King Banaian at SCSU Scholars has a post about the unwritten policy against Christmas decorations in dormitories at Saint Cloud State. Not to be outdone, the University of Minnesota has reportedly circulated a memo discouraging, among other things, the colors red and green at office “holiday” parties.
This official UMNews story appears to contain the substance of the memo. One of the authors, Julie Sweitzer, was an attorney with the University General Counsel’s office during First Amendment scandals I wrote about here and here. Sweitzer probably knows better than to institute an outright ban on Christmas parties through her job as director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. But the muddled advice in the memo/article probably serves its intended purpose – cleansing the campus of any mention of Christmas among employees. The only safe party to have is no party.
The title of the webpage is December Holiday Tips, while the article title is Reevaluating Seasonal Office Parties: How About January? Apparently, the best “tip” for a December office party is to have it in January. Never mind that both the calendar year and the Fall semester end in December. The article switches from being hypersensitive about failing to celebrate every possible December holiday to being hypersensitive about including too many holidays, thus trivializing the religious aspects. Similarly, Santa Claus is either too religious or too secular.
Lighten up, Francis! I bet parties at the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action are a real barrel of laughs.
The article links to a press release from a so-called diversity consultant which, surprisingly, has a less shrill tone than the University’s. ProGroup concedes that “you can’t please everyone.” Those four words should be the sum total of the University’s guidance on the matter.
There is U.S. Supreme Court precedent on this matter. In a case regarding nativity scenes on public property, the Court ruled that such a display was constitutional when surrounded by Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh, candy-striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, cutout figures representing such characters as a clown, an elephant, and a teddy bear, hundreds of colored lights, and a large banner that read "SEASONS GREETINGS.” Got that? The more garish the display, the greater the likelihood it with withstand a lawsuit. Cheesy equals constitutional.
Finally, the University website that discourages the use of the colors red and green at office parties has a picture of a tree with white lights. I am reminded of the wonderful piece about white lights vs. colored lights by columnist Michael Kelly, who died while reporting on the Iraq War. I wonder if employees at the University can sing Oh, Mitten Tree?