What College Costs Beyond TuitionApril 15, 2019
We conducted a survey of Trinity students in all units to find out more about your living costs while attending Trinity. These costs include rent and housing expenses, food, transportation, books, personal expenses, child care, care for elders and family members, and assorted other expenses. Many thanks to more than 250 students who completed the survey! Your answers are helping us to understand more about the kind of support you need as well as to plan for improved ways to support your financial needs.
I will be publishing the survey this week in installments on this blog — follow every day for more data and recommendations at the end — and please add your comments!
Here’s who answered the survey:
Where Do Students Live?
Of all who answered 50 live on campus and 209 live off-campus. Of those who live off-campus, 125 live in homes with parents and family, and most of those are students in CAS and NHP. Here’s more on student residential patterns:
|Live On Campus||Live Off Campus||Live with Parent/Family||Live with Partner/Friends||Live Alone|
How Much Do Students Pay in Rent Off-Campus?
While 95 respondents said they do not pay rent because they are living with families or partners, the majority do pay rent. Of those who pay rent, the majority — 64% — pay more than $700 a month for rent, with a sizeable group — 40% — paying more than $1,000 per month for rent. Here’s how rent breaks out by student units:
|NO Rent, lives with family/friends||Rent = $300-$600||Rent = $700-$1000||Rent =
What About Food Costs?
|Less than $100||$100-$300||$400-$600||More than $600|
The majority of students are spending $100-$300 per month on food, and many spend as much as $600 per month depending on how many persons are included. Many students on the higher end of the scale cited their costs to feed children and family members as well, and we have a section below on caring for children and family more generally.
Regarding transportation costs, Trinity students take a wide variety of transportation modes, with a substantial majority — 73% — spending $100-$300 per month on transportation.
|My Car||Metro||Bus||Uber/Taxi||Share Ride||Walk||$100-300||$400-600||$600+|
A question was posed in the comments section about why Trinity does not have the subsidized Metro pass program like the program at American University. In fact, we looked at that program but we determined that it was not fair to all students since it requires every full-time student, whether the student rides Metro or not, to pay a hefty mandatory fee to support the program. The university does not pay for the Metro cards, student fees pay for them regardless of whether a student uses Metro. It’s not really a “free” program at all! Plus, the current program offered through WMATA is only for full-time students, which leaves out our very large population of part-time students who also ride Metro. Additionally, the cards issued through this program can only be used on certain days and times, and not in the summer. All in all, the program is expensive without being particularly advantageous for Trinity students.
Child Care Expenses
26% of the respondents indicate that they have child care expenses, and the respondents are across all units with more proportionately in BGS (80%), EDU (50%), SPS (47%) and NHP (32%) than in CAS (13%).
While 46% of all respondents indicate that they spend $300 or less on child care expenses per month, 40% spend up to $600 per month and 14% spend more than $600 per month.
Trinity students report children ranging in ages from two months through age 38, and while most report one or two children, several report as many as 5-6 children. Child care is expensive, with payments for various programs ranging from $240 to $500 per month, with extra expenses cited for sports, dance, gymnastics, ballet, field trips, lunch and snacks, diapers, and care for special needs children. Many respondents praised grandparents, spouses and other relatives for helping with child care duties.
Caring for Elders and Family Members
Many Trinity students also care for elder parents or other family members. These costs add to the complexity of figuring out a “living expense” budget while attending college.
65% of those who reported caring for elders or other relatives say they spend up to $300 per month on this care; 19% spend up to $600, and another 17% spend more than $600 per month on relative care.
Students report that they care for grandparents, parents or spouses with serious medical conditions, or siblings if the parents are unable to care for them.
What emerges from these responses is a profile of a student population that has significant financial burdens that are quite different from the stereotype of a traditional, relatively care-free college student of yesteryear. ALL Trinity students have one or more “non-traditional” characteristics, and all are adults, regardless of age, with adult responsibilities beyond their studies. Figuring out how to balance these responsibilities, and how to manage the financial challenges while also succeeding academically is a major challenge that most Trinity students meet with courage and determination.
