Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in charge of a public liberal arts college that just suffered the most extreme student protest of any in recent years. Now that summer is in full swing and the campus has calmed down, what do you do about the students who led the protest, people who likely engaged in multiple illegal acts?
That’s exactly the problem facing the president of The Evergreen State College and in its Alice in Wonderland universe nothing seems to be particularly straightforward.
Consider that on the morning of Tuesday, 23 May 2017, a group of 50 or more students disrupted the class of Professor Bret Weinstein, surrounded him and called for him to be fired because they believed, despite the absence of evidence, that he was a racist. After physically resisting the efforts of police officers to see if Weinstein was safe, the group marched to the president’s office demanding a meeting. The next day, after a faculty meeting was disrupted, the president and his senior administrative team were taken hostage by students and the library was barricaded with furniture to ensure that police could not enter. Given threats made by students, Professor Weinstein was advised by the College’s police chief to stay away from campus because she and her officers were unable to protect him.
After all of this occurred, at a meeting with protestors, the College’s president praised the students for their “passion and courage” and indicated that students would not be punished for their actions. When it became clear that the actions of students were being viewed extremely negatively by virtually everyone who saw videos of their behavior – and those videos collectively received millions of hits – and when legislators expressed deep concern, the president changed his perspective. According to a story in the local newspaper, he said, “Blocking doors — that’s a criminal act in the state of Washington, to prevent people from entering or exiting, you can’t do that in a public building.” He also indicated that some students would be subjected to disciplinary proceedings as a result of their actions.
The following day, on 12 June, the president was seen on a Seattle television station saying that he “was immensely disappointed with the students who disrupted [Weinstein’s] class. Those actions are indefensible.”
So, what’s the current situation with the protest’s dominant students? Does the administration now consider the actions of these students courageous or criminal?
Because campus disciplinary proceedings are confidential, as they should be, there’s no way to know if these students are facing any consequences for some of their actions.
But there are some things we do know. A group of students, faculty and staff have been employed this summer to rework the student code of conduct. The group of students has been officially entitled “Presidential Equity Advisors” but the campus administration has been unwilling to say who any of these students are. Indeed, campus administrators have been unwilling to comment on any aspect of this work, refusing to even acknowledge my questions. The implication seems to be if you slap the word “equity” on something, all is good and the details need not be discussed.
We know one more thing. Sources wishing to remain confidential have made it clear that the student who perhaps played the largest role in the protest has been hired to work as a “Presidential Equity Advisor.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I may well be missing something. Perhaps it makes good sense for this person to be hired for the job, or for any of the protestors to be hired. But, as I said, campus administrators refuse to discuss the issue, so their reasoning remains a secret. Which is weird if they think this is such a good idea. You’d think they’d be proudly promoting what they’ve done.
So, I’ll let you decide if such appointments makes sense. Here’s a bit of information to help make that determination.
We know from videos produced by the protestors that one student gave orders to ensure that the College’s senior administrative team couldn’t leave the president’s office. Watch this student organize the blockade saying,
They stay in that room. If they aren’t in that room, we’ve done something wrong. So, you’ll have to watch that door, watch all the doors, watch the windows, keep eyes on them. Someone has to go in that room and make sure there’s no way to get out. They do not leave that room until this happens. What we need is to have a physical presence on this floor so they aren’t leaving.
Once the administrative staff is secured, with all exits blocked, the student asks if they need anything. As you can see, the president says that he “needs to pee” and he is told to “Hold it.”
This student was also at the center of the vigilante group that was roaming campus for days with baseball bats harassing those with whom they disagreed. Indeed, they posted a photo that has become the iconic Evergreen image.
So, is paying this student, or any of the protestors, to be a Presidential Equity Advisor a wise administrative decision? Does this make Evergreen a safer, more equitable academic environment?
I have two immediate concerns about what was done. First, on a campus of approximately 3,800 students, around 200 participated in the protests with many of the remaining 3,600 being opposed to the tactics utilized ― which is different from being opposed to equity. Does putting protestors on the committee fairly represent the will of Evergreen’s student body?
Similarly, to the best of my knowledge, none of those outside the administration most directly impacted by the protestors were consulted about the composition of the committee. Does Professor Weinstein or his students who had their class disrupted and ultimately moved off campus feel it is appropriate to have some of those who were responsible paid for their opinions? How do some of the faculty members who were publicly berated or those staff members who were trapped in the library fearing for their safety feel about this decision? Shouldn’t their voices be heard as well as those shouting during the protest?
Second, rewarding the outrageous behavior of the protestors in this manner sets a very dangerous precedent.
It’s hard to know whether the president or the mad hatter is running the campus. What do you think?