The entire episode was tacky, beginning with the portable parking-lot sign with manual lettering. That's a communication form seemingly more at home announcing a roadside diner's smothered-steak lunch special.
Then you had a petty, bullying, backward-thinking local state senator, Jason Rapert, who telephoned the president of the local public college--the University of Central Arkansas in Conway--to complain about a gay-supportive message appearing in honor of Pride Month on that sign in front of the university library.
What had happened was that the library people had lettered the sign this way: "Being gay is like glitter--it never goes away--Lady Gaga."
Somebody not approving of the message had given a heads-up to the local Swaggart-ian political poohbah, Rapert, who, typically, was unwilling to let the local public academic institution slide on free expression.
Rapert phoned in his loaded question of whether the president was aware of what those kids were saying on that sign.
The president, Dr. Houston Davis, tells me with great insistence that he did not act on Rapert's call. Nor did he act, he said, on the subsequently expressed inquiry of a board member or two.
He acted, he said, only later that day when social media exploded with debate about the sign, and he, sensing a need to do something, instituted an inquiry into his guiding principle--his crutch, it seems--meaning established policies and procedures.
Davis said he determined that the verbiage had been put in place without adherence to policies and procedures, and, on that basis alone, and not at all on account of what the message said, he directed that the message be removed.
The thing is, Davis said, that students and student groups may speak as they wish and that he has a proud record of defending them. But this sign, you see, was official UCA property, and thus a message displayed there became an official pronouncement falling under policies and procedures that had not been followed.
That's his story, and he's sticking to it. He's vigorously denying political influence or that his action seems to say that UCA, by institutional policy, doesn't advocate tolerance for gay and lesbian students.
Davis subsequently got too wordy himself, sending out an explanatory email campus-wide in which he said that the college needed to be especially mindful in summers of minors on the campus.
High school kids in summer encampments at UCA have never heard of Lady Gaga or gays, you see.
Then, the next day, Davis put out an even wordier campus-wide email saying he had not meant to say that it would be harmful to minors to expose them to gay-supportive thoughts.
He just meant ... uh, something else, anything else.
A national trade publication, Inside Higher Education, published an article on the matter, leading to a thread of mostly unfavorable comments, including from Lady Gaga fans.
Ordering the sign removed was to dig a hole. The first day's email dug deeper. The second day's email dug deeper still.
I asked Davis by phone Thursday if he thinks he might have been better off saying nothing--about the sign, or minors, or anything.
He replied that the social media firestorm required that he do something. But he acknowledged that some of his wording could have been better and that he takes full responsibility.
It seems the president had three choices: (a) Assure Rapert he'd take the sign down as the senator wished, or (b) thank Rapert for calling the matter to his attention and assuring him he'd check it out, or (c) tell Rapert to bug off because the sign was fine.
I suspect that Davis was neither obsequious enough for (a) or brave enough for (c), and that the Twitter chat gave him an excuse to run with (b) and oblige Rapert only indirectly.
Rapert told me he was pleased by the decision. Imagine the public outcry, he said, if UCA had blared an anti-gay message on an official sign.
The issue there has to do with public policy versus individual religious beliefs.
A gay-tolerant message is one supported by science and the nation's principle of nondiscrimination. An anti-gay message would have been based on personal bias stemming from personal religious interpretation.
Rapert doesn't get or accept that difference. He believes his lord commands him to make his personal religious opinions all our public policy.
He seems to be our lord of signage. The Ten Commandments monument stands on the Capitol grounds because he said so. The Lady Gaga quotation came down to meet his approval if not his direct order.
The moral is that UCA, as a public institution of higher academia, needs a new policy and procedure.
It's to move a little closer to tolerance and back a little way from any Liberty University imitation with Rapert as Falwell.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 06/25/2019
Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Times of the sign