Phelps can’t duck public scrutiny over hateful e-mail

Now is not the time for Student Government President Nick Phelps to go on the defensive.

He made a major mistake in using the SG executive committee listserv to pass along an inflammatory anti-Muslim e-mail, and he needs to answer to students who are rightly upset.

Offering to meet with concerned students individually, as Phelps did in a Kernel column yesterday, is not enough — especially when the column gave scant details about the source of the controversy.

By proposing one-on-one meetings instead of a public forum, Phelps seems to be assuming the number of students offended by the e-mail is small enough that he can reassure each of them individually.

But the e-mail is a public issue, and Phelps should address it publicly. The most appropriate venue would be a well-advertised open forum where students could air their concerns and discuss how to move forward.

And it is presumptuous of Phelps to ask offended students to reach out to him for his reassurances. As the student body’s elected representative, he should take the first step toward healing the wounds he helped open.

Phelps said yesterday that his forwarding of the e-mail — which says, “The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the U.S. from the inside out” — was not an endorsement of its content, but merely an attempt to spark discussion about the presidential candidates among SG executive officers.

Even so, his actions reflect a startling lack of professionalism, to say the least. As an elected official, Phelps must know that his actions, including those outside his formal duties as SG president, are subject to public scrutiny.

Sending an inflammatory e-mail without any kind of disclaimer or explanation is grossly irresponsible. As any e-mail user knows, no message is completely private, and people’s intentions are all too easy to misinterpret.

It should have occurred to Phelps that passing along a hateful e-mail without context could have consequences far outside his immediate social circle. If it didn’t, then the lessons of this week have been a long time in coming.

Now, for the campus’ sake — and his own — he needs to acknowledge the harm he’s done and begin repairing it.