Recap of Interesting News Items
Several items in today's issue of The Indianapolis Star caught my eye and prompted me to offer at least a few (notice that I did not say "brief") thoughts on each:
First, was the editorial "The trouble with judging a book by its cover" by Kathleen Parker about a student/employee at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) who was apparently censured for reading a book about a confrontation between students and Notre Dame and the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. A co-worker who only saw the cover of the book thought that it was racially insensitive and should not be read in public and filed a complaint against the student/worker. IUPUI censured the student/worker for his choice of reading material. Then, just recently, IUPUI reversed its position and rescinded the censure because the University could not make a determination as to whether the reading material or the choice to read that material was "intentionally hostile". Today's The Indianapolis Star also has an article on this story that relays these same basic facts: "IUPUI withdraws reprimand of worker". For the record, it is worth noting that the issue may have been more about the student/employee's behavior toward other employees and less about the book, but, nevertheless, the letter of censure appears to be directed toward the choice of reading material:
We conclude that your conduct constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence.
Several things about this story prompted me to write. First, while I read the paper every day, this was the first time that I've heard about this story, even though it concerns events here in Indianapolis. (I admit that I might have missed it earlier, but it seems like the type of story that I would have noted.) Yet, the editorial is from a Washington Post columnist. How is it that this story was picked up by the national press and ignored here in Indianapolis? Second (and much more importantly), the very notion that a person's choice in reading material, especially historical reading material, could be racially insensitive borders on the ludicrous. I suppose that an employee reading a book extolling the virtues of the KKK or something similar might cross that line, but history is history and the mere fact that someone is interested in history should not subject that person to criticism for racial insensitivity. What is even odder is that the book appears to be an anti-racism book about the beginnings of the decline of the importance of the KKK in Indiana (a state with a government once dominated by the KKK). And finally, of all places for a complaint like this to have arisen, it would seem that a public university would be the least likely to challenge a student's reading material. I can recall reading some pretty strange things when I was a student (which, it should go without saying, does not necessarily mean that I approved of the text or ideas of that material; rather, reading that material was a part of the learning process). I can't fathom my university (and I attended a private school) telling me not to read something because someone else might be upset. While it may be acceptable for a private employer to intervene in how an employee acts during his breaks, it is troubling to think that a public university would intervene to such an extent that an employee who is also a student could not freely choose what to read.
I think that this entire matter, from the conduct of the student/employee, to the conduct of the employee(s) making the complaint, to the University's administrators who issued the letter of censure should be the subject of an investigation. If the student/employee engaged in conduct that was hostile or racially insensitive, then he should be punished, but that conduct must be more than reading a book others may disapprove of (especially if they don't really know what the book is about). Might the employee have been subject to sanction for reading the Koran if another employee was an Iraq war veteran or a 9/11 survivor? By the same token, however, if the complaining employee was not on firm ground in making his complaint, then that employee should be punished. And, most importantly, the author of the letter sanctioning the student/employee for his choice in reading material should, in all likelihood, be shown the door as it does not seem to be the role of anyone in a public university to criticize, let alone censure, a student for choosing to learn about history.
Environment & Presidential Authority
The next article that caught my eye was "Bush overrules EPA ozone rule" by Juliet Eilperin (The Indianapolis Star, March 14, 2008, page A5; for some reason not available on IndyStar.com). According to the article, the Environmental Protection Agency was prepared to issue new Clean Air regulations. Yet, before the EPA could do so, President Bush stepped in and, perhaps illegally, told the agency to weaken the regulations:
EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and ... ordered the agency to increase the limit....
In the opinion of John Walke, clean air director for the National Resources Defense Council:
It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the
president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves
exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment.
Even US Solicitor General Paul Clement recognized that President Bush's action presented a problem, as the new rules "contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court".
