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Claim: A Saint Xavier University professor sent a scathing, condemnatory message to an Air Force Academy cadet who was seeking assistance in planning an assembly for college students.
Origins: This story pretty much tells itself, so we're simply reproducing the
Every year since 1959, the United States Air Force has held an Academy Assembly, an undergraduate student conference sponsored jointly by the Air Force Academy and Columbia University's American Assembly. The purpose of the conference is to provide 160 qualified undergraduates with an opportunity to discuss a topic of international significance with prominent academics, business leaders, government officials, and non-governmental organization members.
In preparation for an upcoming Academy Assembly, in October 2002 a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet named Robert Kurpiel sent a general
Kirstein, Peter N.What Cadet Kurpiel received in response from Professor Kirstein was a scathing retort which branded military members as "baby-killers" who are "worse than the snipers" and "reign death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world," called the cadet "a disgrace to his country," and urged him to "resign your commission and serve your country with honour":
Phone Ext: 3283
Dear Sir or Ma’am
The Air Force Academy is going to be having our annual Academy Assembly. This is a forum for mainly but not only Political Science majors, discussing very important issues dealing with politics.
Right now we are in the planning stage for advertising and we would appreciate your help in the follow areas. Do you know of or have methods or ways for interschool advertising and or communications? What would be the best way for us to advertise at your school whether it is sending you the fliers and you making copies or by perhaps putting an advertisement in your local publication? We would appreciate your input and the cost of what your recommend. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Cadet Robert Kurpiel
From: Peter KirsteinAfter Professor Kirstein's caustic response was forwarded to other Academy cadets (and, inevitably, loosed on the Internet), it triggered a flood of angry complaints via
Sent: Thursday, October 31, 2002 1:46 PM
To: Kurpiel Robert C4C CS26
Subject: Re: Academy Assembly
You are a disgrace to this country and I am furious you would even think I would support you and your aggressive baby-killing tactics of collateral damage. Help you recruit. Who, top guns to reign death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world? Are you serious sir? Resign your commission and serve your country with honour....
You are worse than the snipers. You are imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us.
You are unworthy of my support.
Peter N. Kirstein
Professor of History
Saint Xavier University
Captain Jim Borders, USAFAProfessor Kirstein also placed a public statement of apology on his section of Saint Xavier University's web site:
Director, Academy Assembly
Instructor, Political Science
Dear Captain Borders,
I have expressed to Cadet Kurpiel my regrets over what I communicated to him in my
Cadet Kurpiel has sent me several generous, thoughtful and impressive
I remain respectfully yours,
Peter N. Kirstein
Professor of History
Saint Xavier University
Again I would like to apologize to all who are offended, burdened, distracted and hurt by myCaptain Borders then issued a memorandum to his cadet wing in order to close the matter:
I am opposed to war and the use of violence in resolving international conflicts while understanding many believe it is appropriate as a last resort. I believe pacifism is a noble calling and should be part of the national dialogue concerning war, peace, and justice. I recognize individuals who serve in the military deserve respect both for their service and their viewpoints. It is wrong for me or anyone to blame an individual serving in the military when the debate is over national policy. I know as a member of the academic profession that one should be respectful and not disparage a person without careful examination of fact. I have paid a great price for my lapses and I have learned from my errors.
My teaching encourages open inquiry, vigorous debate, and ideological diversity. Straight lecture is not my style of teaching. Student participation, oral reports, and oral exams are essential components of my teaching. I encourage all students to participate in class and to express their opinions and viewpoints. I do not seek intellectual compliance but open, critical inquiry. My revisionist approach to historiography and the teaching of history is intended to foster reassessment of historical events in the light of new scholarship and evolving societal standards of justice and ethics. That entails obviously comparisons to earlier scholarship as well. Teaching is a passion and I strive for excellence every time I walk into a classroom. I have won both institutional and external honors for the quality of my teaching.
I deeply regret the hurtful way I communicated to the cadet and it will never happen again.
Peter N. Kirstein, Ph.D.
November 4, 2002However, many people found Professor Kirstein's apology less than satisfactory, as evidenced by the auto-reply established for the mailbox of Saint Xavier University president
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There has been considerable attention given to an
On behalf of the Academy Assembly I accept this apology in the same sincere manner in which it was given. Furthermore, I would like to offer my own apology to
Two results of this are obvious and I want to share them with you. The first is that through well considered words and messages a situation that was initally highly inflammatory has become one in which diverse ideas can be compared and discussed; this is the essence of the Academy Assembly.
