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Petitioners aim to nix U. visit by Jazz owner

Published March 24, 2006 1:19 am

'Brokeback' flak: They say Larry H. Miller isn't a great example of academic freedom
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Professors, students and community activists are asking the University of Utah to cancel a keynote address by Utah businessman Larry H. Miller at an upcoming campus event.

As of Thursday, almost 1,400 people had signed the online petition asking the university to "rescind this thoughtless invitation and issue a formal statement of apology" to the community.

Miller made international headlines in January when he pulled the Western gay romance "Brokeback Mountain" from his MegaPlex 17 theaters at Jordan Commons. Miller, who also owns auto dealerships and the Utah Jazz, never commented on the decision.

Some petition supporters say they cannot believe U. leaders picked Miller to speak at what is being billed as the university's first campuswide open house, Discover U. Days. They say he does not represent what higher education should be about - diversity and public debate. Others say Miller got the invitation simply because he gives big bucks to the university.

By yanking the movie from his screens, Miller showed he is not open-minded and doesn't value academic freedom, said Kt Farley, a U. student and employee who started the petition 10 days ago.

"He shut the opportunity for people to engage in important public debate," she said. "Open public debate is essential to higher education. He stands in contradiction to that."

Farley said she is appalled that university officials would consider Miller as a speaker to promote the U.

"Presenting him to the community as a person of educational progress is just not logical," she said.

Coralie Alder, the university's spokeswoman who is organizing Discover U. Days, said Miller was chosen because he is a "tremendous advocate and supporter" of higher education. Miller has funded many U. programs, projects and scholarships as well as lobbying in support of higher education at the Capitol, she said. Miller funds 10 full-ride U. scholarships each year.

Alder said she invites those in opposition to Miller to attend his speech, which will be followed by a question and answer session. The campuswide public event, planned for April 21-22, will feature guest speakers, children's activities and tours.

"Our campus is enhanced by open discussion and diverse viewpoints," Alder said.

Alder declined to respond to people's concerns about Miller and the "Brokeback Mountain" controversy, and its reflection on the U.

Miller did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Randall Gess, the U.'s linguistics department chairman, signed the petition and sent an e-mail in protest to Alder.

As a gay professor and 10-year U. veteran, Gess said he "felt personally devalued" with the university's decision. Miller was probably chosen because he's a big U. donor, Gess said.

Farley said she wouldn't object to Miller speaking at the university, as long as the subject was not higher education.

"They should get him to talk about his political stands or why he canceled the movie," she said.

Brandie Balken, who signed the petition, said the university is condoning Miller's actions by having him speak.

"If the university wants to foster a diverse community, it's sending a conflicting message," she said. "The message they're sending is: Diversity is not a value that we hold."





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