Koelemay's Kosmos

Doug Koelemay


"Freedom and Learning"

Six legislators protesting a student-sponsored sex education fair--an event that included conservative cultural groups--should ponder the meaning of the GMU motto.


The words “Freedom and Learning” grace the seal of George Mason University. And they also are the best answer to questions from six Northern Virginia legislators seeking to stir their political bases at the expense of a great institution. Each of these legislators needs to sip daily from a beverage container with the GMU seal on the side just to keep the words “Freedom and Learning” in front of them. The 15-ounce coffee mug in either green or white would be good: The 16-ounce tankard or 2-ounce shot glass could be even better.


The background for this recommendation is a letter to George Mason University President Alan G. Merten in April from Delegates Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, and Jeffrey M. Frederick, R-Prince William and state Senator Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax stating opposition to a student-sponsored sex-education fair. Media reports indicate the fair drew representatives from a diverse set of groups, including Campus Catholic Ministries, Planned Parenthood, GMU Students for Life and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Information and discussions about sexual abstinence occurred side-by-side at the fair with other information on health examinations, sexual assault and preventing sexually-transmitted diseases.


“We are at a loss to understand how this activity is compatible with the GMU mission statement,” the legislators wrote in their letter released to the media. Senator Cuccinelli suggested the event promoted sexual promiscuity and exhibited moral depravity.


Perhaps the legislators could have read the university’s mission statement online before writing. That would have given a freedom and learning footnote in the stated university commitment to “superior education enabling students to develop critical, analytical and imaginative thinking and to make well-founded ethical decisions” or in the commitment to “prepare students to address the complex issues facing them in society and to discover meaning in their own lives.”


Instead of attempting to understand, however, the six decided to play to the media, misrepresent the event and attack the university regional residents expect them to champion. By choosing to lash out, the legislators actually revealed they’re at a loss to understand a lot more than just the imaginative thinking that went into the event. They don’t understand what higher education means, the role of a public university in a diverse state or the specific vision articulated by President Merten for George Mason University to become “a center of inquiry, knowledge, and professional expertise” in “a region and world driven by new social, economic, and technological realities.”


Regrettably, the six legislators signaled something more disturbing that the activities they chose to highlight. They suggest they know it all and they’ll let us know, particularly university presidents, faculty and students, when Virginians need to discuss things or learn something different. New social, economic and technological realities apparently don’t have to be realities in their world, which actually may work better with ignorance about some things, shibboleths as guideposts to living and stifling self-censorship. No freedom, no learning.


Further, they confuse their role as elected officials, who have broad oversight and accountability functions, with a carte blanche to intervene at the detailed operational level based on personal views of what is appropriate, moral, important, proper, correct or even a fact. That approach on a host of matters earned five of the six legislators extremely low ratings in Stewardship and Effectiveness announced this week by Virginia FREE, the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education. Senator Cuccinelli, in fact, was ranked at the bottom among 40 Senators in Stewardship and Effectiveness in the General Assembly. Delegates Black, Cole, Frederick and Robert Marshall were at the bottom of the 98 Delegates rated. Delegate Lingamfelter rated higher.


In the end a university spokesperson noted that George Mason University wouldn’t respond to the legislators’ media initiative, but that it did support what its students had organized and were pleased with how things turned out. Two days later, the university did what it does best. While rock icon Sting performed at the Patriot Center, GMU staged a dinner to honor members of its faculty and staff who most recently have been awarded patents or copyrights. The dinner and light presentation ceremony made the ideas, the inventors and the imaginers at the university seem a lot less complex than they are -- a new algorithm for drawing straight lines, a better manager for sensor systems, recorded performances, a new method for controlling seizures, fractal image compression, micro-droplet cell culture techniques.


Each honoree, patent, licensed technology and copyrighted work spotlights the benefits of freedom and learning. Now drink up.



What’s good for the elephant is good for the donkey.


That neighborhood friend no longer has to be content to be a special champion of just one political party ("The Platinum Party Card", March 28, 2005.) The Democratic National Committee has added its invitation to his list of solicitors.


For $5,000 DNC Chairman Howard Dean is offering a Chairman’s Circle membership. But unlike Republican National Committee invitations, there is no DNC invitation to advise a president or legislative leaders in special meetings or social outings. That’s seems strange for a party out of power in Congress that could benefit from listening. Membership in the Chairman’s Circle entitles one only to “be briefed by Senators, House Members and other elected officials about the progress the Democratic Party is making and updating you on our specific goals for the DNC.” Wow. And there is no reference to the importance of the race for governor in Virginia in 2005, only to the 36 governor’s offices up in the 2006 elections.


Alternatively, the invitation does offer the opportunity to become a Raiser for the Chairman’s Circle. As a Raiser one has the chance to put the arm on family and friends for the $5,000 for the DNC. Wow.


It is good that Howard Dean is “honored and energized” and he is right in his letter to add that people have the power. But I’m guessing the neighborhood friend will use his power to decline the invitation and the welcome kit that includes a list of benefits, a lapel pin and a personal contact at the DNC. The neighbor, like so many Virginians, can leave home without it.


-- May 9, 2005















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J. Douglas Koelemay

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