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The Blue & Gray Press | October 20, 2017

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Obama T-Shirt Recalled

By KAITLIN MAYHEW

University of Mary Washington officials ordered an abrupt end to sales of a commemorative Obama-Biden t-shirt Friday after complaints that the shirts, printed up by the University Bookstore, showed a political bias in favor of the Democratic candidates.

The Bookstore was set to print 2,000 of the shirts, which carried the UMW logo on front, and the imprint, “Obama was there, Biden was there, I was there” on the back. They sold 150 before officials stopped the sales.

Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, and his running mate, Joe Biden, appeared at a rally on the UMW campus Saturday night.

School officials asked Virginia’s attorney general, Republican Bob McDonnell, to weigh in on the controversy, and on Friday he recommended that the school not allow sales of the shirts. In a memo to school administrators, McDonnell said that printing and sales of the t-shirts by UMW was “bordering on electioneering.”

McDonnell said in the memo that inclusion of the UMW logo might give the impression that the university endorsed the Democratic candidates.
UMW officials said they didn’t intend to give that impression.

“My personal opinion is that the shirts were designed to celebrate an event at the University, but I understand now how they were perceived by others as endorsing a particular political party,” said Ranny Corbin, executive assistant to UMW president Judy Hample.

Corbin said she was involved in the decision to halt sales at the Bookstore.

According to Erma Baker, assistant vice president for business services, school officials will discuss what to do with the remaining shirts later in the week.

Political science and international affairs assistant professor Rosalyn Cooperman said she didn’t think the t-shirts showed a university bias in favor of the Democrats. She also said she believes that the Bookstore would have done something similar had Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin come to UMW.

“Presumably there could have been a better way to commemorate the event,” Cooperman said. “But universities should be locuses of political activity.”

Executive Vice President Rick Hurley said that he viewed the shirts as celebratory in nature.

“We would never take sides in a political issue and I’m sorry if people saw it that way,” Hurley said.

The original aim, according to Bookstore employee Odelle Hackett, was simply to commemorate the Democratic Presidential candidate visiting UMW.

The UMW logo on the shirts, and the fact that they were sold at the Bookstore, set off alarms for many students and faculty, including former UMW College Republican chair Rebekah Blackwell.

“When I first heard the bookstore was selling the Obama/Biden t-shirts, I was both upset and appalled,” Blackwell said. “It was an ignorant decision to approve the production and sale of these t-shirts.”

Samantha Miller, member of the College Republicans at UMW said that she would have no problem with an Obama rally shirt if it was produced and sold by the Young Democrats Club. The problem for her was that the campus bookstore was involved.

Blackwell agreed.

“The University is already known for having a liberal political bias, and it’s good to know that someone will step in when they go too far,” she said.

However, not all students condemned the shirts.

Audrey Johnson, a recent UMW graduate and former member of College Republicans, said that she had no problem with the shirts being sold as long as the university would do the same for McCain and Palin if they were to come to UMW.

Members of the Young Democrats at UMW were dismayed by the decision to halt sales.

“The shirts were merely displaying the fact that in 2008 a major event happened on campus which put this small university in the spotlight,” said Matthew Guckenburg, treasurer of the Young Democrats. “I think it’s unfair to the Mary Washington community to deny them the right to buy a shirt representing this fact.”