SUBMITTED BY PROFESSOR DAVID BRAIN
I’ve been thinking about this since our February 8 meeting, but the article I just read in the Catalyst today has reinforced my concerns.
First, I want to say that I appreciate the Catalyst’s generally balanced account of the discussion of the resolution that was proposed at the faculty meeting on February 8. At the same time, I would like to add a perspective that is missing from the article: that of a member of the faculty who not only would have voted against the resolution (as presented), but who was appalled by both the wording of the resolution and by its ill-considered political intentions.
As a faculty, we were not being asked to take a stand in opposition to President Trump’s executive orders, or in support of students, staff or faculty who might feel threatened by them. We were asked to take a stand against “the administration.” I have a problem with political discourse that starts out by reifying something called “the administration,” when in fact it was really about an actual person who was sitting there in the room— President O’Shea. I know this is a time-honored rhetorical strategy, but I believe we need to be more skillful and sensitive in the way we build consensus around collective action, especially if it is to be anything more than an empty symbolic gesture. The tactical choice of this kind of accusatory resolution presented to the faculty is both inappropriate in context and generally a bad idea. It is fundamentally destructive to healthy democratic discussion in a small community.
“The administration” is a fiction that is used sometimes out of convenience and at other times (as in this case) as a device to set up an adversarial opposition. As became clear in the discussion, President O’Shea had reasons for his decision not to sign the same letter as other university presidents had signed. As it turned out, he stated that he would be happy to sign a similar letter without that one paragraph in the Pomona paragraph that referred to “DACA beneficiaries” on our campus. So we were looking at underlying agreement on values and goals, and disagreement on tactics– all reduced to a list of demands to be put to “the administration.”
We might disagree with President O’Shea’s choices or his reasons, but the least we ought to be able to do is listen and discuss them. In fact, we might well have had a discussion of the issues, of the goals and consequences of taking a public stand in relation to those issues, and the nature of the kind of stand most likely to be meaningful and effective. We might have been presented with a resolution that was actually drafted to be something more than an effort to provoke confrontation between the faculty and the “Administration.” The intention seemed to be to compel the President to take an action with which he disagreed, while piling on list of demands that we were asked to support without real discussion. The result was a package in which good intentions and worthwhile goals (around which there is probably substantial consensus) were wrapped up along with a mixed bag of debatable tactical assumptions. We might have been presented with a question of what is to be done, given our underlying goals. We might even have gotten into a discussion of what it might mean to be a sanctuary, how we might best serve those threatened by the current political climate, and by both the actual and potential actions of the Trump administration. This might have led us to a meaningful commitment of some kind. Instead, the proposed resolution sent us off on a side track.
In my opinion, there is a lesson in this. This resolution was a good example of one of the ways that the progressive left has been so consistent in the tendency to lose its focus, its efficacy and its relevance in what turns into ultimately pointless internal conflict.
It seems likely that we will be presented with a lot more issues in the future where the campus community needs to respond (or might choose to respond). Can we please try to be better than this?
Professor of Sociology & Environmental Studies