July 21, 2015

THE WEEKLY BLAB

Volume 10, Issue 02– July 21, 2015

 

Sixty!

Last Wednesday on July 15, I turned 60. Or as Jack Benny would have put it, I turned 39 for the 21st time. I know that it’s all a state of mind, but 60 years old is an age I never saw myself as becoming (and still don’t think of myself as being). Ah well, it’s over now. I celebrated by getting a haircut at Bob’s, the local barbershop that also sharpens skates. I look younger with short hair, y’see.

On Thursday, the family and I went up to Norwood for the concert on the green, which featured Julie Budd, a “Broadway songs” type singer who is often compared with Barbra Streisand. Julie was in fine voice, and I enjoyed the performance so much I picked up one of her CDs (“The New Classics” and asked her to sign it. Among the members of the band backing Julie up was our own Professor of Mathematics, Dan Gagliardi. Not getting enough of Dan on Thursday, I heard him again on Friday at the synagogue, where Sharon Veigh Williams and he led a musical Shabbat service.

  

SUNY Canton Shout-Outs

We’ve had some good news lately, and that’s always worth sharing.

First up, we just heard that our TRiO Student Support Services grant was renewed by the Department of Education for five years, at a little more than $250,000 per year. There was a whole team of folks that worked very hard on writing the grant, including Joanne Fassinger, Molly Mott, Shawn Miller, Julie Parkman, Katie Kennedy, Michelle Currier, Sarah Todd, Brenda Miller, and no doubt some others I should be mentioning. This money goes to help support more than 200 first-generation economically disadvantaged students to access special services, including academic counseling, tutoring, and other similar resources. Congratulations to all involved! This follows news from a few weeks ago that SUNY Canton was awarded $170,000 from New York’s Education Department to support CSTEP, a program supporting students interested in pursuing careers in STEM related fields.

You’ve probably heard this already, but it’s now official: SUNY Canton has completed its probationary period (one year early!) and is now a full-fledged member of NCAA Division III, effective September 1. The application process was led by our own Athletic Director Randy Sieminski, who said:We are thrilled with the NCAA’s decision to accept us as full members of NCAA Division III. It has been a group effort from our coaches, student-athletes, staff, faculty, administration, College Council and numerous departments campus-wide. This is a huge step for our student-athletes and teams as we now become eligible for NCAA postseason competition during the 2015-16 academic year.” SUNY Canton has added five new sports in the last four years, and has increased the number of student athletes from 150 to about 300. Sieminski also thanked the SUNY Canton leaders who helped start the transition to the NCAA, including College Council Chair Ronald M. O’Neill, Dean of Academic Support Services Molly A. Mott, Vice President of Student Affairs Courtney B. Bish, former President Joseph L. Kennedy, former Vice President for Advancement David M. Gerlach, former Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel J. Sweeney and former Athletic Director Diane J. Para. Great job, everyone!

Congratulations also to Kelley Glasgow, a Canton elementary school counselor who is the winner of SUNY Canton’s 2015 Distinguished Citizen Award. Kelley was recognized for her leadership in bringing together various community resources to assist students and their families who may be struggling financially or emotionally. She created the “Golden Bear Pack” program, which provides take-home meals for about 90 students every week, ensuring that disadvantaged children receive meals during weekends and holiday breaks. Congratulations Kelley! 

 

Marriage Equality

In last week’s issue of the BLAB, I wrote about one of the big items in the news in the past few weeks, the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House in South Carolina. Today, I’d like to say a few words about the recent Supreme Court ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges) about same-sex marriage.

statue-of-liberty-in-love

Here’s a brief history of the issue:

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered a trial court (in Baehr v. Miike) to consider whether the state’s denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples “furthers compelling state interests and is narrowly drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgments of constitutional rights.” The court determined that the state had not established any compelling interest in denying same-sex couples the right to marry, and even if it had, it had failed to prove that the statute was narrowly tailored enough to avoid abridging state constitutional rights. Voters in Hawaii then passed an amendment to the state constitution “to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples”, thereby invalidating the first ruling. The US Congress then passed the Defense of Marriage Act, denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages (should they be legalized anywhere). Several states passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage to opposite-sex partners, and in some cases, establishing civil unions for same-sex partners.

The first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts on November 18, 2003, taking effect on May 17, 2004. The Commonwealth’s Supreme Judicial Court found (in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health) that denying equivalent rights to same-sex couples violated the state constitution, and that the Commonwealth had no compelling reason to do so. I was living just across the border in New Hampshire at the time, and it was interesting to see the reaction to the ruling. Many people there supported the decision, but there was serious opposition from the Catholic Church and from some of the more conservative legislators. Several attempts were made to reverse the decision, all of which failed. More than a dozen states reacted by passing constitutional amendments or other types of laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex partners.

The tide began to turn in 2008, with Connecticut recognizing same-sex marriages, followed by Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia in 2009. New York followed suit in 2011, as did Maine, Washington and Maryland in 2012.

In 2013, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, “as a deprivation of the equal liberty…protected by the Fifth Amendment.” This led to several district and circuit courts overturning bans on same-sex marriage, making it legal in most states. Many of the states chose not to appeal, but several did. The Supreme Court ruled directly on the issue in 2015, making same-sex marriage legal in all states.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage ask: “Where in the Constitution does it talk about same-sex marriage?”, but a better question would be: “Where in the Constitution does it talk about marriage at all?” I wonder if it would have been better if the courts ruled that the states should not be in the marriage business at all, but rather only grant civil unions (which would provide the various tax and legal incentives) to those who want them, leaving marriage as a matter to be handled by religious institutions. The advantage to that would be that the civil unions could be granted to any combination of individuals who agreed to take certain legal responsibilities for each other. The combinations might include same-sex or opposite sex partners, but could also include such things as a three unmarried cousins taking mutual responsibility for each other, a child taking responsibility for an elderly parent, a sister taking responsibility for a developmentally challenged brother, etc. In other words, one’s gender preference would be irrelevant to the issue. That ship has sailed, however.

