Op-Ed by University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan
September 9, 2009 — As the University of Wyoming nears completion of the Cheney International Center, the naming of the facility is attracting the ire of at least some people who object to the use of the Cheney name. To date, UW has received several letters and a petition signed by more than 100 individuals who believe the university has erred in its decision to name the facility after the Cheney family.
I've read the letters and the petition, and I've reviewed the list of signatories. It came as no surprise that, having lived in Wyoming for more than 30 years, I know many of those objecting to UW's decision. The list includes some good friends and colleagues who have previously admonished the UW administration to support greater diversity and increased tolerance for all views. So it is ironic that they show so little of it when confronted by a situation that challenges their own comfort zone.
I have no quarrel with people expressing their views to UW. But good universities operate on principle, and the principle here is that tolerance and diversity cut many ways. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Catholic or Protestant, gay or straight, white or black, you are welcome at the University of Wyoming. Should we subject potential donors and the purpose of their gift to public referendum? I think not.
If we do, we lose sight of the fact that our role is to teach, not to indoctrinate. Good universities cannot distance themselves from all that is controversial. To do so would require rejecting mortgage brokers, bankers, pharmaceutical firms, sports figures, fast food chains, political leaders, historical figures, energy companies, uncommon religious groups, and Middle Eastern countries to name just a few.
Accepting a gift from the Cheney family that will help integrate our international efforts and that will support study abroad scholarships for hundreds of students to come does not endorse a particular political view, it simply helps students. In fact, the gift agreement between UW and the Cheney family steers scrupulously clear of prescribing or endorsing any particular political perspective or foreign policy doctrine in the curriculum, in the selection of the scholarship recipients, or in the people UW hires. We wouldn't have it any other way.
The real danger to institutional integrity comes from persons, on either end of the political spectrum, who would bend us to adopt their particular perspective and purpose. And we simply won't have that.
The University of Wyoming is extremely grateful to the Cheney family for its philanthropy on behalf of UW students past, present and future. The Cheneys' gift was foundational in energizing UW's efforts to internationalize undergraduate education, and it was consistent with the goals set out in both of UW's first two academic plans.
In the years to come, thousand of undergraduates will benefit from better facilities and programming space as well as dramatic expansion of financial support to help students experience the benefits of study abroad. It remains the job of the University of Wyoming to provide its students with the tools to establish their own values, not to indoctrinate them with the values of others.