EDITORIAL: Slow up on punishing bus company for offensive ad

SHARE EDITORIAL: Slow up on punishing bus company for offensive ad

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Why a bus company thought insulting people was a good business plan is beyond us, but we’ll wait to hear more from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan before jumping in feet-first.

One Chicago alderman’s suggestion — to deny the bus company access to O’Hare Airport — could be tantamount to putting the company out of business. A small business is hard to grow and easy to kill. Let’s take a breath.


The bus company, Champaign-based Suburban Express, shuttles students from six colleges in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa to and from the Chicago area. In a remarkably bone-headed move, it recently promised in an emailed ad to University of Illinois students that “You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”

As it happens, thousands of U. of I. students are from China, and they understandably were offended. So were plenty of other students. No getting around it, there’s a bigoted or xenophoic feel to that bus ad.

The owners of the bus company apologized, but not really. They pointed out that a competing bus services is popular among Chinese international students, and they said they are surprised the ad is “being interpreted as a slap in the face of all non-Caucasians for some reason.”

We fail to understand this “apology.” Are they saying it was OK to joke that their buses are comparatively Chinese-student free? Sure hope not. Were they saying it would be OK if the ad had been seen as “a slap in the face” of only Chinese students?

And then, in a bizarre move, the bus company owners went on to complain that the U. of I accepts too many international students. Nearly 20 percent of the university’s students, they said, are “natives of China.”

For the record, this is inaccurate. The percentage of Chinese international students is about 12 percent. But we get the larger point. There is, in fact, a legitimate argument about whether financially-strapped state universities in Illinois are accepting too many international students — because they pay full tuition — leaving fewer spots for students from Illinois. Reasonable people disagree on this one.

But to make that argument in the context of a supposed apology for a xenophobic ad? Well, you gotta wonder what’s truly on their minds. A second apology was more on the mark, admitting the ad was “incredibly inappropriate and harmful.”

The ad has led the state attorney general’s office to open an investigation into the bus services’ business practices. Are they serving all students equally, or might they be discriminating against international students? Are their hiring practices fair and open, or is there bias there?

In the meantime, let the free market make its own point.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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