A plea

On the balance, Marquette has always appeared to me a center-left institution–which is to say it is solidly left-wing, but with a powerful governing class of traditionalists who enforce an air of embarrassment about the institution’s liberality. It is, like all universities, also institutionally conservative. The two notions aren’t contradictory. The university at once trends towards a fairly specific formulation of “social justice,” and at the same time, it is slow and pondering in the machinations of its own changes and evolution. Its culture and infrastructure is not designed for swift and decisive action, but most proceed through established procedures.

I say this not as a value judgment but as a statement of fact. I state it because I think it needs reiteration among many of my friendly acquaintances here—specifically those involved in the protest of Fr. Wild’s decision to rescind the offer of deanship to Jodi O’Brien. I was confused and, I admit, distraught at their immediate an voluble disappointment expressed at the announcement of the Academic Senate’s resolution condemning Wild and Darren Jackson for the rescinding. The resolution affirmed nondiscrimination, condemned the opacity and unilateralism of the choice, and committed itself to revising the hiring process of deans so this never happens again. It was very likely the most strongly worded statement the Senate could reach a consensus on—and it was pretty strongly worded. As a Tweet from MUProtestMay6 noted, there was no official parliamentary “censure”—but they did “condemn” Wild and Jackson’s decision, which seems to me much harsher language. Harsh language, mind you, that they are raising against their colleague and superior.  

It is likely rather too soon to hold a vote of no confidence. But this is the most important take-away—they didn’t rule out the possibility of a vote of no confidence. It’s still on the table; they’re waiting to see Wild’s handling of the crisis he’s created to judge his competency. The resolution itself said 

[We] [r]equest that Father Wild & Darren Jackson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, meet with the UAS at some time prior to the September 2010 Board of Trustees Meeting to discuss Marquette’s commitment to both academic freedom and shared governance…

 I don’t imagine that “discussion” being a very relaxed chat.

Some of the Senators might have felt there was insufficient information to make that decision, and others were loathe to declare Wild’s choice completely invalidates his presidency. Such a measure would, anyway, be a somewhat redundant and hollow victory, given that the president is stepping down at the end of this semester anyway.

I would ask my fellow demonstrators to bear in mind the limitations of any one actor or body to affect change within the university at tonight’s listening session. (5:30PM-7PM in the AMU Ballrooms). And in being mindful of these limitations, I ask you, please, be open to patient and civil discussion. It is, really, the prudent and only right thing to do.

There has been talk among planners of cutting through dialogue in favor of bald assertion. At yesterday’s demonstration, they talked very seriously about meeting at 5 PM and breaking into cells of three to five students. The cells would, as a group, stand up during the Q&A portion of the session, make the same “demands,” and then leave in protest. I beg you: Please do not go through with this! I will say it again and use another exclamation point: Please don’t!

Leaders I spoke to defended obstructionism by saying, “We’re done listening,” and “Wild didn’t discuss his choice with anyone.” So, then, are we to sink to this example? Aren’t we supposed to be holding the high ground on this issue? Shouldn’t we be the ones acting like democrats and adults?

Up to now, we have been a mature and disciplined movement. You demonstrated peacefully last Thursday; there were no arrests, no injuries, and no damage to property. Yesterday, we sat quietly, expressed malice to no one, and took care not to block the exits. We have proven we’re capable of all doing the same thing at the same time; what we’ve yet to prove is that we can calmly and clearly express our reasoned, fair-minded perspective on the issue.

This is our chance to show our defense of LGBTple is not libertinism, a noisy fad the kids will grow out of. It is our chance to summon as much eloquence as we can to defend the dignity of another human being. It is our chance to be taken seriously as grown-ups.

Any proposition worth defending can be done so with dignity. Any proposition worth defending is worth doing so with patience, discussion, and an active skepticism which is ready to concede points. Worthwhile points, moral and more hardly factual, are, in other words, worth talking about.

A demand is not a discussion. To make one, and then leave in a fuss is do what Wild did, and worse. Wild didn’t have to hold a listening session; he didn’t have to look at any of our faces before graduation, if he didn’t want to. I don’t expect frank answers, or even entirely thorough or honset ones; but Wild is at least giving them in a live forum, wherein his answers won’t have all the PR polish a prepared statement would have. He’s the one opening channels; and you all are trying to refuse that opportunity. You have a chance to meet him as an equal and to address him civilly; but you are planning on slapping the open hand he extends you.  

I understand the temptation of such actions. You feel betrayed by an organization that claims to embody integrity and the care for the whole person and service to basic human decency. You have been made an accessory in what might be the most egregious case of institutional discrimination you have ever witnessed. You want to do something, you have to do something RIGHT NOW!

Making demands and stomping out might be something to do. But it is not the right thing to do. It is hard, but the right thing often is; the memory-old problem of How To Be Good would be not problematic at all if rightness did not often mean deferring passions urgings. Your indignation is righteous, but will not find satisfaction in grand gestures, but in the hard, slow, unsatisfying inching of dialogue and maturity. But, remember always, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare” (Ethic. V.XLII ). The difficult, right thing to do tonight is to have a reasonable conversation with our opponents.

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One Response

  1. Bento I just saw this. I wish I had seen this before. I agree with EVERYTHING you say here. By engaging in this tactic, I think the demonstrators lost standing in the eyes of many and closed the doors of dialogue. Will their contined “action” result in any real growth? Why are they so adamant to not even disucss and debate these matters … do they have no faith in reason, do they believe that their “foes” are so vile that they cannot ever come to see justice?

    I share the anger at how Dr. O’Brien was treated. Furthermore, I share the concerns about gay rights and academic freedom that many have appealed to.

    But I cannot share a view that demands we shut out others and refuse to engage, that we simply make statements, and refuse to listen. Nothing has can be gained in this manner.

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