Despite the controversy surrounding General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over anti-gay comments he made to the Chicago Tribune on March 12, leaders of the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) decided several weeks ago not to retract Pace’s invitation to give the keynote address at the GSB’s 55th Annual Management Conference, which was held on May 18 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 151 E. Wacker.
Pace’s comments outraged many and, in Chicago, a heated debate has been raging over whether the deans at the GSB have handled the situation correctly and in-line with the principles of the school by not retracting Pace’s invitation, with faculty, staff, students and alumni standing on both sides of the argument.
Over 1,400 people signed a petition asking that Harris Bank, sponsor of the event, and the GSB cancel Pace’s appearance at the management conference. About 750 of those signatures were gathered in the first three days of the petition’s existence.
LGBT community members have also been taking a stand against the schools decision not to rescind the invitation. The Gay and Lesbian Network, along with several other co-sponsors, scheduled a protest for the same day as General Pace’s appearance.
Efforts to change the GSB deans’ decision in regards to Pace’s appearance at the conference were met with a statement issued on April 21 by deans Stacey Kole, Richard Leftwich, Ted Snyder and Mark Zmijewski. The statement read, in part, that “The Deans considered, carefully and at length, alternative courses of action in response to Gen. Pace’s statements, including whether to retract the invitation or leave it stand. While retracting the invitation to Gen. Pace might be the easier course of action, it could suggest a lack of confidence in the strength of our community and culture; and it goes against principles of free speech, which we value greatly. Moreover, convergence to an open and inclusive community cannot, in our view, be achieved by censoring people with differing points-of-view. Our bottom-line view is that we become a stronger institution by including people with wide-ranging views and encouraging dialogue. We therefore chose to leave the invitation stand.”
The University of Chicago GSB Gays & Lesbians in Business (GLIB) issued a statement on May 3 in response to the deans’ decision, pointing out that “there is a distinction between free speech and extending the privilege of a keynote address in a setting in which no debate takes place.”
In an e-mailed response to Windy City Times’ questions regarding their decision, Dean Snyder said, “The debate, the discussions, the dialogue, the petition, and the protests are the kinds of outcomes that are anticipated by adherence to the approach outlined in the University’s Kalven Report. Within the context of a difficult issue, we feel much more comfortable in allowing dialogue to continue within the community rather than in taking top-down actions to limit speech.”
Harris Bank also stands by its decision to continue to sponsor the event. A bank official e-mailed that “[w]e are pleased to sponsor University of Chicago’s Annual Management Conference, a sponsorship we signed on for back in September. We do not support General Pace’s view points.” The statement went on to point out, “Last year we contributed to more than 1,700 different organizations including religious groups, civic groups, the arts, community restoration, gay and lesbian groups, including the 2006 Gay Gamesthe list is widely varied reflecting the diverse nature of the communities we serve.”
With his invitation firmly in place, Pace addressed the gathered crowd of future and present business leaders.
Pace spoke for 15 minutes, discussing four main points, including the importance of learning to make decisions and to be courageous, the latter of which includes checking one’s moral compass.
He then opened the floor for audience questions, and the first question struck right into the heart of the controversy Pace’s words started a few months prior. “A question to your last point of advice,” one attendee said. “You talk about taking care of people. How do you take care of the nearly 10,000 gay and lesbian soldiers who have been discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”
Pace responded, “I think it’s important for a nation to give all who want to serve the opportunity to serve, and I think our armed forces are well served through diversity in many respects. We have the law of the land, which was developed in 1993-1994, and it allows all citizens who want to serve our country in the military to have that opportunity. As with many parts of military life, there are issues of conformity and the law addresses that as well. I do support the law of the land, because it does give those who want to serve the opportunity to do so.”
Of the seven remaining questions, three dealt with Iraq, one being how to best support the troops and the second being how do we know if the surge is working, and the third whether or not Pace’s time is best spent at a conference such as this, while the other four were directly about management and leadership.
Meanwhile, outside, protesters carried signs and discussed the issues surrounding Pace’s visit and previous statement.
Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network said, “My personal feeling is not so much that Pace’s invitation should have been retracted, it’s that the university should have set up a debate between him and pro gay forces on the whole issue of the war and the issue of employment discrimination. I think actually they would have found that Gen. Pace, in spite of all the military macho posturing, would not have consented to such a debate, and I think it would have been more fruitful to people to actually see that.
“Both U of C and Harris Bank chatter a lot about inclusion, but the fact that they’ve invited this guy not once, but twice, to keynote their event says something about their true inclusion.
