Friday, October 3, 2014

Four Points of Concern in Response to the Twenty-one Point Roadmap

by Stanley Brubaker
Professor of Political Science

In discussions in recent days with faculty of diverse backgrounds I heard voices of concern, alarm, and dismay regarding the 21 Point Roadmap negotiated between the administration and the Association of Critical Collegians. 

Accordingly, in consultation with several other members of the faculty, I have drafted a four-point statement of concern, presented below.

If you care to "sign," please send me an email to that effect ( A simple "yes" will suffice to add your name.

Four Points of Concern in Response to the Twenty-one Point Roadmap

To the Administration of Colgate University: Jeffrey Herbst, President; Douglas Hicks, Provost and Dean of the Faculty; and Suzy Nelson, Vice President and Dean of the College

We, the undersigned, emphatically affirm the right of the students, faculty, and staff to give full expression to their grievances and to work to effectuate change in Colgate’s policies and practices.  At the same time, when a course of action is contemplated regarding Colgate’s fundamental mission and affecting such sensitive areas as freedom of speech, academic freedom and due process, we believe it to be imperative that: 

1) the problems be carefully and reliably identified; 

2) the means used to address the problems be tailored to address the problems effectively;

3) every effort be made to insure that the means do not compromise academic freedom, freedom of expression, or rights of due process; and 

4) the means be adopted only after full deliberation through our established structures of governance.

On all four points, we find the Administration’s response to the Association of Critical Collegians (ACC) to be a cause for serious concern:

1) The problems have not been carefully identified. The testimonials offered by ACC and others as to insults, slights, and indignities are, of course, deeply troubling, but unlike the thoughtfully constructed Campus Climate Survey of 2009, they do not provide reliable evidence of the magnitude or frequency of bias incidents. We have trouble believing that the campus climate has deteriorated so markedly since that survey was completed or that the problems therein identified have suddenly become so urgent that they had to be addressed within the week that James B. Colgate Hall was occupied. Indeed, much of the “evidence” came from anonymous posts over social media. We are left with the disturbing impression that there has been a serious deterioration in race relations on campus of late, but we are left ignorant as to whether that is truly the case.

2) The announced changes and proposals for change sweep across all facets of University life—who is hired, what is taught, the training of staff and their annual evaluations, and even Colgate’s mission.  We remain doubtful, however, as to whether these changes and proposals will effectively address the complaints of the ACC or produce the desired results. Colgate has absolutely no control, for instance, over social media such as Yik Yak, the arena in which many of the hurtful expressions occurred.  Perhaps through our teaching in the future, students will be less likely to make hurtful posts or commit “micro-aggressions,” but training of students, staff, and faculty on how “systemic structures shape power and privilege” and weaving issues of “intersectionality” into the curriculum seem highly problematic and unlikely to produce the desired outcome.  Indeed it could plausibly be argued that they might actually entrench a bias rather than reduce it.

3) Some of the announced changes and proposals, even though well-intentioned, threaten freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of due process. There is fear that students will be encouraged to monitor their professors’ lectures and discussions for evidence of bias. “Diversity advocates” will populate search committees for staff; strengths in promoting an “inclusive environment” will become a criterion for hiring faculty. Students and faculty are to be encouraged to report what they perceive as incidents of bias to the Office of Equity and Diversity for possible referral to a Grievance Process many of us find wanting in safeguards of due process.

4) Finally, changes of the magnitude contemplated by the 21 Point Response should be pursued through the established processes of governance not pronounced by the Administration in negotiation with demonstrators.

Recognizing that the Administration negotiated the 21 Points under difficult circumstances, consulted with various relevant offices within the administration, and reserved some issues for the Board of Trustees and for the Faculty, we nonetheless believe it imperative that we register on these Four Points our profound concern.

1 comment:

Grant Haines said...

Professor Brubaker,
There are legitimate concerns to be had about the proposals of the ACC and how they are to be implemented. Unfortunately, This statement of concern identifies few of them, and misidentifies a great deal more. I will address your concerns point by point.

1) The Campus Climate in 2009 survey had a response rate of 60%. Even so, it identified increasing dissatisfaction and an unwelcome feeling among african-american students and non-heterosexual students, so I don't know why it should be surprising to you that the issues the ACC addresses have persisted or gotten worse. In fact, that there was a demonstration at all, and that it accumulated support from so many groups across campus should tell you that there is something wrong. Regarding anonymous social media, most of the posts on YikYak came after the protest had begun, and were not its cause, despite widespread reporting to the contrary. The problems have been identified as carefully as they can be by students. Perhaps they could have been identified more articulately and with greater impact by other groups, but they weren't, and I have seen little to suggest that this was even attempted.

2) The proposals the ACC negotiated sweep across all aspects of University life because the problems they address sweep across all aspects of University life. Everyone in the ACC is aware that the administration has no control over YikYak, but they are pointing to it as symptomatic of larger problems. Perhaps through your teaching in the future students will be less likely to make hurtful remarks towards their fellow students, but this is unlikely, considering remarks by a professor who is still teaching in your department incited the last protest, and frankly it's a wonder that the remarks of yet another professor in your department haven't started a dozen more.

3) Sometimes people perceive a bias when there is none, but more often, bias is ignored where it already exists. Students already do monitor their professors for bias, after all, recognizing bias is one of the most important parts of critical thinking, which is what we are here to learn. Making sure professors do not exhibit bias protects the freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of due process for students, which considering the previous post on this forum by Professor Johnston, are on shaky ground to begin with.

4) If you thoroughly read the 21 points, you would be aware that those decisions not under the purview of the administration, will be referred to the relevant departments, committees, etc., for approval.

I have my own problems with some of the points the ACC and Administration negotiated, but these programs will certainly evolve, hopefully to become more effective with time. However, quibbles with details on individual points or phrasing are a poor excuse for inaction, and yours betray a discomfort with any change, rather than a desire to change effectively.