Monday, March 7, 2016

Sekou Odinga at UC Irvine: A Response to My Letter

Image result for sekou odinga

"Sekou Abdullah Odinga grew up in Jamaica, Queens-New York in a family of nine. 
He is a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.  He was inspired by 
the revolutionary principles of Malcolm X when he joined the Organization of 
Afro-American Unity, followed later by the Black Panther Party and the Black 
Liberation Army. He is a Muslim, a citizen of the Republic of New Afrika and for 
thirty-three years was a U.S. held political prisoner of war. In 2009, Sekou 
reached his mandatory release date for his federal conviction in connection to 
the Liberation of Assata Shakur - living in exile in Cuba - and was "paroled" to 
the New York State prison system. After five years, he won a parole hearing and 
was released on parole on November 25th, 2014 from the New York State sentence."
(Quotes mine.)
-From the announcement that appeared on the website of the UC Irvine School of Humanities

Reference is made to my previous postings on the speaking appearance of Sekou Odinga, aka Nathaniel Burns, at UC Irvine on February 10. In response to that event and the announcement that was posted on the UCI School of Humanities website, I wrote a letter to UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham, Dean of the School of Humanities Georges van den Abbeele,  and Chair of the African-American Studies Department, Bridget Cooks. On March 7, I received the below response from Dean van den Abbeele:
Dear Mr. Fouse,

I am responding to your February 26 blog post, addressed to Chancellor 
Gillman, Vice Chancellor Parham, Chair Bridget Cooks, and myself.

We seem to share an understanding of the University's role as a platform 
for discourse and that, as a result, campus units will host speakers 
with whom some have ideological differences. The goal of this particular 
event was to promote discussion and critical thought about historical 
and present conflicts between the police and black communities. The 
event's promotional materials describe the speaker's self-identified 
title as a prisoner of war, and do not necessarily reflect an opinion or 
endorsement by any person or organization.

Universities have an obligation to provide a venue for academic 
discourse in a safe, non-threatening and educational manner. Conveying 
opinion and disputing facts at the event itself is one valuable way to 
contribute to these conversations.

Thank you for taking the time to write; we appreciate your input.


Georges Van Den Abbeele
Dean, School of Humanities
Humanities Dean's Office
4100 Humanities Gateway Building

Here is my response, which I just sent out:

Dear Dean van den Abbeele,

Thank you for your response to my letter.  I appreciate your assurance that the previously quoted statement on the announcement did not necessarily reflect an opinion or endorsement by any  person or organization.
However, I would point out that this statement appeared on the School of Humanities website in the announcement without any attribution, disclaimer,  or quotation marks. Can you appreciate how an observer might assume that these were the words of the School of Humanities? This is reminiscent of an incident that happened a few years ago when an outdoor marquee at UCI announcing a Muslim Student Union (anti-Israel) event showed the words, "Israel: The Politics of Genocide" directly under the name, "UC Irvine". This led to immediate protests that UCI was putting its imprimatur on those words. (The announcement was taken down after calls were made to the UC President's Office as well as the Governor's office.)

By the same token, while a modern-day Julius Streicher (editor of the Nazi-era anti-Semitic weekly, Der Stuermer) might enjoy the First Amendment right to speak at UCI, you certainly would not post, "The Jews are our misfortune" on your website announcement.

I agree with your statement that attending the events and disputing the facts is a valuable way to contribute to the discussions. This is something I regularly do at UCI, participating in the q and a in a civil manner. As it was, I was unable to attend this particular event.

At any rate, I appreciate your response.


Gary Fouse
Adjunct teacher

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