To University of Oregon officials, it was a straightforward matter of enforcing a rule prohibiting any personal expressions on state-owned vehicles. But to conservative activists nationwide, it has become a call to arms.
The university ordered a delivery driver to remove the "Support Our Troops" decal he had placed on the truck he drove. The decal was up for several months, but officials learned of it only recently, when another employee reported it.
As word of the decision has spread -- online and especially on conservative talk shows -- the university has been deluged with furious e-mail messages and phone calls.
Dave Frohnmayer, president at Oregon, issued a statement  in which he noted that the university has alumni, students, and employees serving in Iraq. "Of course, we support them and have great concern for their well being, as we do for all U.S. troops," he said.
But he said that state rules are state rules -- and he noted that the university acted about a decal on a state-owned vehicle, not an employee's own car. He stressed that the action had nothing to do with the content of the decal.
"Because the university is a state agency, I cannot make distinctions or allowances on this matter, regardless of the cause or the breadth of its support. Whether the message is 'Support Our Troops,' 'Fund Cancer Research' or 'Support Tsunami Relief,' employees may not place personal stickers or magnets on state-owned vehicles.
If the student newspaper at Oregon is any indication, the statement may not quell the controversy. An editorial  Wednesday in the paper said, "Nice job throwing those obscure bureaucratic rules back in the face of that patriotic sucker. Congratulations. You are on firm legal ground. But, Dave, if ever there was a time when the rules were meant to be broken, this was the time. Sometimes common sense and decency must trump the letter of the law."
"The decision itself isn't half as infuriating as the fact that somebody actually complained about a yellow ribbon. Is that how we do things now?" the editorial continued. "This is the senseless crap that is killing the university."