Monday, October 30, 2006

i was coming home from school today, and i saw something that deeply bothered me. in front of every single apartment building owned by wash u, there were campaign signs, urging people to vote yes on amendment 2.

i, personally, support amendment 2, the stem cell research amendment. if i owned my own property, i would put a pro-2 sign in my front yard. but, i think that wash u putting these pro-2 signs in the front yards of all of their student apartments is offensive. as the owner of the buildings, the university was clearly within its legal rights to place the signs in the front yards of the apartment buildings, but it was an invasive thing for them to do. they've already gotten their point across...they sent letters out to the students last week, informing them that the university, as an institution, supports amendment 2 and amendment 31. i thought sending the letters was approaching the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour of the university, but just slipped in on the appropriate side, since the letter was tactfully written.2

the signs, on the other hand, cross any boundary of tact. embryonic stem cell research is a very hot button issue. there are probably a lot of people in the wash u community, such as myself, who support the initiative...but there are also undoubtedly many who do not. there's almost no way that everyone in university-owned apartment housing supports amendment 2, and having a sign in front of their apartment building urging people to support an amendment that some of the people living on the property may find unethical just bothers me.

i think the university, if it wanted to further promote the amendment, could have done other things. the university has already decided to take a public stance for amendment 2. it could have sponsored an advertisement, or possibly hung pro-2 flyers around the university or the community. it could have done almost anything that didn't invade our living space, our front yards, with campaign materials. the university taking a public stance for a state ballot measure is, in my opinion, of dubious enough wisdom; placing political signs in university-owned apartment yards is probably more likely to cause friction and animosity among residents who do not agree with amendment 2 than it is to change anyone's mind.

1 amendment 3 is a large tobacco tax hike to fund healthcare programmes, as well as smoking cessation programmes.
2 i have very mixed feelings about universities taking stances on political issues. in a perfect world, it wouldn't bother me at all...large clusters of educated people have the ability to be a strong catalyst for social change. but, many real political issues have truly educated arguments to support multiple viewpoints on it. for a university itself to take a position on a political issue may pose more harm to the intellectual discourse on campus than the imprimatur of the institution may assist the passage of a measure it supports. there are some situations in which action by a university as an institution may be more appropriate than others (living wage campaigns for university workers come to mind), but issues and actions that do not primarily affect the university community, but rather are larger social issues, might not be proper for universities to take public stances on. it's not an issue i've resolved in my head one way or the other; it still causes me much uneasiness.

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