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From the Right: Letterhead controversy far overblown

TNH Columnist

Published: Monday, April 2, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

I’m no fan of the student body president, nor an enthusiastic supporter of UNH’s student government. Mostly I think student government at UNH is self-righteous and ineffective. This is especially true in light of the recent meaningless resolutions the student senate has been issuing to the New Hampshire State Legislature in an attempt to appear relevant – and to make believe that we’re 60s flower children. However, I was a little taken aback by the miniature firestorm created last week by the misuse of UNH letterhead.

In case you missed it, a grave sacrilege has been committed against UNH’s official religions (moral relativism and apathetic agnosticism). In late January, Student Body President A.J. Coukos sent a letter on UNH stationary to local religious congregations inviting them to participate in a day of fasting and prayer for God’s blessing on the university. The highly inappropriate and offensive text of the letter implies that UNH students are somehow imperfect and in need of some type of higher power. Mr. Coukos wrote, “My hope is that the Lord shall hear our prayers, be well pleased, and bless the UNH students with his presence and call them out of darkness and into his glorious light.” More shockingly, he goes so far as to undermine the authority of the university president saying, “As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, I know the ultimate Authority to whom I should be advocating is neither the University President nor the Governor, but our Lord God the Father, through his Son, Jesus Christ.” It is clear that we have elected a monster!

A week later, Mr. Coukos sent a second letter to the original recipients clarifying that “though I am the Student Body President, the request is a personal one, and should not be considered an official communication from my office.” About a month after that, in a meeting that included the passage of resolutions endorsing same-sex marriage and requesting that the Department of Housing ease alcohol policies, the letters were brought to the graduate student senate’s attention. For these graduate student senators, Mr. Coukos’ letter was the most frightening thing they had confronted since they realized that they would have to get a job following graduation. Luckily, they had been admitted to graduate school, but who would save them this time?! In an act of daring courage, the GSS Executive Board promised to “ensure that Mr. Coukos disclose that he sent the letters to the full UNH student body.” Mr. Coukos would finally be outed for the Christian he is!

Last Tuesday, a short apology by Mr. Coukos appeared in this paper. His note read, in part: “My intent was to send the letter as an individual, and not on behalf of UNH or its students … I apologize for any confusion the use of UNH stationery may inadvertently have caused … I continue to support the rights of all UNH students to worship (or not) as they see fit.” Mr. Coukos probably thought that that was the end of the ordeal.

Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.

On Friday, TNH published an article entitled “Coukos’ letter to churches causes stir: Despite apology, students upset over stationery use.” The assertion made in the piece is that students are very angry about Mr. Coukos’ actions, even after he corrected his error and issued a letter of apology to the student body. However, rather than relying on an online poll or some other type of quantitative data, the piece simply cites the opinions of two disgruntled students. One of these students is quoted as saying, “I do feel that even if it wasn’t intentional, a mistake was made and responsibility needs to be taken for the action … not just an explanation needs to be given.” Perhaps we should feed Mr. Coukos to lions or force him to renounce his faith in front of a politburo; I suggest the GSS executive board!

I guess my main point is this: suppose Mr. Coukos were a homosexual rather than a devout Christian. I am not suggesting that these identities are mutually exclusive, but let’s say for a moment that Mr. Coukos were a homosexual who — using UNH letterhead without the approval of the student senate — wrote a letter appealing for support from local gay and lesbian organizations. Would anyone call Mr. Coukos out on this? Would the GSS approach the matter with the same faux moral indignation? Would he be forced to write a public letter apologizing for this corrected mistake? Would TNH reprimand him for not first having sought the permission of the student senate, even after he apologized? Certainly not! Anyone who would dare criticize him in such a manner would be labeled a homophobe and accused of “bias.”

I have no contention with the assertion that what Mr. Coukos did was wrong in a technical sense. Furthermore, I believe that he did the right thing in correcting the error and apologizing. However, I can’t help but conclude that it was not the use of UNH letterhead that irritated his critics, but rather the message found therein. It’s enough to call to mind the words of John 15:18.

 

Nick Mignanelli is a junior political science major and TNH’s resident conservative contrarian. He is the communications director of the NH College Republicans. Follow him on Twitter @nickmignanelli

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19 comments

Anonymous
Tue Apr 10 2012 16:14
The student body president is an elected representative and thus needs to abide clear boundaries between his personal activities and his activities as a representative of all students. It seems clear from you editorials that, if he were "homosexual" and inviting members of the community on UNH stationary to celebrate gayness you vitriol we be directed at him...
anonymous
Fri Apr 6 2012 00:33
Faults in the argument of the article aside, which have been sufficiently explained by other commentators, namely the authorization aspect that people are upset about and the false equivalency presented; what I find most frustrating about this column and the majority of works by this author is the amount of vitriol he directs at fellow UNH students and staff. It's just unprofessional in a published piece.

