ROCK flags go up slowly, finally|
By Ben Baird
After a delay of four days, the first of 250 American flags purchased by a campus student group was hung in an auditorium classroom on Friday.
Following months of deliberation of a flag funding bill by the SGA Senate, who eventually voted it down, the conservative student group Rebuilding on a Conservative Kornerstone, ROCK, raised the money to buy the flags itself. Through private donations of $3,140 raised on the Shannon Burke radio show, ROCK purchased 250 American flags, one for every UCF classroom.
When ROCK began its quest to place the flags, the UCF Administration agreed to allow the hanging, which the Physical Plant would install for free.
UCF President John Hitt sent an e-mail to the student body Thursday, explaining the university's support of the flags, despite protests from some students and faculty.
"The choice is, for me, simple and compelling," Hitt's letter read. "UCF will accept and proudly display the flags in our classrooms. In doing so, we affirm our flag as a powerful unifying symbol. It belongs to all Americans, right, left, center, or undecided. It must not be co-opted as the symbol of any one group or party."
In an e-mail sent to Hitt Wednesday by UCF students Emily Ruff, Matt De Vlieger, Jonathan Leto and Daire Seaman, the students questioned Hitt's plans for dealing with any teacher objections to the flags. "Will the faculty be punished for removing the flag, if they so choose, while they are using the classroom?" the students asked, followed with a question about the consequences of anyone removing or damaging the flags.
The students wrote, "We are not against the flag, we are not unpatriotic, we are not anti-American. We simply wish to hold administrators accountable for their decisions ... ."
The letter asked Hitt why the faculty senate wasn't consulted before he decided to take a stance.
Hitt's e-mailed response explaining UCF's position closely matched the letter sent to the student body Thursday. Most questions asked by the students were not addressed.
Hitt defended his authority to make the decision to allow the flag installation, though.
"Because I am convinced that this is properly a decision for the university president to make, I did not consult with either the student government or the faculty senate," the e-mail read. Hitt noted that the SGA president and vice president supported the flag installations.
Installation of the flags was set for Sept. 7, but Physical Plant Director Dick Paradise moved the date after local media asked for a set time so they could attend the first hanging.
That first flag was hung on Friday in room 104, an auditorium in Classroom Building I. The flag flies above the room's computerized lectern; it juts out into the room, capped by a bald eagle.
However, the flags may not be very visible for two to three weeks as the Physical Plant will hang them when students aren't in the classrooms, and when the Plant can fit it into workman schedules.
"We've already got people assigned to these buildings who are on payroll, and so in between their other duties they can hang these flags and keep our cost minimal," said William Merck, UCF vice president for administration and finance.
There is no set order for the installations; flags could go into classrooms randomly.
Brett Hoffman of the maintenance staff hung the first flag. Hoffman, a mechanic, said he didn't have any feelings on whether the flags were good for the classrooms - he said he's just there to do his job.
Taking perhaps a more cheerful stance was Heather Smith, president of ROCK. "This is a great day for UCF students," she said. "We finally have flags in the classrooms."
Smith said ROCK's next goal will be to set up a fund to raise money for flag installations on other campuses.
"We're currently working on a fund for flags for students because a lot of students across the country have shown a lot of enthusiasm for bringing flags into their classrooms," Smith said. She added that she's gotten inquiries from students in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington and even the historically liberal University of California at Berkeley. The students contacted her after seeing stories about ROCK on the national news.
Controversy still surrounds the flags' funding, as the money for the flags was raised by controversial radio talk show host Shannon Burke.
Burke has come under fire by a Web site called stopshannon.com, which quotes him as saying "It is impossible to be a good Muslim and not be a terrorist," and other inflammatory statements.
Smith, however, defends Burke, and the use of his show, saying that those quotes are misleading. "If people educated themselves on Shannon Burke they would know that he's just a good citizen trying help a student group out."
"Shannon Burke is none of those things. He's on the cover of September's magazine of the Islamic Society of Central Florida," Smith said. "He regularly works with the Muslim community in charities."
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