Coukos’ letter to churches causes stir
Despite apology, students upset over stationery use
Published: Friday, March 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
On Tuesday, March 28, The New Hampshire published a letter to the editor written by Student Body President A.J. Coukos. Coukos called attention to confusion over a letter he wrote on UNH Student Body President stationary, which was sent on January 31.
The original letter was addressed to local religious groups and churches, inviting them to participate in “a day of fasting and prayer for the student body of the University of New Hampshire on Sunday, February 26th, 2012,” according to the letter. Coukos included his business card as well.
In Tuesday’s issue of The New Hampshire, Coukos apologized for “any confusion the use of UNH stationery may inadvertently have caused,” and stated that his “intent was to send the letter as an individual, and not on the behalf of UNH or its students.” Coukos also stated that a week after the original letter was sent, he wrote another in order to explain his intentions on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The second was not printed on UNH stationery.
Despite Coukos’ attempt to clarify, some UNH students are still confused and feel the use of the original letter displays that a larger issue is at hand.
Sarah Gormady, a UNH graduate student, falls into this category. Gormady had not read Coukos’ original letters until Wednesday, but she described her initial reaction to hearing about them as “just utter shock.”
“I was shocked that anyone would take university letterhead, put it in a printer, write a letter identifying themselves as a representative of the university student body, and not have consulted anyone at the university about sending out the letters,” she said.
After finding out more information, her attitude did not change.
“Until today I had not even read the letters,” Gormady said. “The content only confirms that Coukos acted in an extremely inappropriate and unprofessional manner.”
Kelsey O’Neil, a senior English major, agreed.
“There is some disconnect here in understanding the difference between how you achieve your personal objectives and then how you present yourself professionally,” she said.
Coukos upheld his position and stated that his use of UNH stationary was not a way to indicate that he was representing the student body.
“I maintain both that my intent was to send the letter as an individual and not on behalf of students, and I apologize for any confusion my letter may inadvertently have caused,” he said.
Both Gormady and O’Neil agreed that Coukos’ apology does not resolve the problem.
“It doesn’t even refer to his actions that caused the confusion,” Gormady said. “His approach is a sleight of hand that places the error on the part of the people who received the letters - he still has not found any fault with his own actions.”
“I do feel that even if it wasn’t intentional, a mistake was made and responsibility needs to be taken for the action,” O’Neil said. “Not just an explanation needs to be given.”
Gormady also stated that much of the issue lies in how Coukos “did not have a mandate from his colleagues in student government or his constituency to use his position, his status to influence his audience,” she said.
In relation to this, Bob Swarthout, president of the graduate student senate, and Emily Klein, programs coordinator of the graduate student senate, acknowledged that the letters do not reflect the views of the graduate student senate.
“Upon learning of the original letter, members of the GSS were concerned that the letter could be interpreted as an endorsement of a single religion by the student body leadership,” Swarthout said. “When the letter was read at the GSS meeting on March 6, 2012, members of the GSS felt that the letter did not represent the views of the graduate student body.”
Gormady believes that the fact Coukos did not initially inform the student senate of these letters after printing the first on UNH stationery further adds to the issue.
“All Coukos had to do was put a motion forward in session to write to New Hampshire churches,” she said. “He didn’t. He did not follow procedure.”