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Dear Principia Community
The third issue of the Pilot raised some questions which are part of a larger discussion going on not only at Principia College, but on college campuses across the U.S. Donald Trump’s victory raised strong emotions on both sides. We here at the Pilot would like to facilitate the ongoing dialogue regarding professor’s opinions and whether or not they should be raised in a classroom.
Zeke Ouellette’s article “Trump in the Classroom” from our November 16 election issue sparked concerns from some faculty members that the piece was too one-sided. The faculty senate agreed to meet with us on Friday, December 2 to discuss the article. While we stand by what Zeke wrote on student opinion, we invited faculty and students to write letters to us in order to continue the dialogue. We have received four written responses.
While at the Senate meeting, we heard some good feedback for the Pilot’s next steps. One of the first questions raised was the accuracy of the student reports. Another concern raised was why, as editors, we allowed our writer to keep the professors involved anonymous. The professors were not kept anonymous out of fear of repercussions from the faculty itself, but rather out of a desire to protect all parties involved on this small campus. Although this decision was made with the best intentions, many including the faculty involved, wanted a chance to have their side of the story told.
In order to further this discussion, the Pilot held back production to give the faculty the chance to respond. The conversation is not over, nor do we want it to end. Students, faculty, and administration will continue to discuss not only the right spaces for political opinion, but also discuss prayer in the classroom. So as time goes on, let’s keep the dialogue open.
If you have any further thoughts on this issue, please send us an email.
Gemma and George
To the editors,
As soon as I started teaching, I realized that partisanship is kryptonite to critical thinking. I’ve seen students on all sides defend people and positions in their own party that they would spurn and ridicule if endorsed by a rival party.
I couldn’t care less what a student’s partisan identity is, but I couldn’t care more that my students articulate, research, and defend their positions – on paper and in the classroom. Way too often, the students’ defense lacks substance, logic, and/or context. But because of the power and skill differences between me and my students, the burden is on me to facilitate effective assignments and conversations that recognize the distinction between the study of politics and today’s practice of partisanship. But managing classroom dynamics is impossible if students are unwilling to do the work necessary to defend their beliefs. The quality of the classroom – like life – is a partnership.
I regret Zeke’s anonymous student felt unsafe to speak up about his positions, but by speaking anonymously, this student robbed both himself and his professor of the opportunity to build a relationship. If you are unwilling to “own” your position, can you expect anyone else to advocate for your right to express yourself?
Partisanship – like power – can be a handy excuse to dodge the responsibility of relationships. As a country, we voted for change – and we got change!! Now are we all – students, faculty, and all staff – willing to change how much care we put into our relationships?
We need to move beyond partisanship to be able to discuss. Referring to President-elect Trump, Zeke wrote that “for most liberals, it is improbable for people to vote for…a racist, bigot, and promoter of white supremacy.” Zeke seems to imply that conservatives could vote for a bigot. But conservatives (especially) should recognize that our social failures produce divisions that big-government solutions cannot possibly remedy. Neither conservatives nor liberals can afford to endorse the extreme partisanship of bigotry. We can never spend our way to safety. Only relationships can make any community great. Everyone has a responsibility to recognize we all have the power to shape relationships.
Respectfully submitted by Julie Blase, professor of Political Science, Principia College
4 December 2016
To the Editors of the Pilot:
I was disappointed to read the articles in your last issue summarizing some of the reactions by students and (particularly) professors to the election of Donald Trump. My concern is not to defend any particular point of view, but that we must preserve at Principia an atmosphere open to all shades of political opinion, free from intimidation and the pressures of “group think.”
To do this, I think it best for professors to keep their political views to themselves, particularly in the classroom where they appear as authority figures with the power to award or withhold good grades, and to maintain instead a role as neutral arbiters of student discussions of these issues. If they nonetheless feel compelled to share their views, they should do so in a way that makes clear that theirs is a strictly personal perspective, that there can be other legitimate perspectives, and that these must be respected.
In particular, I suggest the following guidelines:
- If you must criticize, focus on policies and actions at the level of principle. Avoid condemning people personally.
- Encourage rational, respectful discussion of issues, free of vituperation.
- Never dismiss anyone’s views as illegitimate because of their race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, or socioeconomic background.
- Never, never rebuke or embarrass a student for her/his political views or allow others to do so. This is not only unloving; it also discourages honest dialogue and, in the case of those with minority views, punishes the moral courage it takes to defend an unpopular position.
