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RCGA and POLSCI Responses to Open Letter

View the original Open Letter

Political Science Department (POLSCI) Response 1:

Tuesday, 7:49 AM 4/16/2018

 

Dear Juliana Dunn, Vee Duong, and Signatories of the Open Letter,

 

Thank you for reaching out to the Political Science Department faculty. I am responding in my role as chair of the department, but my most important message is that we are a department of individuals who hold widely divergent opinions on controversial speakers. Therefore, I am not responding on behalf of the department. I recommend that you contact individual faculty members to understand the range of perspectives that we each hold.

 

Before responding directly to your request, it is important to provide some context for decisions about department co-sponsorship. In order for any event to be co-sponsored by the department, faculty or student groups write to the chair to request that status. In our large department where we receive a significant number of requests, our procedures are such that the chair alone makes the decision to co-sponsor an event. Within the constraints of our budget, as chair I support all events that I believe would be of interest to Political Science majors and minors. As with the common Twitter statement that retweets do not equal endorsements, the same is true with our policy: co-sponsorship does not equal endorsement.

 

We try our best to support events initiated by student groups and by faculty members in other departments. That said, a special status is reserved for requests made by Political Science department faculty. We routinely and automatically co-sponsor any event that is proposed by one of our faculty members. We trust each other to exercise good judgment and to be motivated by an intellectual purpose in choosing invited speakers. That is the essence of academic freedom. To my knowledge, our department has never denied a request of co-sponsorship from one of its faculty members.

 

The Alexander Hamilton Forum was launched this year by our colleague Keegan Callanan. He has taken on the responsibility of identifying and inviting speakers that he believes will enrich our campus discussions. As chair, I agreed that the department would co-sponsor the entire series. Neither the chair nor members of our department reviewed the list of invitees, nor did most of us pay full attention to the Legutko event until the past couple of weeks even though it has been on the calendar since January. I was unaware of his statements regarding LGBTQ issues until they were brought to my attention by a colleague in another department last Thursday.

 

Within our department, the standard for granting co-sponsorship is relatively low, but the standard for rescinding co-sponsorship is high. This is all the more true given that our colleague feels that the speaker will bring a discussion to campus that touches on key issues related to the theme of the Alexander Hamilton Forum, the primary sponsor of the event. In my personal view, there are virtually no circumstances under which a department should rescind co-sponsorship granted to a colleague, unless a colleague has invited someone for the express purpose of engaging in hate speech (by which I mean statements that would break the law in European jurisdictions that have carefully considered where that line should be drawn). That is clearly not the case here.

 

At the same time, I hear the concerns expressed in the letter, loud and clear. Legutko is a member of a party that has threatened democratic values in Poland, he has expressed a vehement dislike for LGBTQ activists and groups, and he holds views that I believe foster homophobia.

 

In response, and in conjunction with colleagues at the RCGA, the department is co-sponsoring a panel discussion on “Populism, Homophobia, and Illiberal Democracy.” It will take place from 4:30-5:30 today (Tuesday) in the RAJ, and will feature Gary Winslett from Political Science offering a defense of liberal democracy, Kevin Moss from the Russian department talking about gender politics with reference to Eastern Europe, and Katherine Aha from Political Science discussing populism and the rise of the Law and Justice party in Poland. I will chair the panel. The goal is to provide context for the Legutko talk and to address some of the key concerns raised by your letter. It may provide some tools for students as they consider the kinds of questions they want to ask Legutko in order to press him on his stances.

 

As chair, I will meet with any student or group that wants to talk more about the important concerns that you express in the letter. I will also support your right to protest this speaker or any speaker and to state your views as fully as possible. My fundamental goal is to uphold the key values of academic freedom and inclusivity, even during moments when these core values are not fully or easily compatible. I will not always get this exactly right, but I will do my best, I will listen to feedback, and I will keep learning as I go forward.

 

Sincerely,

Erik Bleich

POLSCI Response 2:

 

Tuesday, 1:33PM 4/16/2019

 

Dear Juliana and Vee,

 

As you may have just seen, this afternoon’s panel has been moved to Dana Auditorium. We want to be sure as many people can attend as possible.

 

If you are able to update people on the location of the event (so there is no confusion), that would also be greatly appreciated.

 

Also, I just want to reaffirm my offer to meet with you, or anyone who would like to talk more. As the chair of the political science department, I want to be sure you know that I understand that LGBTQ and marginalized students are hurt, and that the department is going to do as much as possible to support all of our students.

 

Sincerely,

Erik

Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs (RCGA)
Response 1:  

 

Nothing as of 4:00 pm 4/16/2019, more than 24 hours after the letter was sent.

