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McHugh Ditches Graduation Over DADT Protest

McHugh Ditches Graduation Over DADT Protest


Secretary of the Army John McHugh pulled out of commencement activities for a college in upstate New York after learning that students, faculty, and staff were planning a protest over the military's ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

The Pride Alliance, the State University of New York College at Oswego's LGBT group, planned to distribute pins for people to wear on graduation day, calling for an end to "don't ask, don't tell." However, after other students learned of the move, Michael Johnson, president of the Pride Alliance, said they started to organize a protest to be held outside of the Campus Center Arena on the day of the graduation in regard to lifting the ban.

McHugh, who was to receive an honorary degree, told college president Deborah Stanley that his "presence at the ceremony might well have a disruptive effect," explaining his dropping out.

Johnson, a senior political science student, told The Advocate Wednesday that professor Charles Spector informed him that the statewide SUNY board of trustees had approved granting McHugh an honorary degree. Johnson said the faculty assembly was planning to jointly inform McHugh that the school has had a long-standing history of opposing "don't ask, don't tell" and that administrators do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

McHugh, who was once a U.S. congressman, represented District 23 in northern New York, which includes Oswego.

"The faculty assembly also said that McHugh should be aware that this college has explicitly said we don't endorse 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Johnson said. "The school did not support it in the '90s, and we don't support it today. John McHugh, who voted for 'don't ask, don't tell,' should know we don't support this. The protest was simply a way for students, faculty, staff, and administrator to meet to voice that."

But the protest planning didn't advance to exact details. Before full plans had been formulated, McHugh announced Monday that he would not pick up his honorary degree.

Johnson said that while he has had little communication from administrators on the protest, he was encouraged by President Stanley's commitment to wear a button in support on commencement day.

"Civic responsibility is demonstrated as much in free expression as it is in listening to different views on important subjects," Stanley said in a statement. She also said she "regretted missing a chance to see our free society in meaningful and educational exchange."

Oswego's public affairs officer, Julie Blissert, told The Advocate that since the process of selecting and approving honorary degree recipients takes approximately nine months, there would not be a replacement for McHugh, but scheduled speakers include Sen. Chuck Schumer and author Naomi Wolf.

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