Letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

The recent exchange between the editors of the Lanthorn and Karen Loth, Vice President for University Development, and Matthew McLogan, Vice President for University Relations (Letter to the Editor, Dec. 12, 2013), over the issue of naming university property after donors raises the issue of whether a public university is beholden to its private and corporate benefactors. The students warned that the practice of naming rooms and buildings after donors could evolve into a type of corporate sponsorship or advertising that might ultimately compromise the university’s values (“No More Billboards,” Dec. 4, 2013).

Their point was well-taken, and I was greatly surprised at the intemperate tone of Vice Presidents Loth and McLogan’s response, which declared that the Lanthorn was “ignorant” of the reality that donations helped create the university (although the students recognized the generosity of the donors), a supposed fact that they found “astonishing, embarrassing, and deeply disappointing.” They suggested that students insufficiently deferential should return their scholarships, which would be re-distributed to more “appreciative” students—a really astounding proposal. More shocking still is Lizzy Balboa’s revelation (“Free Thought and the Business Model of Education at GVSU,” Jan. 13, 2014) that university administrators phoned her personally to express disappointment in the editorial, suggest the editors recant it, and, by her account, declare that students who express such disagreeable opinions are undeserving of scholarships.

As Balboa accurately states, the administrators’ responses have raised the question of the right to the free expression of opinion on campus. All GVSU students deserve to know whether our administration supports the university’s mission to foster critical thinking even when applied by students to the university itself. Ironically, the administrators’ response to the editorial vindicates the students’ fears that the university may no longer be “unadulterated by, unattached to and free of ownership by private businesses with personal agendas.”

I think Vice Presidents Loth and McLogan may overestimate our donors’ need for expressions of fealty from the students who benefit from their public-spirited contributions and underestimate our donors’ appreciation of the open, robust, and critical debate characteristic of academic campuses.

Paul Murphy

Professor, Department of History