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Learning from the Pacifica Forum

Earlier this week I had the great fortune of sitting down with both Vice President Robin Holmes and President Richard Lariviere. At the time these meetings were scheduled two weeks ago, there remained an array of unanswered questions in regard to the Pacifica issue, including and not limited to: much misinformation about the stances of the University, misunderstanding regarding the legal rights and causality regarding the Forum, a multitude of smear tactics and intolerance displayed by both sides, misquotation and misrepresentation of our university administration.

Since two weeks ago, much has happened. A Student Senate resolution was declined, a protest was outraged, and a hideous act of vandalism was induced. I was worried, perhaps erroneously, that these events could have clouded the judgment of our institution like they have clouded judgment of many protesters and student body (much of the student body still thinks “Pacifica Forum” is a “Neo-Nazi Group,” hence the populace of the “Anti-Pacifica” Facebook group).

I am humbled and relieved at the remarkable objectivity and forward thinking of our administration. I now know that it was unfair of me to equate the mental capacity of our university officials with the riotous aggrandized assertions of some undergraduate protests; I irrationally feared that the UO would get swept away in the deep rooted emotion of many of the students, a very alluring mentality.

I may say with confidence now that my fear has been put to rest.

Realists–the things that I am about to say are absolutes. They are not arguable, they are not protestable (which I recognize is not a word, but Shakespeare made up words so I will too). They are the actions that the University of Oregon is obligated and passionate about implementing or refusing, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.

First and foremost, as of right now the Pacifica Forum will NOT (repeat NOT) be eradicated from this campus by the University of Oregon.  The administration, along with nearly every person familiar with the Pacifica issue, sympathizes with those who are morally strained. We sympathize with those who have been the target of hate speech and repugnant language. We are committed to making all persons (not just students) who have been in undesirable contact with irrational racists, sexists, or bigots feel empowered: feel safe: feel free to express themselves against such hatred: feel liberated.

It was made clear to me that eradicating Pacifica, even if they may promote or allow or encourage extremist thought, is not the solution to empower those hurt and affected. The concepts of bigotry and racism are not new to this community and not the sole responsibility of Pacifica. Removing Pacifica will not amend this hate. Next, a First Amendment group will be founded by a current faculty and will create protest, then founded by a student, then founded by another community member. Combating bigotry cannot be done in a single act of legal pressure, it will always remain. Chopping off the head of the Pacifica Forum is not the solution, it is a band-aid:  it is a band-aid that results in heavy lawsuit.

The reason, realists, that the UO administration cannot kick off a group of this nature from campus is because it is illegal to do so. This is not up for debate. It literally, absolutely, completely and fervently violates the First Amendment rights of the Pacifica Forum unless sufficient evidence of incitement to violence (as illustrated in my last article) is obtained. The University stands in solidarity with the Student Senate in recognizing that the evidence presented by protesters is not sufficient. If the UO were to attempt extermination, the violation of Pacifica member’s rights will result in a lawsuit that far towers any number of funds OSPRIG usurps or that the surplus fund accumulates. Combined.

Both Lariviere and Holmes vehemently affirmed an important concept that is often overlooked–Pacifica is not and will never be a University sanctioned group. The relationship of Pacifica and the UO is a tactic that even Pacifica seems to promote: that the University is letting them, specifically, be here. There is no, zip, zero relationship between the university and Pacifica. Subsequently, policies of conduct within the university mission are not applicable to Pacifica. Regardless of the concept of lawsuit, the UO has zero jurisdiction to remove the group from campus for anything that they are saying or doing. And, because Pacifica is being housed on a government-funded institution (at least, 8% of a government-funded institution, but that’s a different conversation), the laws that are applicable to Pacifica are literally the state laws. The only UO policy that is applicable to Pacifica are the blanketing use-of-space policies–policies that are currently under reformation to include emeritus-related groups (PS: to any proteseor who ever said the emeritus “free use of space policy” was unwritten and could not be found, you’re very wrong. It’s very real). However, these use-of-space policies cannot legally barrier speech conduct: they are nothing more than a contract that would require Pacifica to supply proper liability insurance, sign waivers, pay for extra expenses when needed, etc. These are the same exact policies that President Obama had to adhere to when he spoke on campus in 2008.

