MSA to vote on portrait

Tracy Ellingson

Margaret Sanger’s portrait will remain in Wilson Library even if the Minnesota Student Association passes a resolution requesting the picture’s removal.
MSA members plan to cast their final vote today on the resolution, which also requests that Boynton Health Service stop using the birth control pioneer in its advertisements for an early contraceptive program. Sanger’s presence has created controversy on campus in the last month after resolution authors cited evidence that Sanger was a Nazi and a racist.
The resolution was first introduced at MSA’s Oct. 22 forum but was sent to the Academic Affairs committee for revisions before a final decision would be made.
Even if the resolution survives the forum, which resolution author Tom Gromacki and MSA President Helen Phin agreed should provide a well-researched debate from both sides, it will most likely not get the results its backers hoped for.
University librarian Tom Shaughnessy said research libraries like Wilson operate on the ideal that they are centers for “the widest kind of intellectual freedom” and need to provide material that represents many different views. Shaughnessy said he will not remove the picture at the request of MSA because of this principle.
“Our mission is to collect as much as we can, whether good, bad, ugly or pretty,” said Shaughnessy, who added that although some might argue that censoring a picture is not as detrimental to a research library as banning a book might be, the act has the same symbolic message attached to it.
Shaughnessy said he doesn’t foresee pressure from University administrators to remove the portrait if the resolution passes. “Knowing the University as I do, and its strong commitment to academic freedom and all that that means, I don’t think I’m worried about that right now,” he said.
Gromacki said by refusing to honor MSA’s request to remove Sanger’s portrait, Shaughnessy would be ignoring the voice of the student body.
“They’re basically saying,” Gromacki said, “‘We don’t care what the students conclude. We don’t care what the voice of the students is. We’re going to do what we want to do and slap the face of the students, regardless.'”
But Boynton officials said they would likely consider the issues raised in the resolution even if it doesn’t pass today.
Boynton’s administration director, Dr. Edward Ehlinger said Boynton staff members will discuss this week what they should do about using such references as “Be Like Margaret” in their ads.
“We will probably refrain from using (Sanger),” Ehlinger said, “not because we disagree with the things that she said, but because obviously there are some people who are upset about the use of her name.”
Boynton administrators often try to take student concerns over their ads into account. Boynton’s Student Health Advisory Committee regularly provides Boynton officials with feedback on its ad campaigns.
Ehlinger, who has researched Sanger’s background since the controversy first arose on campus, said he has gained respect for Sanger after reading her own writing, as well as what activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about her.
“When I actually read the words that Margaret Sanger has written,” Ehlinger said, “I see that some of her quotes have been taken out of context or they have actually attributed other people’s words to her.”
Ehlinger said if Boynton staff members stop using Sanger in their advertisements it is for reasons independent of the ones the MSA resolution cites. Ehlinger said the controversy surrounding Sanger may give family planning opponents an opportunity to start attacking family planning.
“Even though we don’t think Margaret Sanger should be vilified the way she has been,” Ehlinger said, “obviously this may have some impact on our programs and we don’t want our programs to suffer.”
If MSA approves the resolution, it will be given to Phin for action. Although there is no formal mechanism for MSA to bring its concerns before University administrators, Phin indicated that she will forward the document to University President Nils Hasselmo, health center administrators and library officials.