Second, though emotions have run understandably high throughout the USAFA Cadet Wing in response to this
"It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag." — Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, Sergeant, USMC
I would dare to add one thought to the above quote; that we in the military, as servants of the public, must carefully guard and cherish our relationship with the civilian community. We must always remain open and responsive to legitimate criticism that is presented in a spirit of willingness to improve the forces that guard our country and make them an institution that all Americans can take pride in. I am pleased to say that this discussion, of which many of you only saw the first portion, has moved towards that high plain.
Captain Jim Borders, USAFA
Director, Academy Assembly
Instructor, Political Science
Saint Xavier UniversityOn 15 November 2002, President Yanikoski issued a statement on the Saint Xavier University web site announcing, among other things, that Professor Kirstein had been relieved of teaching responsibilities for rest of the semester and had received an official administrative reprimand:
You have reached the Office of the President, Saint Xavier University.
I very much regret having to resort to an automated response, but I must do so for two reasons. First, messages of concern from military men and women around the world now far exceed my ability to respond to them individually. I have sent hundreds of personal replies during the past
PLEASE KNOW THAT I WILL READ AND GIVE CAREFUL CONSIDERATION TO EVERY MESSAGE THAT COMES TO ME. I TAKE THE MATTER CONCERNING PROF. KIRSTEIN VERY SERIOUSLY AND I AM CONSCIENTIOUSLY WEIGHING ALL OPTIONS AND ADVICE
Here is a brief summary of what I have heard so far, and my responses.
COMMENTS MADE TO THE UNIVERSITY
— "Prof. Peter Kirstein's initial email to a cadet at the Air Force Academy was tasteless, unprovoked, rude, unprofessional, and indefensible." I agree completely.
— "Prof. Kirstein's apologies seem less than genuine to some who have read his remarks." It always is difficult to look into a man's soul, but I believe
— "The forthcoming Academic Assembly at the Academy is an event worth supporting. It's a shame that Saint Xavier's response was so negative."
— "Prof. Kirstein has spoiled the reputation of the University, particularly if his views or the manner in which he expressed them are reflective of the University's attitude."
— "Prof. Kirstein should be summarily fired." As president, I am exploring all options for ensuring that such behavior never again occurs. While I understand why many request his immediate dismissal, I have to weigh very carefully matters of due process, academic protocol, legal precedent, and the greater good. I assure you that I will do what is right in this matter. I also will follow the University's policy of not discussing personnel matters with third parties.
— "Academic freedom is not a legitimate defense for the kind of language used by
I deeply regret the hurt that has affected so many. As both president and former USAF, I offer my most sincere apologies to all in the military and beyond whose sacrifices and intentions have been denigrated by
To those who are current or former members of the military, I offer my heart-felt gratitude for your service to the nation and I extend my personal best wishes on the occasion of Veterans Day.
Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Dr. Richard Yanikoski, President Saint Xavier University
During recent weeks Saint Xavier University has attracted national attention because a tenured professor of history sent a young Air Force Academy cadet some
From the beginning of this incident, Saint Xavier University has worked to achieve four objectives: (1) to make things right with the cadet and the Air Force Academy; (2) to respond compassionately to the anger and anguish aroused in so many quarters; (3) to counsel and discipline Professor Kirstein in appropriate ways; and (4) to ensure that teaching and learning at the University will continue unimpeded.
The following actions have been or will be taken to make things right with the cadet and the Air Force Academy: (1) Professor Kirstein sent a personal apology to the cadet and to the Air Force Academy. Subsequent correspondence between them has been open and respectful. (2) The University extended an official apology to the Academy’s Superintendent, and as president of the University, I have agreed to accept an invitation to visit the Academy within the coming year. (3) Saint Xavier University will send a delegation to the Air Force Academy’s upcoming Academic Assembly. (4) Campus officials have attempted to respond to all cadets, parents, and members of the Academy staff who telephoned or wrote to the University. Any omissions in this regard have been unintentional.
To respond compassionately to the large number of men and women who somehow received copies of Professor Kirstein’s
By far the topic of greatest interest to most people has been the University’s response to Professor Kirstein. After careful deliberation, I have decided to take the following actions on behalf of the University:
Professor Kirstein and the University community deeply regret the incident that began this chain of events. Saint Xavier University remains committed to the pursuit of teaching and learning in a campus community where all are treated with respect, caring and justice and where academic freedom is enjoyed for purpose of promoting quality teaching, careful research, critical analysis, thoughtful discussion, and programs of direct service to metropolitan Chicago and beyond.
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