 

Vee and Juliana sent a follow up email:  

 

Tuesday, 4:16 pm 4/16/2019

 

Dear RCGA Leaders,

We are writing to request a formal statement from your office so that we may share your answer with our 700+ signatories. We are requesting a response by 8pm this evening, so that signatories have time to read and consider your statement. If we do not receive a response by 8pm, we will amend the letter to reflect your failure to respond to community voices.

Once again, we strongly urge you to rescind your co-sponsorship in consideration of these 700+ individuals and groups who are integral to the Middlebury community. We can assure you that student response will continue beyond this RCGA co-sponsored event, and that more decisive action(s) will be taken in response to repeated institutional support of speakers and viewpoints like Legutko’s.

Respectfully,

Juliana Dunn ’19

Vee Duong ’19

RCGA Response 2:

 

Tuesday, 11:00 PM 4/16/2019

 

Good evening,

 

First let me say that giving an ultimatum to anyone is highly inappropriate, especially if you wish to engage in a civil conversation. As I said to you at the event,  you have no idea what our schedules are like, what obligations we have beyond Mr. Legutko’s visit, and whether we even were in the office or near a computer during the day.

To the point:

RCGA will stands by its co- sponsorship of the event for reasons stated in the attached document.

Sincerely,

Tamar Mayer

 

Attached Official Response:

 

Statement about the Upcoming Lecture by Mr. Ryszard Legutko

The Rohatyn Center’s decision to support Mr. Legutko’s lecture, in name only, was made last October on the basis of very limited information about the speaker. Since then it has emerged that he is a member and representative of the Law and Justice Party in Poland, which has been associated with global strains of white supremacism and has promulgated legislation that could be viewed as codifying a form of Holocaust denial. In addition, the social agenda of the party, including its views about homosexuality and the place of women, follows traditional Catholic moral teaching, which should come as no surprise.

The Center has been asked to consider rescinding its co-sponsorship on all these grounds. The Center’s Advisory Committees are divided on this question, and as Director I am responsible for breaking the impasse. In this task I have been truly conflicted. Most of us would agree that racist discourses, Holocaust denial, and other malicious fringe theories should be considered outside the pale of the rational, civil debate that the Center and the College seek to promote. The tenets of conservative Catholicism, however, are not, even if some members of our community find the ramifications objectionable.

But there is also the question of how fair it is to tie Mr. Legutko, a prominent conservative intellectual, to everything his party has ever done, or to hold him responsible for the more nefarious directions in which it has been taken by some factions. Do his own writings support explicitly racist views, or promote denial of the Holocaust? Has he himself engaged in hate speech, strictly defined as speech that incites violence against marginalized groups? Nothing that I have read about Mr. Legutko suggests that he has crossed these lines, as problematic as I myself find his positions. But we simply do not have time at this point to look into these factual questions more systematically.

In view of this incomplete picture, and on the principle that it is better to err on the side of freedom of thought and expression, the Center stands by its co-sponsorship of this event. This freedom is a bi-partisan good that gives the academy its unique legitimacy; that said, it should be clear that sponsorship does not imply endorsement of the opinions expressed. Mr. Legutko’s topic does not appear to engage directly with any of these areas of controversy per se, but will set out his views about the trajectory of liberal democracy. This is a pressing global issue that should concern us all, and we should be interested in the speaker’s perspective precisely because our analysis is likely to be radically different from his.  

 

Prof. Tamar Mayer,

Director

Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs 

 

Our response to RCGA:

Tuesday, 11:20 pm 4/16/2018

Good evening,

Thank you for your above email and statement Professor Mayer.

We firmly believe that an open letter with community signatures is one of the most civil forms of expression that exists at our disposal. We believe that the large number of signatures (770+ at the time of this email) should carry the full weight of these Middlebury community members and deserved a timely response.

We did our best to give you all a time frame that we found reasonable for the dissemination of your reply (as it deserves to be shared given the thought and time you are putting into this), while also being mindful of our own physiological needs (such as sleep) and those of the signees who are awaiting a response. We also would like to remind you that the rushed nature of our request is the direct result of RCGA’s lack of oversight in deciding to co-sponsor this speaker, with you as the director.

Hence, our request to have a statement by 8 PM.

In the future, we would appreciate not being accosted in person in such an unsettling manner. We have been offered meeting times with other departments, yet RCGA has not extended any offer for conversation.

Finally, we want to point out that the (mainly) student organizers of this effort are still actively attending classes and doing our best to fulfill our academic responsibilities, without financial compensation. At the end of the day, we are not being compensated for our time to engender important conversations around diversity, inclusivity, etc. while you, as a director and faculty member, are responsible for doing so as a (paid) steward of this college.

Sincerely,

Vee Duong and Juliana Dunn

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2019 by in Uncategorized.
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