Gregory W. Sandford
Dear Pilot editors,
Thanks for your election issue and your invitation to Faculty to respond. Your opinion piece statement “Just because a conversation is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having” (“Speaking gently…) is one I concur with, and it’s what impels me to write.
Here is why, as a faculty member, I find myself “between a rock and a hard place.”
On the one hand, the “rock” is the concept of ensuring that the classroom be a safe place where all voices can be heard in a genuinely respectful manner. This is a principle I believe in and try to adhere to.
The “hard place” is the lesson history offers that those who remain silent in the face of hurtful talk delivered publicly are, in effect, enablers and are accountable for their silence if and when those hurtful words subsequently lead to hurtful actions. This, too, is a principle I believe in and try to adhere to.
What I’ve discovered in recent days is that finding the delicate balance between this particular rock and hard place is like walking a tightrope, where the stakes are high.
As mentioned in the Pilot, I chose to cancel class on post-election morning — a choice that taught me a few things. I did so because an hour spent on course content seemed trivial in the face of the jaw-dropping (for everyone) election result and the pervasiveness of deeply felt dismay, on the one hand, and elation, on the other.
I felt that if I were to shift the class focus from course content to a discussion of the election results themselves or even to a metaphysical sharing, I was not, at that moment, in a good place to be an effective facilitator. So it seemed better to allow myself and each class member the time to pray about or process the situation in the manner that made sense to each of us individually. I thought everybody could use that reflection time.
Immediately, a student let me know privately that he objected to my canceling class. I genuinely appreciate his candor and courage in speaking up and told him so. The response made me think hard about whether that had been a good choice and what I might do differently in the future in a comparable situation. Follow-up discussion in the next class yielded mixed responses.
What I learned concretely from this experience is that even though my action was not intended to be a political statement, it was perceived that way by some students, and I needed to be more sensitive to that. What I learned more generically is that I’m still finding my way, as I think many of us are, when it comes to how to be simultaneously kind and honest in our communications. Thanks for the tolerance and ongoing input as we sort these issues out, fellow community members!
Cecily Lee, Associate Professor
To the Editors of the Pilot:
These words of the Messiah prophecy could hardly be more vital today: “The government shall be upon *His* shoulder (Isa 9:6). Was the government ever anywhere else? Was it *ever* on the shoulder of a personality, good or evil? The Bible promise embraces all three *branches* or aspects of government: “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us.” (Isa 33:22). The opposite of this spiritual fact is the tenacious belief of tribalism. (Note Mrs. Eddy’s use of “tribe.”)
It’s a shame to *every* member of our community if *any* feel they dare not speak their convictions for fear of ridicule or spite. We forfeit the name “Christians” if we are willing to identify others as hateful, hypocritical, or stupid. Yes, we shun evil, destroy it, especially in our prayers, especially in ourselves, and–when Love demands it–in others, but never bind it to our sisters and brothers.
More importantly, if our love extends only to those who share a similar opinion to our own, can we call ourselves followers of Jesus, of him who loved and forgave his torturers? Or followers of Mrs. Eddy, who also loved universally, and had much to say about human opinions? For example:
“Human opinions are not spiritual. They come from the hearing of the ear, from corporeality instead of from Principle, and from the mortal instead of from the immortal” (S&H 192). “In Christian Science mere opinion is valueless. Proof is essential to a due estimate of this subject (S&H 341).” “In mental practice you must not forget that erring human opinions, conflicting selfish motives, and ignorant attempts to do good may render you incapable of knowing or judging accurately the need of your fellow-men” (S&H 447). “Science makes no concessions to persons or opinions” (S&H 456).
A question arose about whether staff should share their political opinions. I can’t speak for others, but, for myself, it doesn’t feel helpful to do so. I get one vote, and don’t want more. Perhaps it’s vain to imagine that a student might be swayed by my partisan opinion (right or wrong!), but I avoid even the possibility.
If we desire to nourish a Christian community, let’s sacrifice the personal sense that wars against it, shun opinionated tribalism, and honor the one Mind, the universal Love that corrects and embraces all with unerring wisdom and affection. That is, let’s live our Leader’s Daily Prayer and our Master’s Prayer. As Isaiah prophesied, the nations will feel the result!
Dr. Thomas H. Fuller