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Readers Write

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Parent Issue
Month
June
Year
1988
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

A hush feil over the room when she entered, the kind of hush reserved for the reception of a Very Important Person. She entered smiling, with her arms open, and embraced and kissed several of the professors - obviously known to her - who had been milling around the punch bowl expectantly for nearly an hour. I his was Jeane Kirkpatrick, I former U.N. Ambassador and I foreign policy architect for I the Reagan Administration, IBBII I on the eve of receiving an honorary law degree from the University of Michigan. And these were the faculty of the University's Political Science Department honoring Kirkpatrick at a private reception for gradúate students and faculty in the library of the Michigan League. The symbolism of their embrace was a bit overwhelming for the approximately thirty of us who, as uninvited guests, carne to challenge the legitimacy of this exclusive affair as well as the decisión to honor Kirkpatrick with a degree. The political science reception was indeed an "exclusive affair." The political science faculty posted no advertisement of her presence. Downstairs at the main desk of the Michigan League, her name was not even listed under the scheduled events. Professors at the reception were very concerned that Kirkpatrick's special visit remain untarnished. Political Science Department Chair Jack Walker tried to extract promises from the demonstrators that they would not disrupt her speech. Professor Raymond Tanter (former member of Reagan's National Security Council) proposed a "deal." He suggested that fïfteen minutes be allotted before Kirkpatrick's speech for opposition to her if activists would then allow Kirkpatrick to speak uninterrupted. Most decided against this deal - it was generally feit that Tanter, a right wing ideologue with alleged CIA connections, should not be given the power to define the parameters of the demonstration. Also, we as demonstration organizers did not want to pólice our own ranks in an effort to silencié people. Some department faculty members appeared enraged at the mere presence of demonstrators. Professor Michel Oksenberg, for example, screamed obscenities at an undergraduate student who argued that it was inappropriate for the department to host a character as heinous as Kirkpatrick. Security guards arrived and asked some demonstrators to leave. When Kirkpatrick fïnally entered the room, activists began to chant: "Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick what are you for? Murder in El Salvador!" and "How many nuns did you kill today? Kirkpatrick: off campus." These chants were in reference to the rape and murder of four U.S. relief workers, three of them nuns, in El Salvador in 1980. Kirkpatrick had attempted to justify the murders as follows: "The nuns were not just nuns . . . They were also political activists." Of a period in which over 30,000 Salv adoran peasants were killed by their govemment (with arms and explosives financed by our govemment), Kirkpatrick said, "To many Salvadorans the violence of this repression seems less important than the f act of restored order and the thirteen years of civil peace that ensued." In the room, Kirkpatrick only acknowledged her well-wishers. She did not attempt to respond to or address the concerns of activists who were chanting from less than one hundred feet away. She never tried to deliver her speech. She left after less than ten minutes. After her departure, verbal confrontations erupted throughout the room between members of the Political Science Department and those who had demonstrated their oppostion to Kirkpatrick. Professor Walker castigated those who had chanted. He argued that the activists had exceeded the bounds of propriety by infringing on Kirkpatrick's right to speak. Disturbingly, when activists suggested that honoring someone with as much blood on their hands as Kirkpatrick was comparable to honoring the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi party; Walker pointed out that he has proposed a U-M class on racism where he would bring in speakers from the Ku Klux Klan in order to "define the issue." He stated that the University had denied this request. To hear that the Chair of the Political Science Department would like to bring the KKK to campus stunned and disgusted us. President Fleming apologized at the next day's (April 30) commencement exercises for the disturbance at the reception. The Ann Arbor News ran an editorial which derided those who had "disrupted" Kirkpatrick. Signifïcantly, however, Kirkpatrick's speech had not been interrupted. She had not attempted to speak. The choice not to speak, therefore, was her own. At the commencement ceremonies, demonstrators held ballons reading "Jeane K. Flunks Human Rights," and large signs spelling out "Jeane K: Dr. of Terror." Fivethousand leaflets detailing Kirkpatrick's role in justifying oppression were distributed. While The New York Times reponed that most graduates cheered for her, this was not the case. There was a very mixed and heated reception of boos and cheers. Had the University announced that she was receiving a degree prior to the end of classes, there is no doubt but that the anti-Kirkpatrick demonstration would have been larger. The University Administration's argument, outlined in The Ann Arbor News was that its decisión to present Kirkpatrick with an honorary degTee was based on her "credentials," and was not therefore a valueladen choice. However, this ignores the underlying ideology upon which Kirkpatrick's policies and actions are based. Kirkpatrick caught the attention of the fledgling Reagan Administration for an essay she wrote in 1978, "Dictatorships and Doublé Standards," which attacked President Carter's outward promotion of human rights as a foreign policy tooi. This essay introduced her now-famous distinction between Third World regimes that are "authoritarian" (our dictators) and those that are "totalitarian" (Soviet-backed dictators). The moral imperative implied in this distinction - the need to transform totalitarian into authoritarian regimes - became a theoretical basis of foreign policy under the Reagan Administration. As U.N. Ambassador, Kirkpatrick systematically attacked and weakened the United Nations by urging the U.S. to stop paying its full U.N. dues (which account for 25% of the U.N. budget). The United Nations is the one international body in which developing nations have a vote on global issues, which deliberates on human rights abuses in countries such as South África, El Salvador, and Chile, and provides a semblance of democratie debate on vital issues such as disarma ment and economie development. Throughout her career, Kirkpatrick has been charged with racism many times, particularly for her blatant disTegard of the plight of Black South Africans. In 1981, for example, Kirkpatrick violated a U.N. mandate and illegally met with white South African military pólice. In response, the Congressional Black Caucus called for her resignation as U.N. Ambassador, and labeled her policies "a slap in the face of 26 million Black Americans." Many of the demonstrators at Michigan's commencement exercises said they feit the choice to honor Kirkpatrick with an honorary degree exemplified how the University community's widespread concern about racism is shunned by the University Administration. Many have raised questions about whether conservative elements in the Administration demanded that Kirkpatrick receive an honorary degree to "make up" for the degree U-M granted last year to imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mándela. (That degree was only granted as a result of much pressure from the Free South África movement on campus.) However, it is difficult to discern the exact rationale for the Kirkpatrick degree since the entire matter was handled secretly by the University Administration. The student nominated by the Michigan Student Assembly for the Honorary Degree Committee, had earlier in the school year been rejected by the Administration. Furthermore, the Administration did not divulge that Kirkpatrick would receive the degree until days before the commencement ceremony and just after publication of the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily, had ended for the semester. In the waning days of the Reagan Administration, Kirkpatrick's honorary degree reminds us of the influence that right wing extremists wield within our institutions. Indeed, a sign of how far to the right the University Administration has tumed, is that Oliver North, ideolgically close to Kirkpatrick, received an honorary degree from Jerry Falwell's fundamentalist college on the same weekend that Kirkpatrick received hers from U-M. Sandra Steingraber is a U-M gradúate student in biology and a human rights activist. Ingrid Koek is a U-M gradúate and peace activist who recently returned from an Internship with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Geneva.