“We’re basically protesting because this man who has presided over the killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis has the gall to lecture us about morality, us meaning LGBT folks. I find that particularly insulting, that this man calls us immoral, citing his alleged Christian beliefs in doing so, and yet, this is a man who has violated ‘Thou shall not kill’ a few hundred thousand times. A John Hopkins University study has found that the American invasion and occupation has caused 655,000 deaths of Iraqis, not to mention, of course, 3,300 American deaths. We think this is an issue of morality in terms of that and employment discrimination.”
Brenda Verdi, a protester and a member of the transgender community, said, “We’re here to protest that there are members of our government appointed by our elected officials that are transmitting messages of hate and polarization to this country. They’re using their positions as soapboxes for their own moral agenda, and the morality as assumed by a certain individual is not government policy, it should never be.”
Jason Knight, who was discharged twice under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and decided to speak up after hearing Pace’s comments, was also present at the protest. [Knight was invited to speak on the same day as Pace by the Center of Gender Studies, NELC and the Divinity School, in a response to General Pace]. He told WCT that, regarding Pace’s thoughts, “I feel that everybody is entitled to their own opinion but, as a leader, he’s supposed to be supporting his troops, and being that there are 65,000 gays and lesbians in our military, he’s segregated a whole section of people. I honestly think they want an apologythat he owes an apology.”
Knight also said that he was out to others while serving and did not encounter adversity because of that. As far as Pace as a leader, Knight said, “I think everybody has their failures and their times when they slip up and he just owes an apology. I mean he’s a leader, he is a good leader, and he made a mistake, and I think he just needs to apologize for that.
Conference attendees were certainly aware of the controversy and the protest that was taking place simultaneously.
When asked about his reaction to the GSB’s decision not to cancel Pace’s address, one man told WCT, “I think the point is that this is a leadership conference and it’s talking about leadership styles and leadership philosophies. … I find that the university has consistently been inclusionary on the various speakers. We have had presidents come and speak to us that have very questionable human rights records, we’ve had business people that have been put in jail for insider trading, and we listen to them, we learn from them and we learn about them; that’s part of being in that position of leadership, which we hope to be in. … I don’t think that you have to agree with those comments; you can still come here and learn and learn about leadership.
“As far as the protest, I think we’re aware of it, to tell you the truth, as I walked by there was mostly war protesters, which I sort of expected. I don’t necessarily link the comments to what we’re talking about here. … He is in a position of leadership and we have good leaders and bad leaders, we have leaders we don’t always agree with but they’re still in a position of leadership.
… Overall, I think it’s a consistent message that we allow people who have different things in their past and have different philosophies. We listen to them and I think we’re educated enough and should be in a position to then take those comments and put them in the right spot. I don’t think one position makes the entire leadership irrelevant.”
Prior to Pace’s address, he met with two separate groups in closed door meetings, one of former military members and the other U. of C. student leaders.
The three co-chairs of GLIB were present at this meeting, and according to Laura Barnard, they had the opportunity to ask General Pace four questions. Barnard said about the meeting, “Obviously we didn’t expect Gen. Pace to change his opinion on the spot, but we were pleased in the fact that we feel he did listen to what we had to say and that it was on some level a productive and open dialogue. So in that respect, we were glad that we had the meeting. … Hopefully, somewhere in there, some change is starting to occur.”
Barnard said Pace’s responses were similar to what he said during the question and answer portion of the conference.
About Pace’s address, Barnard said, “ ‘Take care of your people,’ but not certain people … I thought there were some great points … but then at the end, when he said that, I felt personally affronted.”
On the phone before the event Barnard said, “Our goal in the longer term, as long as we’re co-chairs, is to raise awareness of the problems facing the LGBT community within the GSB and the greater business community and to take this extremely painful experience and derive positive change from it. The GSB is on my resume and is a brand that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I don’t want this place to become seen as anti-gay or anti-Black or anti-Hispanic or whatever minority group it might be. I believe it’s a great institution… .
Yes, I believe this is an issue that is on the minds of prospective students and in the next few weeks, months going forward, what positive change can come from this? How is the GSB going to grow in order to attract these candidates? Because we will lose them to other top schools no doubt, and we will lose our number-one ranking if it’s not a place whose diversity reflects the diversity of the greater business community.”
The GSB deans have announced plans to hold a fall conference that they say will “focus on issues of inclusion and diversity within the GSB community.”