University of Oregon: No “Support our Troops” Stickers

“Support our Troop” Stickers…Creates a Stir at U of O (KEZI9)

A yellow ribbon sticker that says “Support The Troops” has created a big stir at the University of Oregon. A day after a campus employee was told to remove the sticker from his maintenance vehicle — people on campus are reacting. It all started after a university employee complained. Some think the university may have gone too far. But for now… all the stickers are gone. For some it’s a sticker that supports the troops. But at the University of Oregon… someone saw it as a political statement. “I don’t know how they think these are political.. i think they’re patriotic,” said Pete Baker, U of O delivery driver. Pete Baker has had the stickers on his work truck… for months. Friday, a university employee… complained. Now the stickers are gone.

“I’m not democratic or republican.. and i was really surprised the university deemed them to be political,” said Baker. Others who work with Baker… try to understand. “These are like their offices they work in them for eight hours a day.. they’re going to do something personal with them,” said Ron Lattion, facilities Maintenace worker.

In an e-mailed statement.. the University of Oregon says it is unclear if the decals are a political statement. But to make sure they are in compliance with state restrictions… all stickers were ordered to be removed. “I think it’s really a tough situation… because both sides have valid arguments,” said Terra Wegner, a U of O student. “It really comes down to the question of should state employees be allowed to express their opinions,” said Morgan Goulding, a Eugene resident.

Not surprisingly, this story is causing a lot of outrage. Michelle Malkin condemns this action and likens it to a “We Support Our Troops When they Shoot their Officers” sign. Kevin McCullough suggests an e-mail campaign to overturn the injustice and wonders why state employees shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions. Jordan Golson finds it “disturbing” and believes the University is violating its own diversity policies. Kevin Aylward doesn’t say much about it but provides several links.

While I think the University is overreacting here, I’m not particularly concerned. If they were telling Baker to take the sticker off his personal vehicle as a condition of working at the school, this would indeed be outrageous. They’re not. They’re merely telling him not to put it on a vehicle owned by the University. Indeed, I’m not sure what business an employee has putting stickers of any kind, political or otherwise, on a state vehicle.

In the context of an unpopular war, “Support Our Troops” is indeed a political message, if an innocuous one with which almost all agree. When one sees the sticker on a vehicle, one presumes that the occupant of the vehicle not only supports our troops but supports the war. University vehicles, especially in a state-supported institution, should not be platforms for sloganeering.

When I was teaching at Troy State, our chancellor used a graduation ceremony held shortly before a statewide referendum on an “Education Lottery” to help encourage people to vote for said lottery. He invited newly elected Governor Don Siegelman, who ran almost entirely on a platform of passing the lottery, as the commencement speaker. He had recently retired Georgia Governor Zell Miller, whose most notable achievement until then was the passage of a similar lottery in the Peach State, to introduce Siegelman. Now, I supported the lottery, voted for Siegelman (later regretting it), and liked Miller. But I nonetheless believed this was an outrageous use of the University platform.

Conservatives who are outraged by the University’s edict should ask themselves how they’d feel if, instead of “Support Our Troops,” the sticker said “Visualize World Peace” or simply had the Vietnam era “Peace” symbol. For that matter, there are plenty of variants on the “Support Our Troops” stickers that most conservatives would find offensive, let alone appropriate for a University vehicle.

Update (1321): Ed Morrissey excerpts the University’s rules on political expression and finds that the sticker is not in violation of them. I would concur. This doesn’t change my viewpoint as expressed above, although it does muddy the water a bit as to the consistency of UofO’s enforcement.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

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  2. Meezer says:

    I see your point, especially about state-owned vehicles, but is this essentially different from Professors who post political posters on their office doors? The offices do not belong to them and they often spend less time there than say, a security patrol officer does in his truck. The posters, cartoons, etc., posted on office doors at my University often state or support very extreme positions, none of which are conservative.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Meezer,

    An interesting point. I’d argue that professors are a different case because their role in the university is different. No one seeing a professor’s door decorated with cartoons and other paraphenalia is likely to think “Aha, this is the view of the University.” That’s less true of a truck driving around campus with the University logo. Further, professors exist to communicate ideas and stimulate the minds of the students. No other university employee, certainly not the support staff, have a similar mandate. Related to this, of course, is the academic freedom argument. No one suggests that janitors have academic freedom.

