The library at the University of Central Arkansas has a sign that it places outside. Sometimes the sign shows routine information, such as hours. At other times, the sign includes messages celebrating various months or days that are special to some groups at the university. This month, as part of the Pride celebrations nationally, librarians placed on the sign a quote from Lady Gaga: "Being gay is like glitter. It never goes away." The library posted a photo of the sign to its Facebook page, with the message "We have so much love and respect" for "the LGBTQ members of our community." The library included a link to its compilation of relevant resources on campus and in the area.
The sign was up for one day before President Houston Davis ordered it removed.
Amid criticism, Davis sent out a campuswide email Tuesday explaining his decision.
Wrote the president, "It is a core university value that we support our entire community and its diversity. Advocating for our LGBTQ community is not only appropriate but very important. I believe that the intent of the message was to show support for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff, but it was not OK for the university sign to be used to make a personal statement or advocate for a personal viewpoint. That is the line that the sign itself crossed. Unlike our student groups or other organizations, the library is an official arm of UCA and when it 'speaks' on that sign which serves information regarding library hours, it speaks officially. We do have to be very careful that we walk the fine line between individual freedom of speech and institutional voice."
He continued by citing another problem he saw with the quote: "Timing of the sign in the summer also was considered. We have to be very mindful of the hundreds of minors that are on campus during the summer which further complicates an environment that is normally programmed for adults and our very meaningful conversations about ourselves and our world."
Reaction on the library's Facebook page has been intense and critical of the president. Students and alumni have noted that the quote was a gesture of support for gay people and asked how that was inconsistent with university policy. And the mention of young people on campus, critics wrote, suggested that the university's leader views gay equity as something from which minors should be shielded.
Wrote one alumna, "As an alum of UCA and LGBTQ, I am simultaneously proud of the library staff that created this sign and embarrassed of the administration for being so obtuse and tone-deaf. Apparently, glitter and gayness are so offensive to minors they must not be seen or spoken about. Shame on you, UCA!"
Wrote another, "Having minors on campus would actually be a perfect reason to show love, acceptance and support of all different people. Using them as an excuse to espouse bigotry is what should be banned on campus."
After many on campus criticized Tuesday's email, Davis sent another on Wednesday in which he said he was meeting groups of librarians, gay advocates and others to hear their concerns. He noted that the university supports a range of programs for gay students, even though it receives criticism from some in the state for doing so.
"It probably does not come as a surprise to many of you that we receive a limited amount of inside and a great deal of outside criticism regarding those programs," he wrote. "While I find myself defending them on a predictable annual cycle, I am proud to advocate for all of these programs and services and will always. While I know not to take the criticism personally, my professional record and the record of my leadership team does not merit some of the names that are being hurled nor the label of anti-LGBTQ."
Davis wrote that he was concerned about the way people viewed the prior day's email.
"I understand that the removal of this quote has caused fury and sadness across campus," he wrote. "My observation that the library sign is a university platform and should be reviewed as such has morphed into a debate about UCA’s values and commitment to diversity. I am very sorry that this has been the outcome and that anyone has felt unwelcome or silenced. That was certainly never my intention. We are absolutely committed to supporting our LGBTQ students and our entire campus community."