Forty-five Belmont University faculty and staff have signed an open letter stating their opposition to torture and the death penalty, and in support of constitutional rights.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be very noteworthy. Belmont doesn't have a reputation for being a bastion of liberalism, despite cutting ties with the Baptist church almost four years ago, and these are hardly controversial positions in academic circles.
The timing of the letter, however, suggests something else: Welcome to Belmont, Alberto Gonzales.
The former attorney general under George W. Bush arrived on campus last week to be appointed the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair at the university's newly christened law school. With him comes the prestige of having a former head of the U.S. Justice Department and Texas Supreme Court member on the school's faculty.
But it also carries some baggage.
Gonzales was a controversial figure for his role in constructing the administration's legal rationale for so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including sleep deprivation and waterboarding. He has also been criticized for his advice given regarding clemency considerations for death row prisoners while legal counsel to then-Texas Gov. Bush. Additionally, Gonzales stated during 2007 confirmation hearings that "there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution."
Even though Gonzales is never mentioned by name in the letter, all three of these topics formed the basis of the statement by the signatories, who pledged to "support opportunities to discuss the issues presented in this document."
When contacted by The City Paper, multiple professors declined to comment on the record, saying that the statement spoke for itself.
In a statement on Monday, Provost Thomas Burns emphasized that the letter represented the personal opinions of those faculty members, adding, "We support the free exchange of ideas, encourage thoughtful and respectful discussion, and believe that it would be best to address such issues through conversation and dialogue."
Gonzales received a similar reception from faculty at Texas Tech University in 2009 when he began teaching political science classes.