NEXT: BOOKS! And other expenses associated with attending college….Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Symposium on #MeToo and Sexual ViolenceApril 3, 2019
On April 3, the Trinity campus community gathers for a Symposium on #MeToo and Sexual Violence. This academic convening arose from last fall’s campus survey that covered a range of topics on the #MeToo Movement, the Catholic Church clergy sex abuse scandal, the large number of claims of sexual harassment and violence in a multitude of industries with horrific acts of abuse committed by powerful people, in most cases, powerful men. During the symposium, I live-blogged the panels, and will be adding more to this blog as feedback comes in…
We want your feedback! Please click on this link to take a short feedback survey on your experience at the symposium:
Panel #1 focused on sexual abuse and violence in major institutions.
Full house for today’s Symposium on #MeToo and Sexual Violence. Associate Dean Tom Mostowy (below), also a lawyer and chair of Criminal Justice in SPS, provides an overview of notorious cases of sexual violence in sports, including in elite and Olympic level swimming, speed skating, gymnastics — and the cases of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and Larry Nasser of Michigan State and the US Olympics Gymnastics program.
Next, Trinity’s Executive Director of Human Resources Tracey Prince Ross (left) walked the audience through a series of scenarios illustrating grooming and sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The most important advice: don’t be intimidated, and go directly to your HR Office if you are subjected to any inappropriate behavior by a supervisor, colleague, or other person in the workplace.
Assistant Professor Lynda Jackson (below), a retired Air Force Colonel, gave a powerful presentation about sexual abuse in the military. She spoke of the case of Martha McSally, now a United States Senator, who was the first woman to fly combat missions in the Air Force. Senator McSally recently revealed that she was a victim of rape by superior officers as she worked her way up the ranks in the Air Force. She has become a powerful symbol of the continuing problem of sexual abuse in the Air Force, as well as a leading advocate for change in the military,
Concluding the first panel, Sr. Mary Johnson (below), Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, addressed the problem of sexual abuse in religion, and particularly the Catholic Church. The need to address not only the abuse, but also the cover-up culture is urgent. Women must be fully engaged with developing solutions and effective responses to clergy sex abuse.
Questions from students following the first panel included requests for more information about workplace harassment, family sexual abuse, and Trinity’s policies and case reports, which will be on the agenda later in the day.
Panel #2 Addressed Sexual Abuse in Education Spaces.
Dr. Cynthia Greer, center above, introduced the panel including, left to right, Dr. Diane Reese, Dr. Luane Oprea, R. Kyle Bivens of Children’s National Health System, Dr. Greer, Dr. Gladys Williams and Dr. Deborah Taub. Except Mr. Bivens, all the panelists are faculty in the School of Education and members of the ACEs research team. Dr. Greer explained that ACEs — adverse childhood experiences — are a major issue for educators to learn about and be ready to respond to. The panel provided perspectives on the ways in which children are exploited, the problem of the power relationship when a child trusts an older authority figure, the challenge of eliciting the facts from a child, and how to provide support and assistance to the child. Panelists cited the recent case at Damascus High School as an example of failed policies and responses to protect children. The panel also addressed the prevalence of abuse for children with disabilities, and the stereotyping of children that result in their classification as disabled. Inclusive education reduces the risks for children with disabilities. The role and responsibility of the school principal is essential to understand for enforcing policies protecting children and responding appropriately to incidents of abuse. Parent education is also a vital component of child protection.
Panel #3 – Survivorship: Strategies for Empowerment of Victims of Sexual Violence
Dr. Carrie O’Reilly of Trinity’s Nursing Program (below) led the discussion of survivorship. The session explored all of the ways that professionals need to be ready to help survivors of sexual assault to heal and recover. Dealing with victim feelings of fear, shame, blaming themselves, family reactions, confronting abusers, and so many other psychological, social, familial and medical dimensions of cases requires professionals to be insightful and skilled on the issues.
Leslie Gergely of the Network for Victim Recovery of DC (with Dr. O’Reilly, above) spoke about the importance of strategies for self-care not only for victims but also for the professional responders and caregivers.
