Sunday, April 7, 1996
Xavier, NKU handle heat differently

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Herewith, a tale of two institutions of higher learning. This will have nothing to do with athletics, so it may be confusing to you for a time. Bear with me, please.

On March 24, a beautiful sunny day, traffic was rerouted, the Cincinnati Mounted Patrol saddled up and 4,000 patriots stood in line on the campus of Xavier University to witness a visit from the president of the United States.

It was quite an occasion, just what you'd hope for. A mannerly crowd, dour Secret Service agents, a big limo. The band played Tommy Dorsey hits until it was time for ''Hail to the Chief.'' Just before that, a young man quietly affixed the presidential seal to the lectern.

High notes, wild cheers

Felisha Coady, an XU senior, sang the ''Star Spangled Banner'' the way it is supposed to be sung, that is hitting every note with a voice as clear as a bell and no free-lance warbling or weird phrasing. Mr. Clinton stepped to the microphone, and the audience cheered wildly. He is, after all, America's president and we are Americans. Outside Xavier University's Schmidt Fieldhouse, there were anti-abortion protesters and T-shirt vendors. As I say, we are Americans.

When XU's president, the Rev. James Hoff, introduced Mr. Clinton he said, ''not all Xavier students and faculty agree with you on every issue, Mr. President. They do not agree with me on every issue either.''

Father Hoff is a canny man who surely is not surprised by the considerable criticism he has received for allowing a pro-choice politician to speak on the campus of a Catholic University. He did it anyway. He thinks it's part of his job.

''An inevitable tension exists between religion and politics,'' he says ''and Xavier as a Catholic University must explore this tension if it wishes to remain both Catholic and a university.''

Now for the other university.

First, a disclaimer. For four years I was on the adjunct faculty of Northern Kentucky University's journalism department. We parted on the best of terms. I loved teaching there, was crazy about the kids. So I am not a disgruntled ex-employee.

NKU, which is not a Catholic university but a state-supported one, is having its own ''inevitable tension.'' The art department there sent out a calendar listing an exhibit called ''Immaculate Misconceptions.'' That's all it said in type smaller than what you're reading now.

''We were going to use this exhibit to talk to students about how beliefs and early experience influence the way you create art,'' Barbara Houghton, head of NKU's art department, says.

'Unacceptable, inappropriate'

The administration began to get letters of protest. Was it organized protest? ''I really don't know,'' says Peter Hollister, vice president for university relations, ''but some of the writers said things like 'you'll be hearing from others.' ''

NKU President Leon Boothe got one letter that made him sit up and take notice. It was from Kentucky state Sen. Dick Roeding, the minority (Republican) whip from Fort Mitchell, and state Rep. Royce W. Adams, D-Dry Ridge.

''Such an exhibit is totally unacceptable and inappropriate at a state university,'' they said. Now, it may be noted here that these gentlemen have not seen this art because most of it is not even finished. I guess they don't know much about art but they know what they don't like.

The administration asked the art department to change the name of the exhibit. It refused.

It may also be noted here that the university still awaits final word on its $35 million science building.

As for offending the community, Ms. Houghton says, ''that was never our intent. But we're supposed to ask questions, speak in a loud voice. That's what a university does.''

Or I guess we could make sure that our children never have to hear from anybody who disagrees with them and see what happens. We could put their education in the hands of those who count votes and test the wind. Now there's a misconception that's unacceptable and inappropriate. And offensive.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.