Mocking student senate as being "60s flower children" despite their resolutions not even bearing the slightest similarity to what he is ostensibly describing. Making immediately clear his personal distaste for Coukous, mocking grad students and professors, and the student body's job prospects (is our author so sure of his own?)

Despite going to the same institution with all these people he seems to hate, the author seems to think himself above it all. It's the worst kind of faux-snobbery to mock and belittle the institution that oneself is a part of, if the author so loathes seemingly everyone in and everything thing about this institution, how does that reflect well on him to go here?

Anonymous
Wed Apr 4 2012 22:56
I'm puzzled. This column purports to be in favor of displays of Christianity, yet snidely derides fellow students who are trying to make a difference in the world one step at a time by appealing to the University and State to be mindful of its decisions on the peoples of Third World countries, etc., as advancing "meaningless resolutions ... to the New Hampshire State Legislature in an attempt to appear relevant - and to make believe that we're 60s flower children." If the writer believes these measures are inadequate, he's free to advise them on how to be even more effective and to work alongside them to achieve their goals. THAT would be the Christian thing to do - not mocking them.
Anonymous
Wed Apr 4 2012 16:23
While columns are certainly venues for voicing opinions, would disclosure and application of facts actually hurt the argument this columnist is trying to make?

Most organizations have standards and protocols about the use of official documents; using the University of New Hampshire letterhead, signifies, whether intentionally or otherwise, an official communication from the University of New Hampshire. While this editorial writer wants to make the controversy about religious beliefs, Mr. Coukos made a personal request look like an official one, and he was caught violating the rules. It should be disclosed to the student body, and as a University of New Hampshire student, I'd actually like to see these letters printed in the TNH.

As much as the writer tries to bash the Graduate Student Senate's resolutions, unless I'm much mistaken, their agendas and resolutions are posted online and open for public discussion to the students they represent. If Mr. Coukos had taken an open action, this wouldn't be all that controversial - again, contrary to the spin this columnist attempts puts on it, the issue isn't what the letter was about, but how the letter was sent and how he represented his views (as official communications of the University of New Hampshire).

P.S. The insult to the graduate student body is a bit curious, weren't all University of New Hampshire faculty graduate students at one time or other?

Anonymous
Wed Apr 4 2012 15:19
"TL;DR: Christian columnist upset over student indifference and hostility toward Christianity."

I have a question: Why is this statement alright? If the words Christian/Christianity were replaced with almost any other words, I think that the reaction would be different:

"Muslim columnist upset over student hostility toward Islam."
"Atheist columnist upset over student hostility toward Atheism."
"Gay columnist upset over student hostility toward homosexuals."
"Black columnist upset over student hostility toward African Americans."

Honestly, this comment isn't fair. Hostility towards anyone and any group isn't fair, in the same way as generalizing about a group of people. Hostility towards anyone? We should be upset. So writing it off as
TL;DR it's just those Christians complaining again is a highly unfair statement. I think if it were any other organization, the reactions would be different.

Anonymous
Wed Apr 4 2012 15:14
Just as I wouldn't expect a Buddhist to practice Christian beliefs I wouldn't expect a Christian to practice Buddhist beliefs. To say that Coukos isn't allowed to practice his religion or that he has to be "all inclusive" to other religions isn't fair. He isn't speaking against other religions rather then using his rights that this country was founded on to practice his own. If a Buddhist or whatever wanted to have their own time of prayer then go ahead. Coukos was completely within his rights to ask as president for a time of prayer for this campus. Governors and presidents of our past have called times of prayer (Christian prayer). It's completely within his rights and you can complain all you want, but that man has done great work for this campus and is a man of strong character and integrity.
Anonymous
Wed Apr 4 2012 07:05
Can't wait for your future employers, likely holding graduate degrees, to google search you. Good luck with your job search after graduation.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 22:30
"TL;DR: Christian columnist upset over student indifference and hostility toward Christianity."

I have a question: Why is this statement alright? If the words Christian/Christianity were replaced with almost any other words, I think that the reaction would be different:

"Muslim columnist upset over student hostility toward Islam."
"Atheist columnist upset over student hostility toward Atheism."
"Gay columnist upset over student hostility toward homosexuals."
"Black columnist upset over student hostility toward African Americans."

Honestly, this comment isn't fair. Hostility towards anyone and any group isn't fair, in the same way as generalizing about a group of people. Hostility towards anyone? We should be upset. So writing it off as
TL;DR it's just those Christians complaining again is a highly unfair statement. I think if it were any other organization, the reactions would be different.

Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 20:58
Why is everyone missing the actual point of the majority of upset surrounding Coukos' article? He used UNH letter head and claimed he was speaking for the university as a whole. That's the issue, not that he used creepy Jesus versus to fill his point. The UNH student body president should be a little bit more intelligent than to think he could have let this slip by and it be accepted by everyone. Also, the unrelated issue of being a homosexual... is unrelated.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 19:12
While editorial columns are certainly venues for voicing opinions, would disclosure and application of facts actually hurt the argument this columnist is trying to make?

Most organizations have standards and protocols about the use of official documents; using the University of New Hampshire letterhead, signifies, whether intentionally or otherwise, an official communication from the University of New Hampshire. While this editorial writer wants to make the controversy about religious beliefs, Mr. Coukos made a personal request look like an official one, and he was caught violating the rules. It should be disclosed to the student body, and as a University of New Hampshire student, I'd actually like to see these letters printed in the TNH.

As much as the writer tries to bash the Graduate Student Senate's resolutions, unless I'm much mistaken, their agendas and resolutions are posted online and open for public discussion to the students they represent. If Mr. Coukos had taken an open action, this wouldn't be all that controversial - again, contrary to the spin this columnist attempts puts on it, the issue isn't what the letter was about, but how the letter was sent and how he represented his views (as official communications of the University of New Hampshire).

P.S. The insult to the graduate student body is a bit curious, weren't all University of New Hampshire faculty graduate students at one time or other?

Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 17:51
you people really need to get a life... the guy made a mistake, corrected it and he apologized. MOVE ON. there are better things to write about then how you aren't a fan of the student body president. do you even know him personally???? doubt it. this column was really mean and immature and makes you look bad. give the kid a break! put yourself in his shoes. He does a lot of work for the student body whether you like it or not.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 16:12
"Distinct lack of understanding/respect on your part"

Did I miss somewhere that its alright to be respectful and understanding towards everyone but not Christians?

Call it what you want, but the way I see it, respecting people's religions extends to all religions, not just those that you don't feel threatened by.

Maybe Mr. Coukos' actions were incorrect; I'm not disputing that. But it does seem that this situation has blown up more because of which religion is involved-- as evidenced by the comments posted here.

I'm interested in knowing what frightens people so much about Christianity that this reaction occurs, and I wonder if people have talked with Christians, or gone to CI (as someone mentioned) for a first-hand experience, or if this is more of some people's anti-Christian bias speaking.

"I challenge you to think beyond your own bias in the future."

Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 15:52
For the record, AJ didn't actually do anything wrong. You may check the rules of Student Government and you will not find any regulation over what may be sent on letterhead and what may not. Whether or not you like it, AJ is the student body president and he is entitled by his position to use his authority however he sees fit. He is not bound to Student Senate's jurisdiction.

To provide a real world example,
Obama is our President and represents America. He passed his Healthcare Bill with the majority of Americans opposing it. Following your same logic most of you should complain that he did something without the consent of the people. However it is his prerogative to pass whatever agenda that he wants to. In America you elect a person and not just a platform.

Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 14:13
Seconding this: "TL;DR: Christian columnist upset over student indifference and hostility toward Christianity."
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 11:55
Are you kidding me? Of course people would've taken issue if he sent a letter asking for support of gay or lesbian causes. You really think homophobia is dead? Look at a man named Rick Santorum. The bigger issue here is CI, anyway. I really toxic group.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 10:32
Mr. Coukos made a distinctly biased move by subverting protocol and secretly only sending communications to Christian houses of worship. The reason his religious views are on trial lies in this maneuver that demonstrates that he views other religious backgrounds as inferior or incapable of sharing in days of prayer and fasting. In a community that champions inclusion and respect, Mr. Coukos sidestepped these values in favor of his own bias. This is not the person I would like to have as my representative in the community and making decisions on my behalf (or strictly his own as it would seem). National days of prayer in the United States are shared by all willing religious communities, not just those of the current president.
Additionally, your use of homosexuality as an equivocal example of predictable persecution is unsettling and demonstrates a distinct lack of understanding/respect on your part. I challenge you to think beyond the scope of your own bias in the future.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 08:35
Yes if a student identified themselves as a representative of UNH without the approval of the entity they represented they would be in just as much trouble despite how they self identify. And using the homosexual example just proves what type of prejudices you have, not the students who take issue with Coukos.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 08:18
Ah, yes. But if he had called on local gay and lesbian groups to help UNH students see the light and become gay, people might have justifiably be offended. Coukos does just that. Never forget that it is the unapologetic purpose of Christians (and many other religions) to recruit more members, for their own good of course. All I have ever seen from activists like GLBT groups is the request that we not harm or discriminate against them.
Anonymous
Tue Apr 3 2012 00:52
TL;DR: Christian columnist upset over student indifference and hostility toward Christianity.




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