Purdue Reaches Compromise on Donor Plaque

I wrote the other day about the situation at Purdue, where a family that donated money wanted to put up a plaque in honor of their father that referred to “the understanding of God’s physical laws” and the university said no. They’ve now reached a compromise to put up the plaque with slightly different wording and a disclaimer:

McCracken will be able to honor his parents, as well as mention God, with language that specifies the statement is from the viewpoint of the McCrackens and not the University.

The revised language reads as follows: “Dr. Michael McCracken: ‘To all those who seek to better the world through the understanding of God’s physical laws and innovation of practical solutions.’ Dr. Michael and Mrs. Cindy McCracken present this plaque in honor of Dr. William ‘Ed’ and Glenda McCracken and all those similarly inspired to make the world a better place.”

However, the University will be adding an additional plaque accompanying McCracken’s which will clarify that his words are not the speech of Purdue and that the University is aware of its neutrality obligations by law.

Seems like a reasonable compromise to me. I don’t think there was really an Establishment Clause violation in the first place and there certainly wasn’t any free speech violation for denying the original language. It was much ado about very little.

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  • cswella

    So does this open the door to other plaques with religious language (or anti-religious)?

    Donate money to put up a plaque with the same phrasing, replacing ‘God’ with ‘Satan’ or ‘Cthulu’?

  • eric

    Seems like a short-term kludge to me. As cswella mentions, what do they do with the next case? Are they committing to putting up two plaques for each donation in perpetuity?

    Were I Purdue, I would at least modify their donation procedures so that future donors are informed that the plaques are not a pubic forum, and that Purdue will only accept quotes/statements that meet certain conditions (which should also be spelled out to the potential donors).

    Actually, I would probably parse the entire thing in a narrowly limited but positive manner. “Dear donors. For $15k, you get your name on the plaque. For $50k, you get name and “dedicated to [Name]” on your plaque…” Make it policy that donations simply don’t buy freeform editorial comment space.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    Just put “alleged God” on any future plaques. Problem solved.

  • colnago80

    Jerry Coyne begs to differ.


  • Wylann

    Time to start a donation and point why this is a bad compromise.

  • eoleen

    DIE HERETIC!!!!!


  • blf

    So how long will the disclaimer plaque stay up before it is defaced or removed?

  • tomh


    I don’t think there was really an Establishment Clause violation in the first place

    Really? You think it’s perfectly legitimate for a public university to reference the “understanding of God’s physical laws”? Seems a bit problematic to me.

  • eric

    You think it’s perfectly legitimate for a public university to reference the “understanding of God’s physical laws”? Seems a bit problematic to me.

    Depends on how they treat such plaques in general. If, in general, the school exercises no editorial control over what the plaques say, then they could just declare donation plaques a limited public forum and let it go. OTOH if they do generally exercise editorial control, then it is problematic because that puts the school’s ‘seal of approval’ on the message and, in that case, the religious stuff ought to go.

    Now I expect that, in general, no school is going to give up editorial control over such things, because of the obvious potential for spoilers. Religion isn’t even the major concern; imagine someone donating something with a plaque that says “Purdue sux. Roll Tide!” So in practical terms they do have a problem. But its important to recognize that the problem is one of their own making, created in part because of other policy choices they’ve made. The plaque is not automatically unconstitutional just because it has a religious message.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    Shorter, more accurate headline:

    “Purdue Caves-in to KKKristianists”

    Their lawyers advised them, no doubt, that standing up for principle would wind up costing them money, Fucking cowards.