September 11, 2003

McKinney: Campus Reacts

Print More

“Incompetent.” “An appeaser of international terrorism.” “Anti-Semitic.” “Conscientious.” “Professor”?

In the past two weeks since the announcement of former Congress member Cynthia McKinney’s appointment as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor, the reaction on campus has been decidedly critical.

The editorial pages of The Sun have been filled with letters and columns expressing opposition to McKinney’s appointment, and relatively few defenders have voiced their opinion: Four columns expressed concern or outright opposition to the appointment, with no columns supporting her; six letters, including four from students and one from a prominent professor, have raised concerns, while two letters — one from an alumnus — were supportive. At least 15 unpublished letters received by The Sun were also in opposition to McKinney.

A Sun online poll, conducted over two weeks, showed that 441 site visitors found McKinney’s appointment “inappropriate,” 73 would welcome her to the community and 27 had no opinion.

Beyond newsprint, the University has received between 150 to 200 letters criticizing the decision, according to Linda Grace-Kobas, interim vice president for communications and media relations. The figures may be overestimates due to possible duplicates, she added, although the number of letters written in support of McKinney was negligible.

Meanwhile, Ernie Stern ’56, president of the Class of ’56, said that of the 20 or so letters he has received, none have endorsed McKinney’s professorship.

The simultaneous appointment of documentary filmmaker and journalist Jonathan Pilger to the Rhodes professorship has gone largely unnoticed, with most critics of the appointments focusing solely on McKinney.

She will come to campus for one week later during the semester to participate in classes, hold seminars and give lectures. As The Sun reported yesterday, her appointment came after 11 faculty members wrote letters of support, more than for any other appointee of an endowed professorship except former Attorney General Janet Reno ’60, an Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large.

Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, was one of several faculty members involved in recommending McKinney to the 13-member committee which brings visiting professors to campus.

“I find very interesting all the attention given to this … selection of [McKinney],” Turner said. “At least people have become engaged.”

Turner, who was not until recently aware of the vocal response on campus, is concerned, however, with the nature of the discussion so far.

“I must express a deep concern in what I think is a … way in which this has been politicized,” he said, calling some of the responses “outlandish” in their presentation and framing of the debate.

“We have looked at [McKinney’s] congressional records and speeches and have not found any support” for many of the allegations made by opponents to her appointment, he said.

Additionally, Turner compared the current debate with the appointment of Reno, who had previously been mired in controversies surrounding Waco and El