The Student Senators are not cowards who have neglected their own free speech rights. The UO administration has not “turned its back on the protest” or “taken a side” as protestors like Devon Schlotterbeck and others have advertised. The Student Senate, the UO Administration, and all other like-minded thinkers stand unified and prideful in an objective, legal and neutral stance. For those of you balancing on the extreme stances, for or against the protest, the neutral stance can often look like an opposing attack from your point of view. I, like the administration and Senate, have received displeasure and aggression from both sides of the Pacifica issue; when one is so far to the extreme, even the middle ground seems far away and contrary. Our neutral stance legally recognizes and promotes all forms of thought. We morally reject all forms of intolerance, including intolerance directed toward the beliefs of neo-Nazis and vice-versa. We respect the laws that allow the protest itself to occur, the very same laws that allow the Forum to continue. We condemn and prosecute the poor behavior. We celebrate and acknowledge speech in all forms, even if we don’t agree with it.

Friends, there are some things we cannot change. I cannot convince some of you that the information I have provided above is absolute, regardless of Senate ruling or protest. I cannot convince some of you that Pacifica is not affiliated with the University. I cannot convince some of you morally that there is a place for flagrant ideologies in our society, whether we agree with them or not. But if we strip away our legal disputes, our political affiliation, our implementation of policy… you will find that we are, each of us in our own way, all correct in what we advocate for. There is no right or wrong ideal to employ, no policy on high that proclaims Judaism over Islam, Communism over Fascism, Democracy over Republic, even Hate over Love. We cannot accuse another of fallacy or smear them because of their ideology! We cannot pass ideological policies and bills so that we would all adhere to the same principles within our institution! We cannot fight the intolerant by promoting further intolerance! (It should be noted of the three previous exclamatory statements that: yes, we could. I just happen to think doing so would be really inhumane and hypocritically corrupt, not qualities I want of my University).

Do  you know what happens when we have a large collective of intelligent, opinionated persons who are all correct in their own perspective is? The foundation of compromise. I recognize that for many of you this issue has become more about the fight itself than it is about the solution; again, perhaps I cannot convince you. But I implore you to turn your back on fighting; the fight is not going to change the outcome. I implore you to find education in this situation, so that we may be better armed people in the future for events such as this. None of us, from Pacifica or the protest or otherwise have even talked with one another. None of us know if Pacifica is willing to invite speakers from opposite perspectives, or even house thoughts that are zealous from within the protest itself. None of us know if Pacifica is willing to reject the speakers that make us feel unsafe. Inflammatory dialog is what created this problem, realists, and respectful dialog is what will end it. Without dialog, this issue will never resolve.

This is not about hate. This is not about safety. This is not about eradication. This is not about crime. This, all of this, is about fundamental ideals: the privilege that each of us is granted as United States citizens. Does the concept of disputing intolerance between the factions of “I don’t like Judaism” vs. “I don’t like people who don’t like Judaism” seem just as unproductive and ironic to you as it does to me? Shouldn’t we be striving for productivity, within the confinements that our legal system and University policies allow?

Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m tired of the blind accusations and smear tactics and propaganda. Maybe I’m worried that another peaceful campus office will be vandalized. Maybe I’m upset that the conduct of the protest has lead to more misinformation by the general public than it has lead to success (the very fact that many students are speculating that the vandalizing of LGBTQA was a political stunt by the protest, regardless of who the perpetrators actually were, is a testament to the predominate amount of ill behavior exercised during protesting). Maybe I’m sympathetic with the stress and frustration that I know our senate and administration have dealt with. Maybe I’m just a crazy idealist.

Maybe I refuse to believe in a community that exists without conciliation.

  1. Tony says:

    Emotional baggage might be an inaccurate way of responding, but I will say this much at least:

    Evan pretty much nailed the responses.

    Continue to protest them and their message! But recognize clearly that by claiming their moral dysfunction is suitable means to jettison their constitutional rights and to throw them off campus in direct contradiction of their first amendment rights would break the system that gives you that same right to protest them on the basis of their moral messages.

  2. Pat & Al Plambeck says:

    We admire you for your convictions and the courage to expound them. Keep up the good work1

  3. Chad says:

    Very well put.

    Having had my head in a chemistry book for the last year, I walked by the rally and didn’t even know what was going on.