Panel #4: Preventing Sexual Violence
Dr. Jamey Piland (below) who leads Trinity’s Women’s Studies program as well as the Communication Program led the session on preventing sexual violence. She led the audience through a progressive continuum of ways different behaviors become socially acceptable, masking the potential for sexual harassment and abuse. Street harassment, innuendos about women’s looks or choices, even comments about how babies are dressed all contain cues about social attitudes toward gender and create environments that allow or prevent sexual abuse.
Dr. Piland’s session was packed…. the students and faculty attending were active participants in the discussion about how to deal with bystanders, perpetrators, victims and resources to help reduce sexual violence.
Through the years, Dr. Piland has been the advisor for the Women’s Student Action Coalition that has organized and led important events like Take Back the Night, the Clothesline Project, and other women’s rights and advocacy events. Two alumnae leaders of WSAC joined the current leaders for the symposium and sharing ideas with Dr. Piland and Trinity Sisters. They are (photo below, left to right), Morgan Carillo ’13, Dr. Piland, Vanessa Perry ’19, Victoria Turcios ’12, and Sayra Lopez ’21. Woman Power Works at Trinity!!
Panel #5: Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Health Professions
Dr. Mary Bantell (left), Director of the Master’s in Nursing Program, led the session on sexual harassment and abuse in the health professions. A panel of MSN students (below) presented cases and issues for discussion. The discussion included a video about Nurse Alex Wubbels who was arrested in 2017 in Utah after refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient in violation of hospital policy protecting patient rights. The police officer was subsequently fired and Nurse Wubbels received a major legal settlement, but the case illustrates the problem of disrespect against nurses and challenges dealing with law enforcement. The session also reviewed a video about sexual harassment in the workplace and ways to prevent sexual assault. At the end of the session, the panelists asked everyone in the audience to sign the American Nurses Association pledge to #EndNurseAbuse click that link to find the pledge and sign-up information.
Panel #6: R. Kelly and Sexual Violence in Entertainment
Psychology Professor Dr. Christopher Bishop (right, above) led a provocative session on the case of R. Kelly, touching on other figures in entertainment such as Michael Jackson. Using video clips from interviews with the women involved in the R. Kelly case — some considering themselves victims, some rejecting the idea that anything wrong happened — the panelists dissected the issues of grooming, power relationships, victim blaming, exploitation of children, the significant role of parental participation in grooming and educating their children. Distinguished panelists included Dr. Gizelle Carr of Howard University, Dr. Katara Watkins-Laws with D.C. Superior Court, and Dr. Charla McKinzie-Bishop of Bowie State.
Panel #7: Gender, Race, Sexuality and Culture: Intersections and Influences
The last panel of the symposium explored the many issues of intersectionality —- how race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status and other personal characteristics can make some people more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse, and the remedies and protections that are available including legal services.
Liana Monticenos (above, right) and her partner Sarah B. Pitney (second from right) with the law firm Benach Collopy LLP had particularly urgent insights and case studies. Ms. Monticenos discussed a case study of a victim of sex trafficking at the border, a young undocumented woman subjected to horrific abuse even while pregnant. Time and again, the speakers emphasized the reality that women on the margins are more vulnerable and suffer more abuse than any other population.
Other panelists in this session included Tonya J. Turner of the Rainbow Response Coalition, Tiffany Turner-Allen of the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, and Associate Dean Tom Mostowy who is also a lawyer and former magistrate judge who adjudicated sexual violence cases.
Sexual Violence Resources Presented in Payden Lobby
Throughout the day, a number of professional resource providers were in the Payden Lobby with information and assistance to participants.
Many thanks to all providers including Trinity’s Health and Wellness Center, Campus Ministry, Student Affairs, Title IX, WSAC and Women’s Studies, and partners from the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, DC Rape Crisis Center, MPD Special Victims Unit, The Women’s Center, and the Network for Victim Recovery. Thanks to Dr. Karen Gerlach and the Student Affairs Team for organizing!
Many special thanks as well to Trisha Smith and Trinity’s Library for offering a film series all week with documentaries, dramas and discussions of the treatment of sexual violence in film.
WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK! Please take this short survey to give us your opinion on the symposium and ideas for future programs.Continue reading →Read comments (1) Add Comment
Evil Will Not TriumphMarch 17, 2019
I had not known of Jacinda Ardern before the horrific news out of New Zealand last Friday. At age 38, the youngest woman leader in the world, the Prime Minister of New Zealand was thrust into the headlines because of the murderous rampage of a white supremacist gunning down scores of worshipers at Islamic mosques in Christchurch. 50 people are dead, murdered as they prayed. Once again, a community and nation reel from the appalling atrocity and the world wonders when it will end. Our hearts go out to the Muslim community in New Zealand and around the world, and we must pray for the families who lost so many loved ones so brutally.
Ardern’s leadership during the crisis has gained praise from many quarters. She comforted families, demanded change in gun laws, and condemned the white supremacist movement that is fueling so much racial and religious hatred around the world. She called on President Trump to express public support for Muslims. We’re still waiting.
Many other world leaders immediately condemned the white nationalism and Islamophobia that seemed to fuel the perpetrator of this heinous crime. Not so much, however, the president of the United States. When asked if he views the rising tide of white nationalism as a threat, he responded, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people…” His Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, put out a statement condemning the massacre, but President Trump tweeted “warmest sympathy and best wishes,” language one might use to express condolences on an elderly relative’s passing. Hardly the kind of strong, resounding condemnation of yet another gruesome attack on people because of their religion. He uses much stronger language condemning impoverished refugees fleeing oppressive regimes. He denies any association with white nationalism, and yet, in every opportunity to express moral outrage and stand for justice of people who are at risk, he demurs, waffles, goes mute. And just shortly before the news of the massacre in New Zealand, the president seemed to offer his own threat of violence by saying that “…law enforcement, military, construction workers, Bikers for Trump” could make it “very bad, very bad” for Democrats.
The current administration likes to make a big show of its “pro-life” politics and proclamations of religious liberty, but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to their actions. Religious leaders, if they are true to the fundamental teachings of just about all faiths, should distance themselves far away from this administration. Time and again, President Trump and those who work for him have demonstrated the most callous disregard for human life and dignity, for simple justice for the poor and suffering of this earth, whether it be the appalling actions against children and families at the border, or reductions in the social safety net especially Medicaid, or overt encouragement of police brutality while threatening those who protest. In this administration, religious liberty has become a bludgeon wielded by rightwing religious leaders against people of other faiths, particularly Muslims. Looking at you, Jerry Falwell, Jr. and that gun you proudly wave around. That’s not Christianity, that’s fearmongering.
We who are Catholic and Christian are called to uphold the dignity of all human life, including the lives of those who profess other faiths, who live on the margins, who do not have the luxuries and benefits we take for granted every day. I recently had occasion to re-read Gaudium et Spes, the document from Vatican II that speaks to the “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” of people in the modern age. While written 55 years ago, the document could have been written just yesterday. The authors call upon us to read the “signs of the times” and to respond to them with the conviction of our faith in social justice. This paragraph seems particularly urgent even today:
“Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes. True, there is a growing exchange of ideas, but the very words by which key concepts are expressed take on quite different meanings in diverse ideological systems. Finally, man painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement.”
White supremacy and its ilk — neo-Nazism, Islamophobia, other forms of racial and religious hatred — are the ultimate expression of a profoundly bankrupt spirituality in the human community. Demagogues have taken over entire countries spewing hateful ideologies, enriching themselves while preaching gospels of division, hatred and authoritarian power. Evil is always with us, but the current convulsions in too many places around the world make it seem like evil is ascendant more powerfully than perhaps at any time since the 1930’s. Our grandparents fought a world war to vanquish the evil of the Holocaust and quest for world domination, but rather than eradicating those impulses, the seeds of evil only scattered for rebirth in modern times.
