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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Step Back Jack – Editorial 5/6/04

Last week, Rene Gonzalez, an anti-war and regular guest columnist for The Daily Collegian, the student paper at UMass Amherst, roused the Office of the President of the University of Massachusetts with an opinion piece regarding NFL star Pat Tillman, who was recently killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Gonzalez, a graduate student studying political science, wrote in his column that Tillman was an “idiot” who “got what was coming to him,” to which President Jack Wilson responded in an official statement that Gonzalez’s comments were “odious, wrongheaded and vile.”

Regardless of the insensitive nature of Gonzalez’s comments, he had every right to make them, as even Wilson noted. This right should be intransigently defended, especially at a university, an institution that is supposed to aid our understanding of the world through open and honest discussion. So when Wilson immediately condemned Gonzalez in an official statement printed on university letterhead, we were taken aback.

The university would have been better served had Wilson submitted his opinion as a letter to the editor in the pages of The Collegian. Everyone has the right to express his or her opinion, including Wilson. But Wilson does not have the right to express his personal opinion in the name of the University of Massachusetts, which is what he did when he released his statement on official university letterhead.

Following the statement, the Student Government Association (SGA) at Amherst immediately issued its own statement calling for Gonzalez’s resignation from his job on campus as an advisor to minority students. The student government has no place demanding Gonzalez’s resignation.

Momentum is gaining for Gonzalez to be punished by the university. The Collegian is also coming under fire from university institutions for its decision to publish Gonzalez’s piece. Jared Nokes, president of the SGA, criticized The Collegian for printing the column. The Public Policy and Relations Committee of the SGA has furthermore passed a motion to reduce The Collegian’s funding because of its decision (The Daily Collegian, 5/04/04).

We applaud the editors of The Collegian for standing by their decision to publish the Gonzalez column and for their bold defense of free speech. Demonstrating their commitment to open debate, The Collegian has since published several letters in their opinion pages that oppose Gonzalez’s view. We hope others in the university will show a similar commitment to open debate.