  4. lunacy says:

    Perhaps it’s because of professorial influence that the professor’s door is more disturbing than the groundskeepers utility truck. Particularly when the professor’s political bias has little or nothing to do with his or her subject matter.

    I’m not suggesting that prof doors should be censored. I simply think that the maintenance man’s sticker has as much validity as the literature teacher’s political poster.

    It is not incumbant of all professors that they express their views under the umbrella of academic freedom. Yet they have the right to exercise free speech regardless of how irrelevant it is to their curriculum. The same should be said of the maintenance man.

  5. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘I’d argue that professors are a different case because their role in the university is different. No one seeing a professor’s door decorated with cartoons and other paraphenalia is likely to think “Aha, this is the view of the University.” ‘

    People take the maintenance guys political views more seriously than a professors? You said a mouthful there. I think the school has a right to prevent employees from putting personal views on school property but it’s hard to understand how it wouldn’t apply to profs but would to other staff. If I were the university I’d cite property damage concerns but you could say the same thing about defacement to the professors door.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Jack: My argument is that the professor’s door is naturally seen as his, no the university’s. Not so much a university vehicle.

    Profs decorating their doors is a time-honored tradition. I suppose they are defacing university property. On the other hand, professors are the heart and soul of a university.

  7. LJD says:

    I suppose state vehicles should not have stickers of any kind. What’s troubling is how our culture of higher education is permeated with this stupid political correctness. WHO was actually offended by the “support the troops” stickers? They need to get a life.

  8. anjin-san says:

    I don’t see how an employee has any kind of “right” to but a sticker or any other adornment on a truck that he does not own. Presumably the worker in question has his own car or truck that he is free to put all the bumper stickers he wants on.

  9. anjin-san says:

    It is also worth noting that even if someone is offended by a “support the troops” sticker, they are entitled to their view. After all, Bush is for freedom, right?

  10. dw says:

    I work for a large state university, and there IS a massive difference between the door of a professor’s office and vehicle driving in public. It’s very easy to misconstrue a bumper sticker on a university-owned van as an espoused belief of the institution. Unless the guy has a disclaimer attached to the sticker stating that it is his opinion and not that of the university, it WILL be misconstrued.

    Yes, a faculty member has a little more leeway. Even with that, this very institution got after faculty who had anti-war signs in their outside windows. A door to an office connotes a private belief, but a window to the world can be misconstrued.

    Think of it this way: If the bumper sticker was “Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home” would you be so quick to defend this guy’s free speech rights?

  11. Paul says:

    It annoys the life out of me that I have to agree with you. 😉

    Having said that, the guys beating you up about the doors have a point. And arguing that it is tradition won’t get you far in most debates today.

    And as far as the Professors being “heart and soul of a university” I can’t argue with you per se, but try and run a University without a maintenance department and see how long that lasts. lol

  12. LJD says:

    “Think of it this way: If the bumper sticker was “Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home” would you be so quick to defend this guy’s free speech rights?”

    If that was the case, this wouldn’t be an issue. We know who the complainers are.

    And yes, every one is entitled to their opinion, but again, WHY would anyone be offended by “Support the Troops”. Any controversy is one manufactured in their own minds.

  13. GaijinBiker says:
  14. R.Co. says:

    I am a current student at the University of Oregon. I personally have a “Yellow Ribbon” on my bumber.

    This is an issue of public policy, not of what some may make it out to be as a university not supporting our troops. As anyone knows one complaint from one individual about something that doesn’t conform to policy can stir up a bunch of shit, this is the case.

    The issue could have been taken the other way by the University not making him take off the sticker. Then people would have accused the university of not following public policy.

    A lose-lose situation IMO.

    p.s. Even though Eugene is known as extermely liberal/anti-conservative town the support for our troops by the citizens of Eugene is just as strong as that of any other city.

    My best friend is over there, my thoughts are always with him. When it comes to supporting our troops, politics and opinions should be left at the door.