Evil must not, will not triumph again. We need more world leaders able and willing to stand up and proclaim the values of a good and just society, to confront and be willing to act confidently and affirmatively against those who seek corrupt domination over others. We need religious leaders who are not tools of demagogues but truly able to proclaim the tenets of faith, which are shared by most faiths — charity, hope, peace, justice. Those of us who have the privilege of education must use this gift to enlighten others, to help the people of this earth to raise our voices in solidarity against those who would do harm through violence, oppression, building arsenals and walls instead of securing the peace through understanding and hospitality to all who are searching for community.
The evil in New Zealand — like the evil in Pittsburgh, Charleston, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Paris, Manchester, New York, Oklahoma City and so many other places — this evil might have been perpetrated by a lone gunman or a few working together. But in fact, the global spread of rogue terrorists is fueled and encouraged by the rhetoric of demagogues as well as the silence of others. Some philosopher once said (attributed to Edmund Burke), “The only think necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” Silence is not an option! We must call out the evil and work together to create the changes necessary to restore a sense of moral and spiritual order to this civilization. That includes voting out the demagogues and voting for leaders who can truly set this society in a healthy new direction.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Can Women Really Make History?March 10, 2019
(Screenshot from C-Span Clip: Nancy Pelosi at the Economic Club on “Know Your Power”)
132,000 negative ads against her. Wow. At a recent Economic Club of D.C. luncheon, Club President David Rubenstein asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Trinity ’62) if it was personally difficult for her to be vilified constantly by the right wingers who go after her. Speaker Pelosi’s response was vintage Nancy: “Your power is the reason your opponents go after you….I have to be an example to other women not to be too shy about things, assert yourself, take credit… and here’s the thing: if I were not effective, they wouldn’t be doing these ads. They fear me because I’m a master legislator, I know how to do it… I have a following in the country that supports me at the grassroots level and so they have to take me down. So I have to show other women: we’re in the arena, and once you’re in the arena, you have to be prepared to take a punch (and, throw a punch, too!). Have no fear. Know your own power. Be yourself. Go out there and fight the fight. Know Your Why….. If I were not effective, they would not have taken out 132,000 ads…” (click on the link under the photo, above, to see the clip of this response, and click here to see the full interview.)
Self-confidence is essential for any leader, and teaching women how to be self-confident leaders is one of the reasons why women’s colleges continue to be essential and important for this country. Women’s history, which we celebrate this month, is chock full of great examples of outstanding women leaders like Nancy Pelosi, and women’s colleges rightfully point to many of our graduates in the pantheon of great women leaders.
But confident, bold, even egotistical women leaders are targets — Speaker Pelosi is masterful at handling the constant barrage of nastiness hurled her way (132,000 negative ads!), but many other women leaders struggle with the ugly personal attacks that are often irrelevant to their jobs, and frequently critical of behaviors seen as strengths in men. Male leaders get away with being hyper-aggressive, even bullies, even crass (looking at YOU, Mr. President!)…. but if women are assertive, tough, tenacious, proud, they get called names (the B-word is ever hovering) and held up for ridicule and degradation.
Outrageously, the mainstream media play into this demeaning treatment of women leaders all the time.
Consider the front page of the New York Times on February 22, above. The top story is about presidential friend and convicted felon Paul Manafort, then there’s a story on the sexual abuse allegations against R. Kelly, then the arrest of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in a prostitution sting, and then a story about sexual misconduct among priests and bishops in the Catholic Church — and then, the only story about a woman, a leader running for the presidency, is headlined, “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff.” Seriously? Amid major stories of political corruption in the highest ranks and sexual crimes among powerful men, the only story about a woman on the front page of the New York Times is something straight out of Miss Manners?
It gets worse. The opening paragraphs of the Klobuchar story tell the tale of a salad, a missing fork and a comb. For myself, I would have eaten the salad with my hands, but that’s just me. But seriously, folks, this is COMPLETELY UNIMPORTANT to the profoundly serious issues this nation faces about the new potential for nuclear war, the climate crisis, the immigration crisis, the looming economic crisis, corruption and authoritarianism in the highest places undermining our democracy. I don’t really know a darn thing about Amy Klobuchar but here’s what I do know: I want to know where a candidate for the presidency of the United States stands on these critically important issues for the future of our nation and, indeed, our civilization. Perhaps the fact that some of her dissident staffers dished on her salad dish habits and other intemperate moments tells us that she needs to improve her management skills, but that’s not what the world’s most influential newspaper should be focusing on right now.
