A new first in my career as an academic: this morning I received an email asking if I could speak on a conservative political radio show. I agreed although the request came with no apologies for its lateness (they just said they’d need me to be ready in 90 minutes) and lacked a proper salutation (instead calling me “Robert;” to her credit, Ms. Ingraham referred to me as “Professor” during the conversation).
I was told “Since it is so last minute there are no prepared questions” and that the topic would be “recent reactions on various campuses where students have requested safe spaces, time off from class, etc. and what you think the appropriate response by administration should be” (those are direct quotations from the short emails I received).
Although leery, I agreed to the conversation, where I was first asked about how people seemed to feel on my campus. I noted that we have many first generation college students and that they or their parents were often immigrants and that some have concerns about the next four years. Ms. Ingraham asked if the students or their parents were illegal immigrants (a question that pretty clearly reveals the bias at play) and I responded no, they are legal immigrants (though I don’t think that actually matters).
I was then told that a student of mine reports an hour long rant about Trump and Rhince Priebus, and that I’d called them Nazis. The accusation, as anyone who knows me would know, was 97% untrue. (I don’t see the need for a point-by-point refutation)
In class, as part of a post-exam lecture, I always tell my students three brief stories from my past. One is to indicate they should aim high in their schoolwork and in life; one is to indicate that they will, on occasion, fail to meet their goals and that they must forgive themselves and move on; the last is that–while failing my religious studies test might be unpleasant–the important thing in life is to not fail the tests that really matter. I peppered that last part with autobiographical stuff about my own failings and with remarks about current affairs. I clearly stated that, on the one hand, we don’t really know what will happen over the next four years; but also that we do know that it is all of our responsibility to fight misogyny, racism, and religious bigotry. And that I would not allow people to act cruelly toward one another in my presence and that I hoped they’d do the same.
My college is creating opportunities for conversation among students and faculty. We’re not canceling classes or making exams optional or any of that silliness. We’re opening opportunities for conversation. A college is a place of learning and learning requires that we think rationally together. I’m proud that Manhattan College is taking such a well-reasoned approach and that it is being pushed by the President of the institution.
Well, I’ve gotten a couple of emails from Ms. Ingraham’s listeners. So far, they’ve been negative. Despite this, I will continue–as the scholar and gentleman I aspire to be–to speak out on behalf of the vulnerable and to do so in ways that will always be (to the best of my ability) gracious toward my political opponents and inclusive of everyone in civil society. We’re all in this together and I hope that, as a member of the professoriate and a member of public life, that I can help others recognize that fact and that we can rationally work together for a better future. I’ll certainly be trying.