Even though Phelps didn’t resign, let’s keep up progress on campus

It’s been a wild week for the College Democrats. I hope you have been following the Student Government e-mail scandal this week. I believe that the events that have occurred since Feb. 4 encapsulate a larger debate being played out in the campus as a whole. Let me try to use this space this week to shed light on what has occurred from my perspective, and how the College Democrats feel that we should advance onward from this situation.

I was made aware on Feb. 4 that SG President Nick Phelps forwarded a bigoted e-mail about Barack Obama, and I met with a few campus leaders to talk about the issue. After becoming familiar with what had happened — that Phelps had sent the e-mail to an SG listserv without a disclaimer and that it had permeated the larger campus — I came to the conclusion that the best course of action would be for him to resign. On Feb. 5, I was contacted by several media outlets, including the Kernel, the Herald-Leader and WFPK radio in Louisville, and shared with them my opinion. That same night, UK College Democrats met in order to determine our course of action. We voted, and save one officer, we were all in favor of calling for Phelps’ resignation. We wrote him a letter and delivered it to him the next day.

When we delivered the letter to him on Feb. 6, it became obvious that his resignation was off the table. Phelps was very polite in his meeting with us, and although we had a disagreement of opinion, I felt the meeting was productive. The progress continued into the night. That evening, the SG Senate had its regular meeting, which began with a very heartfelt apology. Students were allowed to speak, and many great and productive comments were heard.

College Democrats tempered our position after it became obvious that Phelps would not resign and the Senate would not impeach him. We decided to ask Phelps to provide us with a list of things he was doing to address and atone for his mistake. Phelps seemed to agree with this. One of the final speakers was Patrick Nally, who offered a great comment about making progress going forward.

Things would have been wonderful had they ended there. However, Phelps found it necessary to make another comment, this one much less heartening. In his second comment, Phelps found it necessary to say (among other things) that he was proud of the statements he made because they “started a conversation,” and that he would look back on this moment in 20 years when he was on CNN as the turning point in his life. Nick’s second comment was very disappointing — this is a sentiment shared across the group that was upset originally.

While I found Phelps’ second comment unsettling, I find it no more disturbing than the original e-mail that touched off this whole ordeal. Phelps obviously has a long way to go before he can rehabilitate his respectability among me and others; however, I take heart because I feel that Phelps truly wants to take the steps necessary to do so.

Finally, I want to end on a personal note. Some have accused me of making ridiculous statements in an attempt to get into the press. Believe me when I say that this could not be further from the truth. This whole ordeal has been no fun for me. I would rather make news for building people up rather than bringing people down: I have only done what I have done because I felt like certain things needed to be said. I still respect Nick Phelps a great deal. I look forward to the day when he agrees to be my Facebook friend again.

Robert Kahne is the president of UK College Democrats. E-mail [email protected]