A major donor to Ohio University (OU) is under fire for his novel strategy to fight student and faculty protesters: “Just play the race card!”
Steven Schoonover is a trustee for the OU Foundation and has his name emblazoned on the school’s communications building, which he donated over $7 million to build. Now, students want him to resign and have his name erased because of alleged racism and improper meddling on his part.
The controversy goes back to last March. The school-owned house provided to president Roderick McDavis developed a bat infestation, leading to a bat encounter that caused McDavis’s wife to fall and break her leg. In response, the school moved McDavis, who is black, into a new, $1.2 million mansion and planned to buy it, outraging students and faculty who saw it as an extravagance. (RELATED: Bats Are A $1.2 Million Problem At Ohio University)
As that controversy was erupting, Schoonever sent an email to the OU Foundation executive board advising them to borrow a popular political tactic.
“I think we should handle it the same way the Democrats do every time the Republicans attack President Obama,” Schoonever said in the April 2 email. “They label them racists. So if you are worried about the petition by the faculty just play the race card and call them racists and make them defend themselves! They pull that in Washington everyday!”
The email came to light thanks to an open records request filed by local media.
Schoonover told The Athens News his suggestion wasn’t a serious one, and in any case it wasn’t one the board took advantage of.
But students and faculty are still hounding for blood, with some saying Schoonover had exposed himself as the real racist, while others claim the email shows the improper influence of donors on higher ed.
“It’s like the Koch brothers; that’s exactly what’s going on here,” one professor, Joe McLaughlin, told The Columbus Dispatch.
“It is beyond the pale, and Mr. Schoonover should resign his position on the OU Foundation Board,” Prof. Richard Vedder in OU’s English department told The Athens News. “I am sick that we have named a building after him. Let him give his money to Miami (University).”
The OU Student Union has launched an online petition also calling for Schoonover’s departure and for his building to be renamed, and has additionally called for the resignation of two other school trustees.
Thus far, Schoonover has shown no signs he plans to leave, and the university has taken no action either. In an email, OU spokeswoman Katharine Quaranta distanced the school from his email, saying Schoonover was simply “express[ing] his personal opinion on the matter.”
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