Edition 1

McMaster lecture draws controversy from student groups

Outrage exploded on social media when former national security advisor HR McMaster was announced as Susan Resnick Pierce Lecturer

The Susan Resneck Pierce Lecture in Public Affairs and the Arts normally invites esteemed speakers such as Jed S. Rakoff and Valerie Jarrett to campus. This year, however, the student body was less than pleased about who the university chose to speak: H.R. McMaster. 

McMaster has a long history of working for the military, from his time in the Gulf War to teaching at West Point. Most notably, there are a multitude of human rights violations against him. When he was a commander in the second Iraq war, he oversaw a detainee camp. The conditions for the prisoners were reportedly abhorrent. Prisoners were apparently not given food and water, and it seemed that they were not allowed to go to the bathroom. After his time in Iraq, McMaster served as the United States National Security Advisor from 2017 to 2018. He, however, was dismissed from this position. 

Many students spoke out against the choice of McMaster for the lecture. Despite the negative feedback, the university chose to have McMaster speak. The Susan Resneck Pierce Lecture was held via Zoom on Sept. 8. 

In response to a student email asking why McMaster was being allowed to speak at campus, President Isiaah Crawford said, “We endeavor to bring to campus speakers with a wide variety of views, experiences, and ideas. The intention is to challenge assumptions, expose us to new ideas, and gain perspective on disparate approaches and decision-making that shape the items in which we live.”

Multi Identity-Based Union posted an Instagram post explaining their dislike of McMaster, as well as condemning the way the school has handled the backlash. In response to President Crawford’s email, MIBU said, “Personally, we think that students can be exposed to new ideas, gain perspective, and be healthily challenged in our dimensions of thought by speakers and individuals who have zero human rights violation allegations attached to their name.” Many students reposted MIBU’s post to show their support.  

MIBU also spoke up on Facebook. In a post, the club said,  “President Isiaah Crawford has defended this choice multiple times when approached with mutual concerns about giving a war imperialist with human rights allegations a platform to speak at our university. He has justified the choice on the basis of ‘freedom of speech’ and because of the fact that ‘we’ve had this planned for months.’”

Many other students had opinions about the lecture as well. Senior Hugh Schmidt said that they were surprised when they found out the university was asking McMaster to speak based on his past in the second Iraq war. 

“I was angry that the University of Puget Sound, a school that has this progressive reputation, would pay one of the facilitators of this war likely tens of thousands of dollars,” Schmidt said. “This is a guy who has built his wealth, career, fame, by standing atop the bodies of a hundred thousand dead Iraqis — and we’re paying him to promote his book.”

In a Facebook post Liv Reintsma said, “It doesn’t seem like the least bit of research was done on this guy. Or worse, the research WAS done and the allegations were ignored by the university staff in charge of hiring him. And it’s not just a matter of letting him share his opinions and taking up this space, he’s being paid a LOT to do so.”

Some students felt that even more should have been done to change the university’s mind about having McMaster speak. “Honestly, we didn’t raise enough concern over him being here,” senior Maija Peterson said in a Facebook post. “His talk will be a slap in the face to all the work BIPOC students and faculty have been doing this summer. They should have brought in a speaker to speak on the revolution that is going on right now.”

Not only was the student body disappointed in the university’s reaction to allowing McMaster to speak, but the student body was not happy with the lecture itself. 

“It was exactly what I’d expected — mindless, nationalistic, imperialist, warmongering drivel,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t stay in one place for too long. Everything from saying China’s handling of Covid should be compared to 9/11 as a direct attack against the US, to claiming Obama should have put troops in Syria to topple the Assad regime. He continually ignored the United States’ role in the genocide of the Iraqi people.” 

Many students were not happy with the results of the lecture or the school for hosting McMaster. In their Instagram post, MIBU stated, “During a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting underprivileged groups and racial and civil war it seems highly inappropriate to bring Lt. General H.R. McMaster, and MIBU condemns this decision.”