    It’s good to know that people like you Mr. Thomas, and those who have taken the time to comment on your article, and apparently the ASUO senate are still out there fighting the good fight. This is why I read The Commentator. Spot on.

  4. dc says:


    dc says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    February 4, 2010 at 8:43 am


    The students are

  5. C.T. Behemoth says:


  6. Kara says:

    Passion for what’s right and wrong is not emotional baggage- it’s arguing for what I think is correct or morally good.

  7. Betz says:

    Nice article, Evan. Just one question: How did you obtain access to Obama’s speech-writer?

    Do you think that this article would be deleted if it were posted onto the anti-PF Facebook page? Me thinks so … at this point, the protest kind of exists for and of itself: they are a protest group that exists just for the sake of protesting.

    but by arguing for free speech, you are in turn arguing for the Pacifica Forum to exist on our campus, regardless of what you think of the forum.

    I think that was the entire point …

    Re-read it again – but this time, check your (emotional) baggage at the front gate.

  8. Evan P. Thomas says:

    “you are in turn arguing for the Pacifica Forum to exist on our campus, regardless of what you think of the forum.”


    “I don

  9. dc says:


    The students are “appalled and offended” by what they THINK they know about the Forum.

    You do a fair job of outlining what you think “neo-nazi beliefs” might be– now (if you would) then, please explain what “Pacifica Forum beliefs” and “ideals” are…

    As soon as you can, please~ so that we can then compare ’em!

    If the PF were to leave campus, as you suggest, we would be succumbing to the result of a (most extravagant and industrious) perception-management campaign. Would a choice such as that, be a “moral” one, in your eyes (and heart)?

  10. Kara says:

    I agree that this article was very well written, but by arguing for free speech, you are in turn arguing for the Pacifica Forum to exist on our campus, regardless of what you think of the forum. I do understand the rights to free speech that the forum posses, but I don’t understand why my tuition that supports the running of the emu, supports the forum’s meeting space. If they want to meet, that’s absolutely fine, and they have the right to free speech, and to congregate, but do they have the right to do it on a state university’s campus when most if not all of the students of that institution are appalled and offended by the Pacifica Forum? I don’t support their purpose at all, but my tuition does against my will, and to me that’s wrong. Also, the swastika painted on the carpet, how can you think that having the Pacifica Forum on our campus couldn’t have encouraged that? Another problem that I had was when you said, “There is no right or wrong ideal to employ, no policy on high that proclaims Judaism over Islam, Communism over Fascism, Democracy over Republic, even Hate over Love. We cannot accuse another of fallacy or smear them because of their ideology!” There is a right or wrong when it comes to neo-nazi beliefs, because they stand for all sorts of prejudice that are illegal and morally wrong- and comparing neo-nazis to the problems of religion differences, or political differences, or to love and hate (in which hate is wrong), is to almost make the problem seem smaller than it is. I’m not accusing them of fallacy because they have ideals, but because their ideals are offensive and destructive to this campus. If they want to promote and discuss their ideals, just have them do it somewhere else. Our campus is too forward in equality for all to have a Pacifica Forum be supported here. If they left, everyone would be happier, so why don’t they? They are most certainly not supported or wanted here!

    -Kara Strickland

  11. Sandy W. says:

    Really good job Evan. I hope you were there tonight. That was the best legislation I have been a part of on the Senate. Thanks for your coverage.

    Sandy Weintraub

  12. G-dawg says:

    A well written article, unfortunately, most of the people who would benefit from reading it are probably too busy trying to stage their next protest of PF.

  13. george beres says:

    Length aside, the Thomas piece cleared the air. What almost everyone does not realize is that a Zionist (my word) rabblerouser saw the single unfortunate Pacifica program (Marr’s Sieg Heils) as his chance (after four years of failure) to publicly indict Pacifica. Students have been misled by his ruse. As a result, free speech on campus is threatened.

  14. UO Matters says:

    Well said, Mr. Thomas.

  15. Monica says:

    This is probably the best article on the OC, and definitely the best commentary on the Pacifica Forum, I’ve read. And that’s saying something.

  16. Java says:

    Evan, you need straightening out on some details here, but you’re definitely my kind of crazy.

  17. Fisher says:

    Well written. Nicely done.

  18. Alex McCafferty says:

    Well done.

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