An interesting question is how peoples’ opinions have changed so rapidly on this subject—not so long ago, the idea of same-sex marriage being legal across the United States would have been branded as impossible, and opposed by a broad majority. Today, a majority of Americans favor it.

When Massachusetts first recognized same-sex marriage, all sorts of dire results were predicted. I believe that the change in opinion came because pretty quickly, people there and in other states began to see that their own traditional marriages were unaffected by the ruling, and opposition to it began to die out. As other states allowed same-sex marriage, people began to see their own friends, family, and neighbors coming out and getting married, which made it all the more difficult to be opposed. Additional court rulings saying that the states had no compelling reason to oppose same-sex marriage added to the momentum of change. The Supreme Court followed, albeit by a narrow 5-4 margin, saying that bans were unconstitutional on the basis of violation of the 14th Amendment.

I think this is one of the cases where the Supreme Court majority got things exactly right, especially in tying the right to same-sex marriage to the 14th Amendment. For those who have forgotten their civics classes, the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law to all citizens, and was originally meant to enshrine the rights of newly freed black Americans after the Civil War.

Again, some history:

Following the passage of the 14th Amendment, several Southern states passed various laws requiring segregation. In 1896, in the case Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that the states were allowed to segregate facilities, so long as the segregated facilities were equal for both races. The reality of the situation, of course, was that the separate facilities were rarely equal, but state courts and the Supreme Court itself in multiple cases twisted and turned in order to find some way to say that they were.

It was only in the 1950s that “separate but equal” began to be struck down. The first major case was Sweatt v. Painter, which dealt with a black Texas student who had applied for admission to the School of Law of the University of Texas. No black students were allowed admittance under state law and there was no black law school, so there wasn’t even a pretense of “separate” in this circumstance. The district court gave the state a six- month continuance, during which it set up a black law school at Texas State University for Negroes (now known as Texas Southern University). The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the establishment of the black law school satisfied the “separate but equal” requirement. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, they ruled that the separate school did not pass Constitutional muster, both because it was not equal in resources and facilities, but also because of intangible factors, such as its isolation would mean that students would be denied interaction with (white) lawyers with whom they would ultimately have to work. On the same day, in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, the court ruled that Oklahoma did not provide a “separate but equal” education to a black student pursuing a Doctorate of Education degree who had been required to sit in a hallway outside the classroom door.

The parallel of “separate but equal” to the same-sex marriage issue is easy to see. While several states offered civil unions as an alternative to marriage, it was clearly an attempt to set up a “separate but equal” system for same-sex couples. In some states the civil unions provided all the same state rights as marriage, but in other states they didn’t. In all cases, it was seen as a 2nd class alternative to marriage.

Another argument made against the Supreme Court’s ruling is that the original authors of the 14th Amendment wouldn’t have foreseen it being used to justify same-sex marriage. This doesn’t hold water due to multiple precedents, including the two cases regarding higher education I mentioned above. The original authors of the 14th Amendment wouldn’t have foreseen black citizens being allowed to go to Southern universities and pursue advanced degrees either, and for decades black citizens were denied an equal education in those states. It was a full 82 years after the passage of the 14th Amendment before its “equal protection” was extended to higher education

There are many precedents of courts extending the reach of various laws regarding equality, as the nation’s view of who is truly a full-fledged citizen has expanded. Over varying lengths of time, this expansion has been to the benefit of women, religious minorities, immigrants, and many others. In each case, there has been opposition claiming that there would be dire consequences. In most cases, we are rightly ashamed of the earlier interpretations and decisions that denied rights to these groups. Who today is proud of Plessy v. Ferguson, or sees it as other than a perversion of justice?

The recent Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges is just the latest in a long line of extensions of the principle of “securing the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” [from the Preamble to the Constitution] and extending “equal protection under the law” [from the 14th Amendment] to all citizens. The real shame of it is that due to our own prejudices, the process takes so long and sometimes succeeds only by the narrowest of margins.

 

Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s challenge dealt with summer, with every answer being a song that had the word “summer” in its title. The winner was Kim Woodard from the Registrar’s Office. Others will all five right included Christina Lesyk, and Terri Clemmo.  

Here are the correct answers:

  1. Sam Cooke had a hit with this classic, about “when the living is easy”.  Summertime.
  2. Alice Cooper song about the end of classes. School’s Out For Summer.
  3. Olivia Newton-John sang this to John Travolta in the movie “Grease”. Summer Nights.
  4. Seals and Crofts had a hit with song that dealt with the jasmine in your mind. Summer Breeze.
  5. Summer classic by Eddie Cochran, it has the lines: Every time I call my baby, and try to get a date; My boss says “No dice son, you gotta work late.” Summertime Blues.

 

This Week’s Trivia Challenge

This week’s challenge deals with musical hits from the 1950’s. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO president@canton.edu since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them.

  1. Elvis’ first major hit, about a place that’s “Down at the end of lonely street”.
  2. His #1 songs from the 1950’s on the R&B chart include “Maybelline”, “School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell)”, “Johnny B. Goode”, and “Sweet Little Sixteen”.
  3. Dick Clark hosted this television show that started in 1957.
  4. Patti Page had the decade’s biggest hit, with a song about her “dancing with her darling”.
  5. His song, “Poor Little Fool”, was the very first #1 on the newly created Billboard Hot 100 in 1958. His other #1 was “Travelin’ Man”.
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