Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Rape of the Hall of Flags

In the dark of night, on the night of 6-10 May, 2006, University of Texas at Arlington President Spaniolo had the flags that have been present in the College of Engineering's Hall of Flags for years removed. This is the end result of numerous protests by Americans of Vietnamese extraction and Vietnamese expatriates from all over the State of Texas, and organized by some who are not even Texas residents, much less connected to UTA.

The protests resulted when the International Students' Organization on campus began using the current flag of Vietnam to represent Vietnamese national students. Until then, the flag of the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam (old South Vietnam) had been used. This was clearly an ill-advised move on the part of ISO, but has nothing to do with the College of Engineering. Shortly after the initial ISO fiasco, students from the current (Socialist Republic of) Vietnam who recognize the new flag as the flag of their nation, requested their flag be hung with the other 100+ flags representing students who have attended the College of Engineering in the past. Although frequently claimed by the Americans of Vietnamese extraction, the old flag was never removed from the Hall of Flags.

The rules for the Hall of Flags, which was started in 1988 are simple:

1. Any College of Engineering international student may request the hanging of his country's current official flag. This is normally done once a year, during the International Week celebration, but is not an ISO function.

2. Only one student request is required.

3. Once flags are hung, they will not be removed.

4. American students (which includes the vast majority of students of Vietnamese extraction in the college) are represented by the flags of the State of Texas and/or the Flags of the United States of America.

5. There are no other rules or qualifications.

The flags themselves simply represent the students. Had they represented politics, as claimed by the protestors, none could be hung, as every flag hung would offend some. This act is simply political correctness run amuck.

Although Spaniolo initially backed leaving all of the flags in place, he backed down after 19 Texas legislators threatened to block funding for a long-overdue and badly needed new engineering building. The legislators were led by one Hubert Vo, State Representative from Houston, aided chiefly by Representative Toby Goodman of Arlington. These men, when their requests were rebuffed resorted to the potentially illegal ploy of threatening the new building's funding.

Spaniolo's response was to remove ALL of the flags rather than just the Vietnamese flag. (This is still supposed to be a country where all are equal, and his view was that removing only one was an act of discrimination against one group of students.)

This act was done under cover of darkness, apparently after students - who might have objected - were excluded from the building. This was also in the middle of final exam week. Many students reported being extremely upset at the action.

By Thursday night, students of the College of Engineering had already implemented a website for discussion of the issue and for the collection of signatures for an online petition. This website was quickly commandeered by the protestors, led by Tom Ha ("chair of the Dallas Vietnamese-American Community") and Michael Do ("President of Vietnamese Veterans Association of Austin"). From what we can tell at this point, Tom Ha has no connection to the College of Engineering; we have confirmed that Michael Do has no connection.

Because the ringleaders have hijacked the original forum, this form is being established for these express purposes:

* Suggestions on how to get this travesty reversed.

* Logging of events as they occur.

* Encouraging and reporting counter-protests.

Please note that, to prevent another case of hijacking, this forum is moderated. You will have to become a member, and membership will not be approved unless you can prove to the moderator's satisfaction that you have a legitimate connection to the UTA College of Engineering - staff, faculty, student or alum.

The moderator is a 1978 graduate of the IE department.


Blogger John Welborn said...

I think that the next step should be to ask people to write letters to Toby Goodman, Hubert Vo and Chris Harris. (Any others?) As I don't think any display of diversity can exist while it is acceptable to exclude a group, the only option I see is to move the power balance away from threatening UTA over the Hall of Flags display.

However, I am not sure if the capitol office or the distric office is the best place for a written letter. Methods to email are included on their respective websites.

Representative Toby Goodman

Capitol Office:
Room CAP 4N.04
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
(512) 463-0562
(512) 475-1178 Fax

District Office:
1600 E. Lamar #250
Arlington, TX 76011
(817) 460-8290
(817) 861-2125 Fax

Representative Hubert Vo

Capitol Office:
Room EXT E2.304
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
(512) 463-0568
(512) 463-0548 Fax

District Office:
7474 South Kirkwood St.
Suite 202
Houston , TX 77072
(281) 988-0212

Senator Chris Harris

Capitol Address:
The Honorable Chris Harris
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711
(512) 463-0109
(512) 463-7003 fax

District Address:
2001 E. Lamar Blvd., Ste.150
Arlington, Texas 76006
(817) 461-9109
1-866-724-0109 (toll free)
(817) 469-9652 (fax)

Sun May 28, 12:52:00 AM PDT  
Blogger John Welborn said...

Can we get in contact with the current college of engineering Vietnamese international students, especially the one that requested their countries flag raised? At the very least it would be helpful to verify that it was officially requested in a proper manner.

The idea that was raised on the debate site regarding a possible neutral flag sounds interesting. However, even if there was a consensus on this, it may just be delaying a recurrence. But it seems worth looking into.

Sun May 28, 11:04:00 PM PDT  
Blogger trethard said...

Update: Tom Ha is, indeed, an alum of the College of Engineering from the early 80s, making him a legitimately interested party.

Sun Jul 02, 08:50:00 AM PDT  

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