Sunday, December 13, 2009

"What We Must, At All Costs, Preserve In The Academy"

Consider, if you will, the following statement, spoken years ago by a Butler administrator:

I believe teaching our students to negotiate issues of ethics and citizenship must be part and parcel of a Butler education. In part it is a matter of doing what the academy has always done: entertaining diverse viewpoints and perspectives, and modeling how a community can engage in civil dialogue. The ideal of the academy is to be able to represent fairly the viewpoint of those with whom one most disagrees. But dialogue, however necessary, is not sufficient. The unending conversation is what we must, at all costs, preserve in the academy….”


I particularly like the final part, “The unending conversation is what we must, at all costs, preserve in the academy…”


Imagine
, if you can, how different the past year would have been for me, for Butler, for the present administration, if those words had been heeded. The True BU was raising what I and what frightened faculty members thought were very real concerns. Those concerns were being aired in an anonymous blog because faculty felt that their voices had not been heard – they met privately with the dean, they met privately with the provost, they met privately with the president to no avail. They were repeatedly told one thing but contrary actions ensued. They were frustrated and, as they’ve said, they refused to speak publicly because they were afraid of retaliation. So they let The True BU speak for them. The same dean, provost and president who said one thing but did another did not like reading about those inconsistencies. Those same administrators did not like emails and memos pointing out those inconsistencies being shared publicly so others could draw their own conclusions about their actions.


“The ideal of the academy is to be able to represent fairly the viewpoint of those with whom one most disagrees,” the Butler administrator wrote years ago. How better to represent those views fairly than by presenting the actual words written?


“The unending conversation is what we must, at all costs, preserve in the academy…” A year ago, the Butler administration completely ignored those words and ended the conversation, they stilled
the sound of dissent, they silenced my voice. And they did it because they didn’t like what I was saying. But then as now they’ve ignored the fact that those closest to the events I was describing, the faculty in the School of Music, have said that what I was writing was an accurate portrayal of events and an appropriate depiction of their thoughts. For these administrators, however, an unpleasant truth was enough to demand a halt to the conversation. Ironically, they thought that the cost of such silence would be small – but as is so often the case with censorship, the message ultimately got out and the cost was far higher than they ever imagined.


Rather than being willing to pay a high cost to preserve freedom of speech in the academy, this administration did exactly the opposite – they paid a high cost and have become infamous for attempting to silence alternative views.


Why would they go down a path so diametrically opposed to the advice given by the Butler administrator I quoted above? I can’t answer that question but perhaps Butler’s current president
can. He is, after all, the one whose policy careened so recklessly off course – and he is the one who, in his inaugural speech on February 9, 2002, spoke the words reproduced above.

3 comments:

  1. One of the stranger things about Butler's pres. is the intensity with which he really believes in himself.

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  2. It turns out that what we must preserve, at all costs, is the fiction that Bobby Fong is always right, and that he never, ever makes a mistake. This is the principle around which the whole University is now organized.

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