Hampshire College in Massachusetts caused a national outrage when the Administration ordered the placing of the American flag at half staff after Election Day. It then ordered the the removal of all flags after the flag was found burned on the ground. The flag has now been returned and College President Jonathan Lash is insisting that it was all a positive exercise of free speech. I disagree.
Lash issued the following statement:
“We understand that many who hold the flag as a powerful symbol of national ideals and their highest aspirations for the country — including members of our own community — felt hurt by our decisions, and that we deeply regret . . . We did not lower the flag to make a political statement. … We acted solely to facilitate much-needed dialogue on our campus about how to dismantle the bigotry that is prevalent in our society.”
The American flag is the symbol of free speech. The lowering of the flag to half mast was a juvenile and insulting act by the college. The removal of all flags only magnified that offense and sent the wrong message. I strongly agree on the need for a dialogue on campuses about the meaning of the election. It was a historic event. However, the flag represents a shared article of faith in our democratic process and the rule of law. Both prevailed on election even if your party or your candidate did not prevail.
Yet, Lash insisted
“Hampshire staff and faculty have led facilitated discussions, I have held multiple focus group sessions, and all of our students, faculty, and staff have been invited to contribute their opinions, questions, and perspectives about the U.S. flag. This is what free speech looks like.”
No, that is not what free speech looks like when you lower the flag as if the nation were in mourning because you disagree with the results. That is called insulting speech. A college president who does not understand the difference is a shocking failure for any educational institution.