Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mixed message

So I’ve given up being concerned that an X-President (or current one) has suddenly died when I spot Amherst College’s majestic flag on Chapel Hill at half-staff.

Last night, coming home from those pesky uptown public meetings with a full moon as a direct backdrop, a steady breeze and powerful illumination from below, Old Glory was a stirring sight indeed—especially in THAT mournful position.

Yet last week on 9/11 Amherst's most prominently placed flag was not at half-staff as ordered by the President of the United States--as opposed to President of the College. Nor was it properly displayed on Memorial Day, December 7, or Peace Officers’ Day (May 15).

I just assumed it was to mark the passing of literary genius David Foster Wallace, an Amherst College graduate and former visiting professor. But according to their Intranet Announcements:

In Memoriam: Stephen L. Clark '75
The Johnson Chapel flag has been lowered to half-staff in memory of Stephen L. Clark '75. Clark, who passed away Thursday, Sept. 11

David Foster Wallace would probably love the irony: Amherst College forgets to fly the flag at half-staff last week on 9/11 to mourn 3,000 Americans; but remembers to do it now in honor of an employee who just passed away…on 9/11.

With all the best intentions

Even in Massachusetts


Anonymous said...

AC lost a recent grad on 9-11. I remember something about her student website being transfered to another server so that it would remain as she had left it the prior spring.

UMass lost an OIT employee and I believe a few other folk affiliated with the institution including alumni.


Anonymous said...

Amherst College Lost four Alumnus on 9/11.

ARHS '76 said...


The college's policy is to recognize the deaths of students, faculty and staff by flying the flag at half mast but not alumni... just too many, 200,000.

Is there any topic you can post on that Ed doesn't have a Umass story for?

LarryK4 said...

A noble policy indeed--but a clear violation of the Federal Flag Code. Thus sending a “mixed message” that Amherst College (A) cares and respects their “students, faculty and staff” BUT (B) are too damn good to adhere to the rules most folks TRY to observe.

And that--part B--is not a great message for the #1 liberal arts college in America to exude.

ARHS '76 said...

I bet if you brought it to the attention of the Head of Campus Police - that there are Federal days when half-mast is to be observed - he would thank you and do it.

LarryK4 said...

I'm sure he would.

But he probably would not put the flag back up to full-staff the next time (which could very well be tomorrow) the College decides to lower it for "students, faculty and staff."

ARHS '76 said...

If its a violation of Federal Law to lower the flag to half staff on the death of a community member, maybe we ought to revisit the law.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah by all means, don't raise the bridge lower the water.

Anonymous said...

"The #1 liberal arts college in the country"? Say what?

Rich Morse (Underachiever) Class of '78

LarryK4 said...

Well according to Wiki:

"Amherst has been ranked the number one liberal arts college in the country ten times since the inception of the U.S. News rankings."

Now don't you just feel SPECIAL!

ARHS '76 said...

This year, according to US News & WR, Amherst College is tied with archival Williams as "#1 liberal arts college in the country." but ask an Amherst grad and they'll tell you differently.

Larry, is your objection to the AC policy of lowering its flag to acknowledge the death of an AC community member because the policy is in violation of Federal flag bearing law? or are there other factors?

Do you have a link handy? In addition, does it concern you that they don't lower it when they are required to by Federal law? When is that?

Do you admit their policy is a commonly accepted practice for recognizing deaths?

Does the law say for whom a flag can be lowered to halfmast?

What do you think about a law that prescribes requirements for flag display while seemingly contradictory Supreme Court constitutional right to free speech provides citizens the right to burn the flag in protest?

LarryK4 said...

Amherst College is a private entity so they can get away with a lot more than a public entity, such as Umass.

However, Amherst College’s flag policy is far from “commonly accepted practice “. The Federal US Flag protocol carries no sanctions for violation (and perhaps it should). There are no other “factors” in my concern over this flagrant violation. Yeah, I’m a lowly Umass grad, but I’m not jealous of AC grads.

My Great-Great Grandfather Tom Kelley worked for the Dickinson family for many, many years. And although he only had one arm and was a working class Irish guy, Miss Emily requested he (along with 5 other Irish laborers) be the “lead pallbearer” at her funeral.

Thomas Kelley, 87, died on January 30, 1920 exactly 35 years before I, a fifth generation Kelley, was born. Yet on his Death Certificate, issued by the Amherst Town Clerk, his occupation is listed as “Night Watchman for Amherst College”. And I would not have dreamed of asking Amherst College to fly the US flag at half-staff.

I’m a huge fan of the First Amendment--and the reason men and women die defending our flag and country is for the right to free speech. If some asshole wants to burn the American flag then let them; but they should not be shocked when lots of people call them assholes: Freedom of speech is a two-way-street.

ARHS '76 said...

I had family that worked at A.C. too. They loved working there.

I think the A.C. flag masting policy, when it is full and when it is half, is perfectly fine.

If they decided (instead) to keep the US flag at full mast and fly another flag below it, like the college seal or an "A" on a black background, instead to honor their dearly departed, that wound be fine by me too.

I learned how to fly and fold the US flag in Boy Scouts, Troop 501. We learned about keeping it lit at night, folding it properly and not letting it touch the ground but we didn't learn any rules regarding setting it at half mast. Nor were those rules taught in civics class in Amherst public schools. So, in my opinion, they are not very well know and not 'commonly accepted practice'.

That said what do the rules/Federal law say about setting the flag at half mast?

LarryK4 said...

There are only a very few days (for good reason that way they stand out): December 7 "A date that will live in infamy", Memorial Day (but only from dusk to noon), Peace Officers Day (5/15) and of course 9/11.

Those are the days Federal protocol says to fly flags at half staff (but their is no sanction for screwing it up as AC did over the past year)

ARHS '76 said...

Larry, Does the statute specify when flags go half-mast because of deaths of a former president of US soldiers in barracks in Lebanon, or in US embassies in Africa? Or is all of that 1. "unlawful", 2. not prescribed (ambiguous) or 3. completely up to the discretion of the flag owner?

LarryK4 said...

You're starting to quibble.

My previous response about when the flag should go to half-staff (not "half-mast" as that is the nautical term) is simply the very short list of days that should be observed EVERY YEAR.

Yes, there are provisions for sudden things like the death of a President, Vice President, Supreme Court Justice, etc.

A Governor can order flags down (and last I looked Tony Marx was not the Governor) within their state for a soldier who dies serving their country.

And I believe President Reagan did order the flags to half staff after the Beirut barracks bombing.