And don’t get me started on the line about whether how a person treats her staff indicates her fitness for high office. Just look at who is in office right now. Let’s get serious and talk about the real issues, not the Style section, please!
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the presidency in large part because people didn’t like her. The mainstream media had a large role to play in creating that image, overplaying the private email server issue while Wikileaks and the Trump campaign were taking Democracy down the road to perdition. Hillary was portrayed by any number of supposedly serious journalists as too wonkish, or having a harsh voice, or being frail (??), or laughing too loud, or trying to hard to be friendly, or any number of other personal failings that are irrelevant to being an effective president of the United States.
Other women leaders also incur personal ridicule, from Kirstin Gillibrand eating fried chicken with a fork (she coulda given the fork to Amy!) or Donald Trump repeatedly calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocohantas” to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being ridiculed for everything from dancing in a college video to her clothes and living arrangements. The attacks are personal and demeaning, and women leaders have to learn to shrug them off.
We will soon observe the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in presidential elections. But a full century after that historic event, women candidates for the presidency of the United States are still held out as objects of scorn, ridicule and suspicion. The U.S. lags well behind other countries in the advancement of women to high leadership positions including presidencies. Being female in the U.S. is still a bona fide occupational hazard for a candidate for high public office. The gender gap in U.S. politics is as large and corrosive as ever — despite the fact that women now number more than 100 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, a great moment, but still, that makes women only 25% of the House and only 20% of the entire Congress, but we are 50% of the population.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made history — twice! — by being the only woman elected (twice!!) to the Speaker’s chair. But we’re not satisfied with having a woman just being second in line to the presidency, which is where Speaker Pelosi is today. We want to see a woman president, and in our lifetime! But for a woman to claim the ultimate symbol of women’s history in this country, she will have to overcome the dark forces that constantly seek to demean, trivialize and disparage powerful women. Speaker Pelosi’s example — “Know Your Power – Know Your Why” is a serious lesson for all aspiring women leaders to study and emulate.
Can women really make history by claiming the presidency? Yes! But women candidates for the presidency and other public offices have to be strong, confident and able to overcome the pernicious stereotypes and personal attacks, including those enabled by the mainstream media. We should call them out every time they make the salad fork more important than the legislative agenda.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Free Speech DiktatMarch 4, 2019
In the rabbit hole of current American politics, what’s up is down, what’s normal is perverse, and what seems inarguable on the surface is a trap for the gullible. So, when the President of the United States who has, time and again, shown only the grossest hostility to the First Amendment — as just a few examples, calling the free press the “enemy of the people,” banning “climate change” and “global warming” from the EPA website, demanding retribution against Colin Kaepernick and NFL players who protested police brutality, saying that satire on Saturday Night Live ‘should be looked into’ and not in a friendly way — when this same president makes a clarion call at a conservative political event to impose his idea of freedom of speech on college campuses, we need to pay attention to the real meaning of this threat.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, President Trump said he intends to issue an executive order compelling colleges and universities to protect freedom of speech or risk losing federal research funding. In what can only be termed a legal oxymoron, the president intends to use executive authority to impose coercive economic sanctions on universities that do not comply with his version of what constitutes freedom of speech. The very idea of a presidential edict makes a mockery of academic freedom. The impetus for this misguided abuse of power is NOT some even-handed well-meaning effort to reinforce the First Amendment, but rather, a clear effort to force certain kinds of political speech onto college campuses, which, in and of itself, is an offense against the fundamental freedom of the university. (We might also observe that the First Amendment, itself, is a pretty powerful Constitutional right that does not need an executive order to ensure its effectiveness.)
