Teach-ins foster `dissenting opinions’

On Sept. 11, University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton wrote a letter to the UA community in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. Sent by e-mail and posted on UA's Web site, his letter recaps the events that took place that day and indicates possible courses of action the government might initiate.

Two days after the letter was posted, a small group of people from the community he addressed spoke out in disapproval.

“As educators, we should be advocating communication and dialogue in nonviolent ways. To spout or advocate violence is irresponsible,” Dr. Wilma van der Veen, a UAA assistant professor of sociology, said.

Van der Veen, a self-described “non-violent warrior,” helped author a petition that has now been signed by dozens of students and faculty members.

The petition objects to the tone of Hamilton's letter, “His comments also suggest a lack of (openness to the) understanding of issues pertaining to terrorism… President Hamilton's views might well be taken as representing the University of Alaska, an educational institution that should be fostering such understanding.”

The petition further expresses feelings of shock and sadness, reading, “[Hamilton's] comments speak to feelings of hatred and revenge which will only exacerbate an already dangerous and volatile situation.”

The petition itself is not without opposition. Junior nursing student Jeff Berner, read the petition and wouldn't sign it.

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“I think he's saying we have to be prepared for the retaliation the United States is going to give,” Berner said.

“I don't think he particularly wants to see it happen, but he understands the importance of saying no more.”

The petition is currently circulating in the form of little neon-green half-sheets of paper that supporters can sign and turn in to van der Veen or other advocates of this word-of-mouth initiative.

Senior political science and economics major Casey Reynolds signed the petition and has helped distribute it around campus. Reynolds says he was upset and disappointed about Hamilton's letter to the community even before the petition was written.

“It's shocking that someone who represents the UAA system, the UAA community, would at the very least leave the reader with any argument for brutal retaliation,” Reynolds said.

“If we're going to be the beacon of hope for the world, we have to be bigger than that and move on.”

Momentum for the petition originated at what participants are calling a brown bag lunch, teach-in. Teach-ins were popular forums for communication on college campuses in the 1960's and 1970's. Held in front of the Consortium Library on Thursdays, professors from the sociology and political science departments invite the campus community to talk about social and political issues that might not be addressed in class. The gatherings are small and intimate with groups of about 14 people showing up consistently.

“This is a beautiful opportunity to engage in dialogue about this country's history and the impact of the United States on the world," van der Veen said.

“It's a time for some students to experience a sense of emotional healing, to feel a bit of a connection with his or her peers, most of which are dissenting opinions against what mainstream media are saying.”

In an e-mail circulated Friday, van der Veen announced Oct. 4 as the tentative date for which an all-day teach-in at the Campus Center. Van der Veen said the gathering is open to the public and the petitioners hope to formally express their dissent.

“Essentially, I want UAA, Anchorage and the state system to know that there are other opinions in the community that don't support violent retaliation,” van der Veen said.

Petition organizers have invited Chancellor Lee Gorsuch to attend. Batches of signed letters will be presented to him at that time and petitioners will request to have the signed letter given to Hamilton. Gorsuch's attendance has not yet been confirmed.


Excerpt from President Mark Hamilton's response to Sept. 11 attacks

"What will happen now is certain to be retaliation, probably at a level we have not yet seen. We will be prudent in the sense of being sure we have the right source, but will likely be brutal in the scale of retaliation. I would think that some form of symbolic retaliation will come very soon, certainly within a week, given the Clinton administration's criticized 10-day retaliation time frame. Very likely the United States will pursue a subsequent retaliation, more thorough, far reaching, and, yes, more terrible than any before. When terrorists have safe harbors we have no safe harbor."

UAA response

"We, the below signed members of the UAA community, feel a need to respond to the message from President Hamilton with regard to the horrific bombings of Sept. 11, 2001. We are greatly disturbed and shocked at the tone of his letter that appears to support a strong, immediate and violent retaliation. We are saddened that his comments speak to feelings of hatred and revenge which will only exacerbate an already dangerous and volatile situation… This is particularly unfortunate since President Hamilton's views might well be taken as representing the University of Alaska, an educational institution that should be fostering such understanding."