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Ah, the institutional voice. Or should we say, oy, the institutional voice. What a downer, man. You can hear it in American editorials all the time. More's the pity. The people who write modern editorials set out to write modern editorials. Better they should set out to say something. Their thoughts and reflections would be more readable.

Reminder: The only time somebody wants to hear the voice of God is when it's God. Otherwise, keep it conversational. That's among the best pieces of advice we've ever been given by an editor.

Unfortunately, the "institutional voice" has been given a bad rep over the last few decades as editorialists blister their pages with sonorous, pompous and purple-as-a-bruise prose. It might have a lot to do with the corporate types setting (bad) examples for writers, coming into newsrooms, giving speeches, using nouns as verbs and vice versa. And if we read one more lede with the word "whither" . . . .

But the institutional voice--the original definition--is important. You'll note there isn't a byline on this editorial. Those who commit editorials might not have talent, but what we do have in abundance is nerve. Who else but an egotist would spend his days telling folks what they should think?

And the first rule in editorial writing: Get it by the boss. For this column speaks for the publisher. It's the voice of the newspaper. It helps if the writers of editorials adopt the persona of the paper--its character, tradition and institutional memory. But if the person who pays for the ink and paper--and, more frequently, the electronic address--disagrees with anything we might turn in, that piece goes into the round file and Gentle Reader will never see it. Them's the rules.

There's a semi-controversy going on these days at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and more "semi-" than "controversy." Although some would seem in favor of making it more substantial than it is. It has to do with the institutional voice, and we're not talking about the student newspaper.

Some well-meaning soul put a quote on the library's sign the other day, and used a sentence or two by Lady Gaga, perhaps the person with the best pipes in the business now. We're not even into modern pop music, and we can't think of her equal these days. (Linda Ronstadt hasn't put out any new music lately.) The sign said this:

"Being gay is like glitter. It never goes away.--Lady Gaga"

Thoughtful and funny.

Except . . . .

Except this wasn't in the student newspaper. It wasn't on a bulletin board in the dorm. It wasn't on a billboard on Dave Ward Drive. It was on the library's sidewalk sign.

In an email to faculty and students this week, UCA President Houston Davis took the position that the medium was inappropriate, even if the message was fine: "I believe that the intent of the message was to show support for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff, but it was not okay for the university sign to be used to make a personal statement or advocate for a personal viewpoint. That is the line that the sign itself crossed."

A spokesman for the university told the papers that there had been complaints about the sign and the message, and the president asked for it to be taken down.

President Davis continued:

"We do have to be very careful that we walk the fine line between individual freedom of speech and institutional voice."

Exactly. For what would be next? A student working at the library might think that being pro-choice is the most natural and defendable thing next to, well, motherhood. But posting a pro-choice message on a university-owned marquee would be considered poor form. Especially when there are other points of view.

Some students have caused--or maybe just hope to cause--an uproar. They should instead go down to the student newspaper. And buy an ad. As for becoming angry over a university president taking responsibility for the whole of the university, including everybody's opinions, and defending the institutional voice and integrity of the college, staff, trustees and maybe his own office, we're reminded of what somebody once said about fighting the good fight, but keeping a level head while doing so:

"What I admire most in any man is a serene spirit, a steady freedom from moral indignation, an all-embracing tolerance--in brief, what is commonly called good sportsmanship. Such a man is not to be mistaken for one who shirks the hard knocks of life. On the contrary, he is frequently an eager gladiator, vastly enjoying opposition. But when he fights, he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour propre by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest--and perhaps, after all, right."--H.L. Mencken

College is full of life lessons. We can see four or five, at least, in this story.

Editorial on 06/20/2019

Print Headline: Institutional voice


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  • 23cal
    June 20, 2019 at 8:38 a.m.

    WThe UCA Library has a tradition of displaying quotes of famous or historical people relevant to current events. It is LGBT Pride month.
    Would you have the same problem with a sign featuring a quote about National Disability Employment Awareness Month and National Italian American Heritage Month (Oct.), Black History month (Feb.), National Women's History Month (March), Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and Older Americans Month(May), National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), or National American Indian Heritage Month (Nov.)? Or is it that UCA just plain should't have the courage to stand up for diversity and inclusiveness with a quote for the month set aside to recognize the gay community because, you know, they're icky?

    The sham "institutional voice" dodge is just a spineless pandering to the local anti-LGBT bunch of homophobes and bigots. Stop trying to put gold plate on that turd.

    A conversation regarding institutional speech versus individual speech is great, but the comments about having minors on campus make it clear that the UCA president finds mentions of homosexuality to be offensive. This makes it a matter of institutional bigotry instead of institutional speech.

    Calling Board members individually in order to avoid notifying the press is unacceptable and illegal. Davis did this.....and Raging anti-gay Rapert.
    The University of Central Arkansas has belatedly admitted that president Houston Davis communicated with anti-gay Republican Sen. Jason Rapert about the takedown of a gay pride quote by Lady Gaga in front of the university library. Mr. Homophobia himself really doesn't have a dog in this fight.
    Does Jason Rapert get a veto over campus expressions of science and literary fact? The right-wingers ought to be furious at this suppression of academic freedom. They won’t be.

    I am especially aghast that UCA would do this after providing a platform for vitriol and animus toward the gay community when in October of 2014, the University rented Reynolds Performance Hall to a known LGBTQ hate group, The Family Research Council, and used their website and other communication tools to promote the event. The event included Senator Jason Rapert who used it as a fundraising event as well as soon to be revealed pedophile Josh Duggar, who was employed by The Family Research Council. So, if I understand things clearly, the University is okay with using their communication tools and student fees to promote an agenda of hate but are not okay with the library posting a quote supporting LGBTQ people from a published writer and advocate.

  • GeneralMac
    June 20, 2019 at 2:16 p.m.

    Freedom of speech doesn't mean the billboard must be furnished.

  • MatsLaw
    June 20, 2019 at 7:07 p.m.

    Yes, the point of view that being gay is impermanent and is a choice is another point of view that deserves equal treatment.