Like everything else these days, this is about left-right politics. Conservatives complain that conservative speakers are threatened, harassed, assaulted, and otherwise unwelcome on campus — but they are silent in the face of blatant racism, homophobia, disparagement of women and other forms of degrading treatment of persons on campus. They get apoplectic at the use of gender-neutral language, using the bludgeon “political correctness” to trash institutions that insist on a modicum of cordiality and politeness extended to everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics. Certainly, whether conservative or liberal, Trumpist or Bernie Bro, everyone should be allowed to speak on campus, but the speech should be rational, truthful and not a forum for hatred and violence.
The President of the University of Chicago Robert Zimmer has already responded to President Trump’s statement, calling it a “grave error” for the president to interfere with the fundamental rights and duties of universities to impose his own view of freedom of speech. Far from protecting freedom of speech, wrote Zimmer, an executive order would chill it immeasurably and open up the specter of government bureaucrats deciding who may or may not speak on a college campus. We have enough of federal regulation already to know that there will be thousands of pages issuing from negotiated rulemaking over the definition of “hate” in “hate speech” if this comes to pass. The whole idea that we are trying to educate our students to be effective, rational, persuasive advocates for whatever cause they espouse gets lost in the political cacophony. Universities must have the freedom to ensure a robust climate for freedom of speech in ways that make the most sense for each university environment.
Higher education is the great counterweight to government in a free society, and we must be places that honor and practice academic, intellectual and expressive freedom to the greatest extent possible. Indeed, the willingness of universities to indulge the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment sometimes lead to forms of expression that people find objectionable, rash, outlandish, or distasteful — and these objections range across the entire spectrum of political, religious and secular belief and taste. I see a work of art and you see a scandal, that’s how it goes with freedom of expression. The whole idea of the university is to permit freedom of expression as a means to explore, discover and illuminate truth. Academic freedom is the bedrock of our work — and that freedom is polluted if the government dictates how we use our freedom. (Commentators have also already noted that many religiously-affiliated colleges would find an executive order dictating free speech problematic because many religions impose restrictions on free speech on campuses already, including the President’s cherished Liberty University. Whether an institution can be a robust university while also adhering to religious free speech limitations is a great question that the Catholic colleges have debated for many years.)
Freedom of speech is not absolute, and at times, the efforts of universities to establish parameters for expression have caused controversy. “In the old days” meaning when I was a student in the early 1970’s, during the Vietnam protest era, policies governing the “time, manner, place” of what we termed “disruptive demonstrations” came into fashion. The rules did not say we could not protest, but not in the middle of class or in ways that were loud or dangerous. We students often chafed under the rules, and sometimes broke them deliberately, but we learned how to express ourselves well and persuasively within the boundaries, a great lesson learned that serves many of us effectively even today. Similar policies exist today to protect the safety and welfare of campus communities, and these are reasonable rules to make sure that controversial speakers do not wind up inciting violence. Some speech does cross the line, not because of disagreement with the political position but because of the expression of hate that leads to violence. While reasonable people accept these rules, some politicians point to the rules as examples of ways that universities suppress the speech of a perceived conservative minority on campus.
In fact, universities today are well aware of the tensions that exist in the larger political and social communities, and we try to find ways to explore the issues with all voices appropriately represented, but also making sure that the campus remains free from violence and fear. Colleges and universities also have every right to make sure that speakers are truthful, and that any given speech contributes to the advancement of higher learning which is the purpose of the academy. I have no obligation to give a platform to someone who denies science any more than I would allow someone to teach that the earth is flat. We have no obligation to turn every auditorium over to every carnival barker who rolls into town — but that’s what President Trump’s executive order will do, removing any sensible academic or intellectual judgment about the safety, truth and learning value of the event. The University President is thence reduced to a concierge doing nothing more important than scheduling rooms for speeches and making sure the sound system is working and there’s water on the speaker’s podium. (Do I hear cheering for that thought? And don’t forget parking…)
The President of the United States should not dictate the decisions that the President of the University makes based on the soundest local information and advice on his or her own campus. In a functioning democracy, the President of the United States would not interfere in such a heavy-handed way with the governance and management of individual institutions. The threat to use executive authority in this way is one more example of the rise of authoritarianism which, if left unchecked, will damage the great institutions that give meaning and purpose to our free society.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment