voting record as a senator in Congress.
"The overall goal was ‘sure, he can speak here, that’s fine,’ but don’t give him an honorary degree for being a bigot," Johnson said. "Essentially you are giving a degree to a man who has been [against] what the school stands for in his voting record in the past 18 years."
Oswego State supported the right of the students to protest McHugh’s presence at commencement.
"We wanted something that was visible and calm and not disruptive to the ceremony," Blissert said. "We supported free expression, people making their views known in a respectful way."
Johnson had been in contact with Finance and Accounting Department Chair Charles Spector to speak about possible involvement from the United University Professions [UUP]. UUP donated money for buttons that read "Change Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Now!!" which will still be passed out at commencement, Spector said.
"I absolutely consider it a victory because we brought it to people’s attention," Spector said. "I’m sad he’s not coming because we’re not here to stifle dialogue. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk to him."
The administration was going to try to set up a meeting between the groups and McHugh to speak about "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
"We wanted to be a powerful force by physically being there, showing that this college community does not support the voting record of John McHugh," Johnson said. "I’m hoping that this teaches the college and the administration that students do care who gets an honorary degree."
Honorary degree candidates are chosen by Vice President of Development Kerry Dorsee’s office and then are reviewed by the President’s Council, Blissert said. They must then get their selection approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees.
"The honorary degree is from the State University of New York," Blissert said. "The Board of Trustees approve it, but it was made from this campus."
The offer of an honorary degree stands for one year. There is a possibility McHugh may receive the degree at another time, or not at all, Blissert said.
The process by which honorary degree candidates may re-examined, Blissert said.
"Our purpose was to bring light to the fact that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is discriminatory and we’ve done that," Spector said.