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Free Speech Under Siege at Texas A&M By: Shannon Dubberly
Texaminer.com | Wednesday, February 12, 2003


Texas A&M University has suspended the prestigious Ross Volunteer Honor Corps association, a select honored division of the Texas A&M Corps, for allegedly harassing anti-war protestors at a candlelight vigil on February 3. The vigil held in the center of campus by 30 professors, community activists, and members of the Aggie Democrats was organized to protest the war against Saddam Hussein.

This vigil followed a protest that was held on the campus earlier that day by many of the same activists, which featured signs such as "Bush is a baby killer" and "Death for Oil." The "vigil" itself resembled the protest, as signs present included "No Children for Oil."

Without even holding a hearing, the administration of Texas A&M swiftly imposed a temporary suspension on the Corps group, which serves as the honor guard for the Governor of Texas. A&M administrators are now conducting an investigation. However, in the interim, the cadets will be unable to hold activities.

Anti-war activists at the vigil accused Corps members of pointing their guns, which are demilitarized, at the group and singing, "Some say freedom is free, but we know Aggies who paid the price." The Corps' refer to their singing as "jodying," which they use for motivation and rhythm when jogging.

The Corps, which is composed of about 2,000 of Texas A&M's 46,000 students, trains each day by jogging around campus. This special division of the Corps called the Ross Volunteers meets every Monday and Wednesday at the statue of Sul Ross, to train and remember their namesake. Ross was a venerated 19th century Texas soldier, governor, educator, and humanitarian. In these training runs, the cadets their demilitarized rifles and yell chants show their pride and sustain their morale.

An eyewitness, Matt Maddox, Chairman of the Texas A&M Chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, said the approximately 100 Corps members ran their normal drills through the center of campus without coming in contact with any of the protestors and did nothing to intimidate them. Maddox said that, while the cadets did sing "Some say freedom is free, but we know Aggies who paid the price," they did not point their guns at the protestors or threaten them in any way. Maddox notes the cadets did nothing different from what they do every week on their designated days to train at the Ross statue and in the free speech area.

However, after several complaints from students and members of the community that attended the vigil were placed, the Office of the Commandant and Division of Student Affairs immediately placed this group under suspension. The members were then notified via e-mail.

According to the Texas A&M Battalion, the official school newspaper, Hugh Stearns, an anti-war protestor who attended the vigil griped, "Some of the cadets glared (at us)." Another protestor, Rev. Danita Noland of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in College Station filed a complaint against the Corps with the administration because, "We had to stop talking quite often. It was so loud, with the jogging and the commands being called out and answered to and the drills being carried out. We could not be heard."

Noland further alleged that after the drills, two cadet leaders stood on benches and made remarks about "the people over there" and "our military duties." Apparently, Noland cannot stand the thought of these cadets discussing their commitment to defending this country and, even more, she wants the A&M administration to shut them down.

Members of this military organization are being suspended for allegedly "menacing" the anti-war protestors, not harming or attacking them. Indeed, no one disputes that there was no physical contact. Instead, at issue is the Corps' patriotic comments, so-called "glaring," and the fact that their normal routine results in some noise which allegedly disturbed the peacenik vigil.

Unfortunately, the Texas A&M administration, hell-bent on political correctness, is bending over backwards to cater to the anti-war protestors' attempt to sully one of A&M's finest traditions. Noland heaped praise on A&M administrators' actions, saying "everyone I have spoken to has been extremely responsive, and there is a real commitment from the administration to see this thing through."

In a posting to the group's email list, Aggie Democrats President Jonathan Steed stated, "We are glad that the University is taking action and investigating this matter following their [Ross Volunteers] harassment of us at our vigil on Monday night." Steed's screed goes on to add, "I came across a great website the other day. It has cool cartoons of Bush and his dumb thoughts and policies. Feel free to check it out at: www.toostupidtobepresident.com."

Maddox urges A&M alumni and concerned citizens to contact A&M administrators and express their views. Maddox says, "The Corps has been revered as a great Aggie tradition since 1876. Now, on the flimsiest of allegations by shrinking violet anti-war activists, Texas A&M has decided to suspend them with no due process whatsoever." Texas A&M President Robert Gates can be reached at RGates@tamu.edu and Director of Student Affairs Jesse Southerland at malons@tamu.edu.

Texas A&M, traditionally known as a conservative campus, now appears to be going out of its way to promote liberal causes. In October 2001, following the massacres at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Texas A&M prohibited students from hanging American flags from their dormitory windows. After an article in The Austin Review on the subject, the decision was reversed.

Gates recently created a new "vice president for institutional diversity." The A&M Regents are considering a plan to prefer applicants from mostly-minority high schools by admitting the top 20 percent of their graduating classes automatically while taking only the top 10 percent from all other high schools.

Campuses throughout the country say they want diversity, but their kind of diversity is not of ideals, but only of race and ethnicity. The suspension of the Corps members casts a pall over a campus that was once thought of as a safe haven for conservatism. Contrary to the First Amendment, even peaceful disagreement with liberal causes will not be tolerated at A&M. A&M administrators appear so determined to rid the campus of its conservative label that they are willing to make innocent students pay the price, even members of the highly respected Corps honor guard.

However, the legacy of A&M and the Corps should be embraced, not defiled. Founded in 1898, the Texas A&M Ross Volunteer Honor Corps perform at very Muster and Silver Taps, which are considered by many to be the best of A&M's traditions. In addition to anchoring A&M ceremonies, they regularly perform at events with governor. To get accepted into this high brotherhood, one must excel in his or her Corps duties and be an exemplary leader.

The Ross Volunteers are part of a larger Corps, whose 2,000 members represent the nation's largest uniformed student body outside of the service academies. Prior to 1965, all A&M students were required to join the Corps. The Corps' mission is "training leaders of character and competence for service to nation and state."

The Corps commissions more officers in all branches of military than any school apart from service academies. More than 225 former cadets have achieved rank of general or admiral in the U.S. military and seven Aggies have received the medal of honor.


Shannon Dubberly, a Texas A&M student, writes for The Examiner (www.texaminer.com) and The Austin Review (www.austinreview.com). He can be reached at s_dubberly@hotmail.com.


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