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:: By Richard Mertens

:: Photos by Lloyd DeGrane

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Chicago Journal ::

Pace of progress?

General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, gave the keynote speech at the Graduate School of Business’s annual management conference in May. Wearing a pressed green uniform and standing tall before a ballroom of business leaders, professionals, alumni, and students at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, Pace offered a brief lesson on leadership: take care of your people, stick with one company, show courage, consult “your moral compass.”


As General Pace speaks about leadership in the Hyatt, protesters across the street chant against the war and against Pace’s previous statements on homosexuality.

“If you walk into a meeting and you know who you are and who you want to have a much better chance of making the right decision,” he told the audience of about 700.

Pace’s own moral compass had proven controversial. Two months before the conference, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he had compared homosexuality to adultery and called it “immoral.” His comments, in response to a question about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality, sparked an outcry in political circles, with liberals rebuking the general and conservatives rushing to his defense. (The comments also may have contributed to the Bush Administration’s June decision not to renominate him for another term after Democrats said they would raise the topic in confirmation hearings.)

At the GSB Pace’s comments prompted, at least initially, a more subdued reaction, though a good deal of private anguish among gay and lesbian students. “The statement hurt a lot of people personally, and hurt people’s friends,” said Andy Yang, president of the GSB student council. A small group of openly gay and lesbian students, called Gay and Lesbians in Business (GLiB), urged GSB Dean Ted Snyder, AM’78, PhD’84, and three deputy deans to withdraw their invitation, first in e-mails and later in private meetings. Others within and outside the University lent support. Timothy Stewart-Winter, AM’03, a PhD candidate in history, started an online petition also calling on the GSB to withdraw its invitation. Eventually 1,436 people signed, including almost 1,000 current and former GSB students, according to Stewart-Winter, and about a dozen GSB faculty.

The deans refused. In a written statement, they acknowledged that the remarks had offended many at the school and were contrary to its “longstanding and clear policy of inclusion.” But they also argued that withdrawing the invitation would violate “principles of free speech” and that an “open and inclusive community achieved by censoring people with differing points of view.” The deans promised to hold a conference in the fall to “focus on issues of inclusion and diversity” at the GSB.

In an open letter published in the GSB student paper Chicago Business, GLiB members responded that the deans had confused defending free speech with providing a platform for speech. “An offer to give a keynote address is a privilege and, often, a way universities honor a public figure,” they wrote. They invited others at the GSB “to think of what you would do if General Pace had commented about your background.”

If the GLiB letter inspired introspection, it occurred largely out of public view. The lack of open debate prompted four second-year students to make what Sandeep Ganesh called a gesture of “solidarity” with gay and lesbian students. “[W]e have noticed that our gay and lesbian community members feel increasingly abandoned or forgotten by their classmates,” Ganesh and the other students wrote in a letter that took up the front page of Chicago Business on the eve of Pace’s speech. The students also chided the GSB administration for failing to make “a more unequivocal statement of support for the gay and lesbian students.”

Members of GLiB said they did not consider themselves objects of discrimination at the GSB. They felt accepted by their peers, the faculty, and the GSB administration. Nonetheless, they said the school needed to strive harder to encourage diversity, not only with respect to gays and lesbians, but also Hispanic and black Americans, in part to reflect better the realities of American society. For example, they hoped the school would put a greater emphasis on diversity when recruiting students and faculty. Laura Barnard, a leader of the group, said, “It’s not enough to have policies.”

The controversy also forced GLiB members to ask themselves how best to make their point. “We were torn internally between should we take a confrontational approach or a more conciliatory approach,” said second-year Carlos Ontaneda. They considered organizing public protests or withholding contributions to their class’s annual gift. But in the end they rejected such tactics in favor of ones more consistent with their aspirations as future business leaders. “We hammered out something that was strong and stated our position strongly,” Ontaneda said, “but that at the same time was reasoned along lines that were able to convince people and make a persuasive case, and leave the door open to talks with the administration.”

The day Pace spoke, 30 or 40 protesters, many opposing the war, held signs and chanted across Wacker Drive from the Hyatt. Few U of C students were among them. Inside, Pace, whose son, Peter Pace Jr., is a 2006 GSB graduate, received a warm welcome. But he did not go unchallenged, about either “don’t ask, don’t tell” or the conduct of the Iraq war. When he invited questions, GLiB member Barnard spoke up first. “You talk about taking care of those under you,” she said. “How have you taken care of the nearly 2,000 gay and lesbian soldiers who have been discharged under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?”

Pace thought for a moment, then replied, “[W]ith many parts of the military life, there are issues of conformity. I do support the law of the land because it does allow those who want to serve the opportunity to do so.” The audience applauded.

For gay and lesbian students, the Pace speech was in many ways a disappointment. But they also saw “some positive elements,” Ontaneda said. Gay and lesbian students felt encouraged by the support of their fellow students and by the administration’s promise of more debate. At the end of the day, he said, “I think we’ve dealt with this issue in a way that will strengthen this community.”