Thursday, September 1, 2016
Cougars Cage Free Speech at UH
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." – James Madison
Cougars Cage Free Speech at UH
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
September 1, 2016
Last time I looked, my copy of the United States Constitution included the First Amendment – that’s the one granting we the people freedom of speech and expression. How about your copies?
Apparently at the University of Houston the First Amendment has been erased from their copy of the Constitution, and Student Government Association Vice President Rohini Sethi has been targeted and punished for exercising her rights as found in that pesky amendment.
Following the slaughter of five Dallas police officers, Sethi took to Facebook and wrote “Forget #BlackLivesMatter, more like #AllLivesMatter.” For her brazenness in suggesting that the lives of all people, regardless of skin color, should actually matter, Sethi was chastised by fellow University of Houston students as “incredibly offensive and hateful.” (Yet another example of the denial of honor to the murdered Dallas police officers: http://sanfordspeaksout.blogspot.com/2016/08/nfl-throws-flag-on-dallas-decal.html)
Sethi was then called to the carpet and subjected to unilateral punishment meted out by SGA President Shane Smith. Smith was granted this one-time power by the student senate to determine Sethi’s penance. For exercising her First Amendment freedom of speech and expression, Sethi is now being subjected to the following sanctions:
- A 50 day suspension from the SGA which bars her from participating in group activities;
- Sethi must attend three cultural events per month;
- Sethi must write a reflection letter (upon reflection, Sethi should not have apologized for the initial post nor removed it);
- Sethi must make a public presentation before a student senate meeting on September 28; and
- Sethi must attend a diversity workshop.
Sethi could lose her position with the SGA should she not comply with all the demands as prescribed by the totalitarian Smith. One must wonder if Smith has an ax to grind against Sethi for imposing such harsh sanctions for simply expressing herself in a legal and peaceful manner. She threatened no one; offered an inclusive posting on social media designed to inculcate others that there is a bigger picture than Black Lives Matter, an increasingly violent and hate-filled group. Apparently to Smith only black lives matter.
The punishments saddled against Sethi are imposed solely by the SGA and not the school, according to a statement released by the University of Houston. The SGA is subject to its own governance, the school takes no responsibility, and makes no comment on the severity of a punishment imposed by a single individual, said the weak-kneed university administration.
Sethi said and wrote that while disagreeing with the punishment, she will abide by Smith’s pronunciation.
Yet while Sethi, independent of the SGA, and on her own volition, wrote the Facebook post replete with iron-fisted reprimand, a Twitter feed called #RemoveRohini, a Black Student Union creation, and trending with vicious, hate-filled invective vilifying Sethi, was ignored by the SGA. Note that the Black Student Union receives university funding from the 43,000 person student body.
Clearly the double standard is in full force at the University of Houston as the Black Student Union is entitled to enjoy its First Amendment rights, but not Rohini Sethi, where such freedoms have been suspended. Common sense has also been suspended on the Houston campus.
For alumni who support Sethi and her First Amendment rights, call President Renu Khator at 713-743-8820 and politely encourage her to step in and be the voice of reasonable discourse. Let the university understand how quickly alumni donations dry up when alumni and the Constitution of the United States are ignored.
Not only should Sethi not be subjected to such Draconian measures, an open debate sponsored by the Student Government Association should occur where students can opine without recriminations. A free and open exchange of ideas in public, not hiding behind social media for cowards to spout off anonymously, is what a university should endorse. To do less would deny tuition-paying students the real college experience.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.