Honoring Jeff Sessions: A Challenge to UAH Values

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Honoring Jeff Sessions: A Challenge to UAH Values

This petition had 191 supporters
Friends of UAH Faculty started this petition to President, University of Alabama in Huntsville Robert Altenkirch and

As proud members of the faculty at the University of Alabama in Huntsville we believe that recipients of Honorary Degrees should reflect the best ideals of the institution. These include an acknowledgement of the benefits of a liberal education, support for public institutions, inclusion and enfranchisement of all citizens, and a worldview that respects the value of diversity in all its forms (cultural, religious, political, etc).

Senator Jeff Sessions has a significant record that is antithetical to these principles and the mission of our University.

As a Commencement Speaker, Senator Sessions is being granted a platform of honor at our most important university event. This honor implies an unspoken approval of his record, in whole or in part. It is unwarranted and sends troubling mixed messages. 

Our concerns are not partisan, nor do we encourage censorship. We recognize that controversial speech is an inherent part of the “college experience” and our right as Americans and non-citizens living in this country. Discomfort and controversy are fundamental to the academic enterprise and therefore should be tolerated and even encouraged at times.

This circumstance is different: Honoring Senator Sessions with this platform lends tacit University support to his extreme and divisive record, his repeated dismissal of scientific principles, his attempts to marginalize elements of society, and his refusal to carry out his Constitutionally mandated responsibilities as an elected official. As a public institution of higher learning this should not be condoned.

Neither is this a free speech matter. Senator Sessions is always welcome to visit UAH and give a speech, and we encourage him to do so. However, since students, family, friends, and faculty are obliged to attend graduation, this attendance is an tacit acknowledgement of legitimacy as an honorary degree recipient and mandates participation as an audience for the commencement speaker. This is even more troubling given the dynamics of an election year.

We, the faculty of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, believe it is our obligation as educators, scholars, subject matter experts, and custodians of the public trust, to communicate our displeasure and disappointment that Senator Jeff Sessions was selected to be the 2016 Commencement Speaker and recipient of an Honorary Degree. Our University should have higher expectations and can do better.

A selection of Senator Sessions’ record is summarized below:

  • Long history voting against choice in women’s healthcare issues
  • Against research using embryonic stem cells
  • Supports abstinence only sex education for teens
  • Supports criminalizing doctors for performing legal procedures he disagrees with
  • Voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act
  • Voted for constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
  • Voted to support increased penalties for drug offenses (primarily penalizes minorities)
  • Voted against most federal funding programs for education & HHS projects
  • Voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases
  • Voted against tax incentives supporting energy conservation
  • Voted against including global climate change in federal project planning
  • Voted against ban on oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
  • Voted to defund renewable and solar energy projects 
  • Voted in support of voter ID laws
  • Voted against funding for National Endowment for the Arts
  • Voted against ban on high-capacity magazines for guns (>10 bullets)
  • Voted to prohibit lawsuits against gun manufacturers by private citizens
  • Voted against background checks at gun shows
  • Voted against ban on chemical weapons
  • Voted for immigration bill that requires 700 mile border fence
  • Supports government services in English only
  • Voted against tax deductions for college tuition
  • Voted to prohibit reestablishment of the “Fairness Doctrine”
  • Refuses to hold Constitutionally mandated hearings in support of Supreme Court nominee
  • Rated 0% by NARAL (indicating an anti-womens health voting record)
  • Rate 20% by the ACLU (indicating an anti-civil rights voting record)
  • Rated 7% by NAACP (indicating an anti-affirmative action record)
  • Rated 20% by NEA (indicating an anti-public education record)
  • Rated A+ by the NRA (indicating pro-gun rights record)
  • Rated 0% by APHA (indicating anti-public health record)
  • Rated 0% by AFL-CIO (indicating anti-union record)
  • Before being elected Senator, Sessions was rejected for the federal judiciary after being nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1986. The reasons are long but include his opinion that the ACLU and NAACP are “un-American” and “communist” organizations, his tacit approval of the Klu Klux Klan, and reference to african american staffer(s) as “boy”.

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