Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, August 18, 2018

Staff Editorial: Kerwin’s letter condemning flag burning underscores his disconnect from many students

Staff Editorial: Kerwin’s letter condemning flag burning underscores his disconnect from many students

Following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in November, students gathered for an impromptu protest on the steps of MGC. Some students burned American flags, one of which is pictured here. 

AU’s policy on student free speech has come under a harsh spotlight in the last several weeks, as students have vigorously protested in the wake of the election. Of all these protests, the one that has received by far the most attention is the flag burning on Nov. 9.

The flag burning, which drew a crowd of hundreds of students to the steps of the Mary Graydon Center, elicited a sharp response from University President Neil Kerwin. Kerwin released a letter to the AU community on Nov. 11 condemning the incident, calling the burning of the flag “an act of profound disrespect.”

While The Eagle understands why our University’s president felt compelled to share his concerns with the community and call for more civil discourse, we find it problematic that Kerwin did not send similar notes condemning recent acts of hatred on campus, such as the swastika that was found drawn in the Ward Circle Building on Nov. 11. Similarly, when hate speech became an issue with the arrival of Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos in April, students did not receive a similar condemnation against disrespectful acts from the administration.

It appears that there is a disconnect between Kerwin and the general student body. To our knowledge, Kerwin has not been present at any student protest or rally this fall. His condemnation of the flag burning rang hollow and underlined the disconnect between the feelings of much of the student body and the University administration.

To that end, Kerwin’s mention of how the flag burning impacted parents and alumni, rather than remaining focused on how the student body is coping, underscored our belief that the University president is more concerned with the school’s reputation among donors than he is with the concerns of students and what they need from administrators.

Kerwin’s letter may have put a band-aid on the school’s image among parents and alumni, but it did little to fix his reputation among a large portion of the student body. With only a semester left in his tenure, we suggest that Kerwin make attempts to reconnect with students before he permanently tarnishes what should be a proud legacy at AU.

Two members of The Eagle’s staff participated in the Nov. 9 flag burning. These staff members did not participate in the production of this editorial in any way.

edpage@theeagleonline.com


Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.