A controversial email sent from Suffolk Law School professor Michael Avery to colleagues criticizing a care package drive for soldiers in Iraq has made its way through the airwaves nationally.
Avery’s email said that it was “shameful that it is perceived as legitimate to solicit in an academic institution for support for men and women who have gone overseas to kill other human beings,” among other things.
The email has since gained national attention. Fox News reported that it caused “a campus firestorm.” The coverage resulted in an explosion among right wing groups in the blogosphere and students on Facebook. Some Suffolk students have asked others to fill out “bias forms” on the Suffolk website against Avery.
Despite the negativity surrounding the issue, Ryan Getek, president of The Suffolk Veterans, said he has decided to take the high road.
“The Suffolk Veterans Organization is planning on taking a positive stance to sort of be the better person. We don’t want to say anything negative in response to Avery’s comments about us, or about our brothers in arms,” he said.
Acting President and Provost Barry Brown released a statement regarding Avery’s free speech rights. “We respect the right of our faculty members to exercise academic freedom and support all members of our community in speaking freely and expressing their opinions,” said the statement.
Brown also expressed support for the troops, saying “Suffolk University has a long and proud history of supporting our men and women who have served their country in the armed forces…”
Getek said that Brown has assured The Suffolk Veterans organization that the issue will be addressed further. “[Brown] stands behind us 110 percent,” he said, “his number one concern is our well being, and the way this academic institution is perceived.”
Many students were personally offended by the comments from Avery. Kay Barbo, a senior who plans to attend Suffolk Law School for her graduate program, is disappointed in the email.
“The main thing I’m upset about is that at a school as diverse as Suffolk, he should be able to be supportive of students regardless of their beliefs, or of his own,” she said. “It’s going to be so uncomfortable for conservative students to be in a class of his from now on. I know I’m never going to take a class with him.”
Senior Joe Paru, former president of Suffolk GOP said, “There’s a difference between free speech and hate speech. Avery’s comments have brought unwanted, negative attention to Suffolk.” Paru has family in the military, and plans to join the Navy after graduating.
The Suffolk GOP declined to comment on the events, saying that it was not an exclusively Republican issue.
Suffolk Democrat President Justin Dulak also released a personal statement, but also stressed that this did not reflect the views of his organization.
“While the remarks made by Professor Avery were extreme, he has sparked an important dialogue around Suffolk; every person, professor, student, administrator or otherwise, has the right to express a personal opinion regardless of its popularity,” he said. “Further, it is important to note that he did not communicate this opinion from his ‘bully pulpit’ of the classroom, but in a private piece of correspondence. I support the military, but I do also realize that it is a career decision for each member of our volunteer forces.”
Getek said that the controversy has taken focus off of the main issue, which is collecting care packages. “We’ve been talking about Michael Avery’s comments, and we’re still losing donations on care packages.”
Getek, on behalf of the Suffolk Veterans is asking all students who have questions or comments on the issue to direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org. “Any negative remark about Avery is just fueling the fire.”
Calls to the Law School to reach Avery were referred to Interim Vice President of Marketing and Communications Greg Gatlin.
“I want to state the university’s uncompromising support for our military personnel and veterans. Professor Avery told a law school class that his comments were insensitive and I agree,” said Gatlin.
“We support First Amendment rights of our entire community including students, faculty, and staff. But Professor Avery’s comments do not reflect the beliefs of Suffolk University,” he continued. “No one opinion or perspective should be taken as representative of the views of the whole community.”
Jeff Fish of Journal Staff also contributed to this report.