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Award winners, war crimes and the GVSU Faculty dissent letter

June 2, 2019

On Friday, we posted a piece about former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, speaking at the Econ Club of Grand Rapids annual dinner. That post focused on the capitalist class in West Michigan, the Econ Club members, and what Haley had to say about Capitalism and Socialism. 

However, Haley didn’t just speak at the Econ Club’s annual dinner, she also was the recipient of the Col. Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship Award, an award presented by the Hauenstein Center at GVSU.

A number of GVSU faculty members objected to this award being given to Nikki Haley, so much so, that they crafted a letter of dissent, which can be read in its entirety at this link

The following except from the letter provides the basic objection to the award going to Nikki Haley:

Ambassador Haley’s most prominent national political role to date has been as a loyal member of the Administration of Donald Trump. She supported the Administration during her tenure as U.N. Ambassador, and has continued to do so since stepping down. Yet the current Administration systematically distorts norms of public discourse and conduct, and consistently seeks to undermine public trust in fact-finding and knowledge-generating institutions, including the judiciary, the press, science, and the university. Our objection to the award is that Ambassador Haley’s support for the Administration includes these very efforts. Efforts to undermine standards of public discourse and conduct, and public trust in institutions such as GVSU itself. Awarding her is thus endorsing someone who has been unapologetically complicit in the undermining of the very values that the institution stands for. It is this to which we object.

The entire letter is well articulated and makes a strong case for their collective objection to the former US Ambassador to the United Nations as the recipient of this award from GVSU. I agree with the basic arguments laid out in the letter and am grateful that some faculty members took a public stance against the university’s decision to give the award to Haley.

However, there does seem to be a double standard in this case, especially considering who else has been the recipient of the very same award from the Hauenstein Center. The award has been given out since 2011 and has included the following recipients:

  • Gerald R. Ford
  • Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Madeleine Albright
  • James Baker
  • William Cohen
  • Paul O’Neill
  • John Beyrle
  • Adm. James M Loy
  • Tommy Remengesau
  • Carla Hills
  • Sec. Robert Gates
  • Gen. Wesley Clark

There are several former high ranking US military officials who have received the award. For instance, General Brent Scowcroft was the US National Security Advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush. This means that during those two administrations, Scowcroft would have endorsed the US decision in 1974 to support the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, a decision that led to one of the worst genocides in the 20th Century. Under George Bush Sr, Scowcroft would have been complicit in the 1989/90US invasion of Panama, resulting in the deaths of several thousand Panamanian civilians and the 40-day US bombing of Iraq in 1991, which kills thousands of Iraqi civilians and destroyed much of the Iraqi infrastructure, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands more, specifically children.

We could also talk about Robert Gates, who was the Director of the CIA during the George H.W. Bush administration, as well as the US Secretary of Defense during the George W Bush administration and part of the Barack Obama administration (2006 – 2011). Gates was also part of the Central Intelligence agency for decades, which means he was not only aware of the vicious covert activities the CIA was involved in, he had a hand in those activities. For example, while Gates was Deputy Director of the CIA, under the Reagan administration, Gates was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, a drugs for guns for money scheme that resulted in providing support for the Contra terrorist forces in Central America.

Maybe we could talk about Madeleine Albright, who was the Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration. In addition to her role in the US bombing of Kosovo and Sudan, Albright was a key figure in the Clinton Administration’s decision to impose economic sanctions on Iraq. These sanctions, coupled with the 1991 US destruction of Iraqi infrastructure, led to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. Albright was questioned about this decision on 60 Minutes in 1996, by Leslie Stahl:

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it

We could go on, but I think the point is clear here. Recipients of past Hauenstein Center awards have served in both Republican and Democratic administration and have engaged in what are considered by international law standards, War Crimes. Now, I am unaware of any faculty at GVSU crafting a public letter of objection against any of the previous award recipients. We have to ask why? Were the war crimes that many of the previous award recipients involved in also not objectionable? Are any of the previous award recipients not deserving of a letter of dissent?

Again, I agree wth the GVSU faculty who objected to Nikki Haley’s award, but doesn’t the bombing of civilians and the deaths of innocent civilians merit the same kind of outrage? Important questions for scholars, students and West Michigan community members alike. 

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