Friday, February 17, 2006

University of Washington spins "Pappy" Boyington outrage

I received the following form letter reply from the University of Washington for the Marine veteran’s letter that was sent out this morning:

President Emmert asked me to respond on his behalf to your message about the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) Senate debate regarding a memorial to honor Col. Boyington.

The ASUW Senate, an arm of student government on campus, is a forum in which students discuss a wide range of issues, including the proposal for the memorial. After considerable debate, the resolution failed by a tiebreaker vote. As ASUW Senate Chair Alex Kim described in the message below, students thought long and hard about their decision and cast their votes for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons that have been publicized are addressed in Mr. Kim's report.

According to Mr. Kim and ASUW President Lee Dunbar, who co-sponsored the resolution, many students felt that we should honor all veterans appropriately, and not single out one, even though Col. Boyington was a Medal of Honor winner. It should also be noted that thanks to the work of Dean Emeritus Brewster Denny and the contributions of many UW alumni, several years ago the University erected a fitting memorial to UW students, faculty and staff who lost their lives in World War II.

Different versions of what transpired during the debate have circulated through the electronic media. I hope you will take a moment to read Mr. Kim's account. I also hope that regardless of one's point of view on this issue, the exercise of democracy that occurred at the Senate meeting can be seen as a meaningful learning opportunity for the students engaged in the debate.


Eric S. Godfrey
Acting Vice President for Student Affairs


It has recently come to our attention that the actions of the ASUW Student Senate last night have been greatly misrepresented to the student body and the general public. As such I wanted to clarify what actually occurred.

The Student Senate exists to create official student opinion by bringing together student representatives from all across campus. The resolution concerning Colonel Boyington (available online at cited the Colonel's exemplary service record, including the fact that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for service in World War II. The resolution called for the creation of a memorial in his honor. Passage of the resolution would not have necessarily resulted in the creation such a memorial, but would have recommended it to the University of Washington.

The debate within the Senate was fair, balanced, and respectful. Senators representing a diverse array of viewpoints spoke on the resolution, raising numerous points as to the merits and demerits of the resolution.

1.) The ASUW Student Senate declined to support the construction of a memorial for an individual. This in no way indicates a lack of respect for the individual or the cause, merely that the Senate did not support the construction of a memorial. The Senate weighed factors such as financial viability, the logistics of implementation, which historical points are relevant, and the difficulty in assessing which veterans should be memorialized over others. Questions regarding these factors were not addressed in the legislation itself and thus became points of debate during the meeting.

2.) Senators speak on behalf of the opinions of their constituents. This legislation has been posted publicly for nearly a month and senators have used that time to discuss the issues with their constituents. There is no way to distill a central argument of the Senate for or against any piece of legislation the Senate discusses. While the vote itself is a yes or no decision, the reasons senators choose to vote in a particular manner vary widely. Therefore, it is inappropriate to represent a decision by the Therefore, it is inappropriate to represent a decision by the Senate as resulting from any single statement or point-of-view.

3.) No senator speaking in opposition to the resolution suggested that deaths in war are the equivalent of murder. One senator, in making a motion to remove references to the number of Japanese planes shot down, suggested the focus of the resolution should be on the man's service to his country. The sponsor of the amendment suggested that death in war was sometimes a "necessary evil" and that the focus of the honor should not be on the necessary evil, but rather on the service. That motion passed overwhelmingly. A further amendment to remove the text of the inscription of the Medal of Honor from the legislation subsequently failed overwhelmingly.

4.) No senator stated that we should not pass the resolution on the grounds that Colonel Boyington was a "white male." One senator stated that we have many monuments and memorials to white males, but did not suggest this was a reason to not support the resolution.

Throughout the debate in the Student Senate, the tone was very respectful.

If you have any additional questions, please contact:
ASUW President Lee Dunbar (,
Student Senate Chair Alex Kim (,
Student Senate Vice-Chair Erin Shields (
or Director of Operations Karl Smith (

Alex Kim
Student Senate Chair
Associated Students of the University of Washington
206.669.9562 (mobile)

Office of the President
University of Washington
Room 301, Gerberding Hall
Box 351230
Seattle, WA 98195
Phone: (206) 543-5010
Fax: (206) 616-1784
This is what one calls spin. “Oh we didn’t to this, we did that—Oh, we didn’t mean this, we meant that.”

This story didn't just miracle itself into existence. What did happen was someone read the posted minutes of the student senate meeting that nixed the monument proposal with all its incendiary quotes, and that was enough to ignite the firestorm.

It's their own minuets—how can the university accuse the public of misconstruing the very words the students themselves used to memorialize their senate meeting?

My spin detector is signaling red hot here. Time to get thinking about the next steps . . .

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