Vox Clamantis in Deserto
Faculty Dissent, John Gordon, March 30, 2015
Date: Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 2:46 PM
Subject: Campus controversy
To: faculty <email@example.com>
1. First, two excerpts:
Information for Faculty, p. 10
Put these two together, and what they say is that Andrew Pessin's Facebook reflections, on the Middle East or anything else, were, by our rules, none of our corporate business. People were entitled to respond, preferably as individuals, preferably in the original medium. Departmental pronouncements, clearly intended to intimidate, were and are out of line.
2. The argument is made that, however that may be, Andrew's Facebook statements became a part of the campus discourse, with results that may have hurt some students' feelings. Well, yes. They became a matter of campus discourse because one student in particular chose to make them so. If feelings were hurt, it was because she, abetted by a campus culture forever on the lookout for opportunities to affirm its greatness of soul by finding some victim group to noisily identify itself with at, to be sure, no personal cost, wanted them to be. What pain has been caused has been caused by us, not Andrew.
3. With few exceptions, group petitions are for cowards. The one exception that comes to mind from my thirty-five years here is the petition requesting Claire Gaudiani's resignation. But that was against a president, one who had long outlasted her welcome, was doing substantial harm, and couldn't take a hint. It was, kind of, speaking truth to power. These petitions are the opposite. They are gang-ups and pile-ons, acts of bullying the like of which I never before witnessed.
4. Which brings me to the response of my colleague Blanche Boyd. Blanche, honestly: how pick one a. disingenuous or b. delusional is it possible for one body to be? The "faulty premise" that these petitions are about Andy? "Faulty premise?" "Faulty premise?" Can I see a show a hands out there from all signers who did not feel that what they were signing was, to some significant extent, "about Andy" and Andy's statements? (I'm not seeing many. Maybe Blanche's.) Is the fact the most of you didn't name his name "a certain faculty member" and all that really supposed to have fooled anybody? Blanche mentions a meeting, apparently unattended by Spencer (me too: I'm on sabbatical, thank God) that's supposed to have changed everything in that regard, but one does note that the same petitions, in the same language, keep dribbling in. "Not about Andy." NOT. ABOUT. ANDY? In 1968, a guy, probably stoned, said to me, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to wake up next morning and be a spade?" And I thought to myself, "Gordon, that is the stupidest thing you will ever hear anyone say." Well, I was wrong. It was the second stupidest. Just ask Andy.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
5. And, Blanche: again is it possible to have such discussions or any at all without playing the ethnic/race/gender/orientation-whatever card? OK: I give. Here goes. I'm not Jewish. My ancestry, as best I know, is Scots/Dutch/Irish/Italian. It's true that the Scots part came by way of Australia, to which an ancestor had been transported. Does that count as a victim card? But in any case, I'm definitely not Jewish, which is why I can feel free to point out that a certain amount of what's been going on could well, to some people, fall into the category of anti-Semitism. I don't really think that's mostly true, but hell: you guys can demagogue the issue, so can the other side. I could for instance point out that a few years ago one unquestionable anti-Semite by the name of Angela Davis was welcomed to campus as a kind of moral paragon, by some of the same people who have signed some of those petitions. But then, of course she was black, female, leftist (also, some of us still think, an accessory to murder, which gave her a certain radical-chic cachet) and there we go again, with those cards. An African-American anti-Semite who calls for the destruction of Israel is welcomed with open arms. An American Jew who wants to defend Israel gets the pogrom treatment. Let's run that past some of our Jewish alum donors and see how it flies.
6. This is not how I think of the issue. It's actually a pretty debased way of thinking of it. Why? Because: This is a college. A collage, a collectium, a collection of thoughts and thinking, which by the nature of thinking will be sometimes be at odds, even hard to stomach. Not a nudist colony. (Not about pigmentation.) Not a Marxist cell. (Not about hewing to the party line). Not a kindergarten (No telling on someone, running to the principal's office, for using naughty words.) Thinking is not an epiphenomenon of one's organic inheritance. If it were, places like this would have no reason for being. Go out and inform the parents paying for tuition that in your considered opinion nothing really matters but the biological givens of birth, that we judge right or wrong by how many pity points someone's inheritance has earned them. See what happens. This is a not a Petri dish. It is a college. A place where thinkers are supposed to be able to say what they think without (speaking of dogs, pit bulls included) being hounded into submission. And yes, feelings will be hurt. So what? Show me a community, college or otherwise, where not hurting feelings is the main priority and I will show you a thought-free dead zone.
7. And, to get people's attention, it's just possible that there could be real consequences. Antioch ceased to be, because it sillied itself into extinction. And right now we are setting ourselves up to be a) the most expensive college in the world, and b) the Third Reich of Political Correctness. How is that going to play, outside this little bubble of ours? Partial answer: check out the on-line NPR account, then read the string of responses. Most of them think we need to be informed about free speech. That is because we do.
8. A year ago I caused a bit of a stir by saying in public, against the FSCC or AAFF or, I dunno, some other alphabet, that its recommendation that ConnColl faculty officially present themselves as moral mentors to their morally challenged charges ran afoul of the obvious fact that there was nothing about being a ConnColl professor which automatically qualified one for any claim of moral superiority, to our students or to anyone else. I said, horrors, that there was no objective reason for considering ourselves ethically superior to, for instance, the day shift at the local Walmart's. Some people thought I was overstating the case. Boy, did they ever get it wrong. Given the events of the last month, I would kill for a faculty at the moral level with, say, the average-human level of probity, integrity, and loyalty to one's colleagues, especially the vulnerable ones, and above all reluctance to throw one's colleagues under the bus when it seemed the smart move of the local Walmart's.
Submitted with all respect to my colleagues Spencer Pack, Catherine Spencer, and to a very very few others,