But then this is not the first time that President Bush has ignored advisers. He has previously forced changes in a report on global warming that he disagreed with and changed generals in Iraq to get a general that advocated a strategy endorsed by the President. So, we shouldn't be surprised. But we should be troubled.
Finally, for those of you who have been reading this blog over the last month or so know, I've expressed repeated concerns over Indiana's proposed immigration legislation. I am quite pleased to see that the bill (originally SB335 then amended into SB345) appears to be dead for the 2008 legislative session (see "Immigration bill appears dead"). Once again, I want to be clear: I am not necessarily opposed to immigration reform or to some of the broad concepts set forth in the draft legislation. However, as the cliche goes, the devil is in the details, and SB335 (and its offspring and siblings) had too many problems in the details (leaving aside such large details as constitutionality...) to be adopted as law.
I am sure that this issue will again be before our legislature next year; hopefully in the long session, without the property tax crisis dominating all other issues, and in a non-election year, the General Assembly will be able to give much more careful consideration to whether state-based immigration reform is appropriate and what form such reform should take. I've previously highlighted a number of concerns with the draft legislation (as, of course, have others). Perhaps if more of these concerns are understood and addressed, viable and appropriate legislation will be possible. But for now, I'm pleased to see that neither SB335 nor SB345 will become the law of the State of Indiana in 2008.
One final note on the defeat of the immigration legislation. Sen. Mike Delph, the bill's primary author and sponsor, has been the target of much criticism during the legislative process. The criticism directed at him with regard to the specifics of the bill or his appearance with a uniformed soldier to endorse the bill was appropriate; however, some of that criticism devolved into charges of racism which I don't believe were appropriate (although I do think that some supporters of the bill have been racially motivated). I disagreed with some of Sen. Delph's ideas, but I do not question that his motives were good and I do not think that his ideas were racially motivated.
That said, however, some of Sen. Delph's comments, quoted in today's The Indianapolis Star did bother me. According to "Immigration bill appears dead" by Dan McFeely, Sen. Delph said of the legislative process that lead to the "killing" of the immigration bill: "It's corruption. And you can quote me on that". Just as I'm sure Sen. Delph does not appreciate the charges of racism, I'm sure that legislators who had legitimate concerns with SB335/SB345 would not appreciate being charged with corruption. Frankly, I think that it is blatantly irresponsible of Sen. Delph to make such a charge without evidence. Political and policy disagreements do not corruption make. It appears that Sen. Delph believes that if he doesn't get his way, it must be because of corruption in the system. Perhaps, Senator, the bill died because many people had concerns with its provisions, not the least of which would be its constitutionality.
Sen. Delph is also quoted as saying "I think this has been a well-orchestrated effort, bipartisanly [sic] from both leaderships, to try to kill the bill .... Unfortunately, the will of the people is losing now and it's a shame." Again, while the effort to kill the bill may have been "well-orchestrated", there is nothing nefarious going on. While many people may have supported the bill, many others did not. The business community, the Chamber of Commerce, immigrant groups, and religious groups all expressed opposition or concern about the legislation. So, the suggestion that the leadership prevented "the will of the people" from becoming law is not based on real facts. Sen. Delph often cites his constituent survey and notes that 87% of his constituents favored his bill; however, it is worth noting first that his survey was conducted before the actual text of the bill was introduced and before anyone had a chance to comment on its flaws. Second the language of the survey is just the type of pre-determinative language that makes reliance upon survey results so dangerous:
Illegal immigrants' unfunded use of local government services adds to demands on local property taxes. Would you support or oppose a bill that would get tough on illegal immigration and those who profit from such activity.
I can't imagine anyone saying no to that sort of statement. The problem, of course, is that the basic premise of the "question" is, at least partially, false.
I look forward to participating in an open and honest discussion of these issues in the future. I hope that our legislators and concerned citizens will participate as well. But, I hope that such participation is done in good faith and with an open mind and without the name calling, racial overtones, and refusal to think about competing viewpoints that has plagued discussion of the issue this year.