Thursday, January 21, 2010

Opportunistic drive-by smearing of political opponents 

The local media have reported on the posting of a cartoon in front of a shop run by a Somali family and near a local Islamic center in St. Cloud. Based on discussions with people in a position to know, the drawing was reprehensible to any decent human. If we had laws about p*rnography based on community standards for decency, this drawing would have been a violation. (I have had it described to me by multiple people who have seen it; I have not personally viewed it.) Because we have a First Amendment, however, the scribbler of this cartoon (artist? no, sorry, you don't get that title) is not going to be charged for anything more than trespassing on a public utility pole, a rule that if enforced will lead to the arrest of hundreds of garage sale operators.

Somalis are upset, and rightly so. When the campus announced that its Somali student organization wanted to hold a speak-out, that seemed a very reasonable thing to do. The best way to deal with hateful acts is by speaking about them. But the news report this morning about this event contains two statements that I found deviated from speaking against the cartoon. And, unfortunately not a surprise, it comes from two faculty. First,
Luke Tripp, a professor of community studies, said the same "conservative white" mind-set led to the election of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater.
This is an outrageous accusation. It says that anyone who voted for Rep. Bachmann has the same mind-set as the scribbler, is capable of being the scribbler, and is a reprobate. By what perverted analysis do you determine the moral principles of tens of thousands of area citizens that voted for this woman, many of them twice? What inspires a man to take a speak out against hateful speech of his students as an opportunity to engage in the worst stereotyping of political opponents?

I'm also moved to say something about the comments of a second faculty member who said "There are perpetrators on this campus who abuse students of color continually." This statement is either true or false. If the faculty member believes it to be true, he has an obligation as a member of this community to use the proper channels to have these allegations investigated and acted upon if they are judged to be factual. If not, or if he is not sure, his behavior should be consistent with the responsibilities that attach to his right of academic freedom. From the AAUP's 1940 Statement:
College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
Prof. Tadame's statement is not prefaced in this news story as being his own opinion, or an "I have heard that ..." or any such thing. He is an officer of this university as much as any faculty or staff member. To make such a statement without either bringing facts for investigation or expressing them clearly as his own opinion, not that of the university, is a shocking abdication of his responsibilities as an academic.

Sadly, we've been over this ground for many years. Indeed, these slanderous statements were part of why Scholars was created at one time (see our about page for the history.) And even more sadly, the best statement at the speak-out as reported comes from the only Somali quoted.
Mohamed Mohamed, president of the Somali Student Association, said he's encountered discrimination in St. Cloud. But Mohamed added that Wednesday's rally shouldn't be about pitting one race of people against another.

"This issue is not white and black," Mohamed said. "It's human rights."
Emphasis added, in case the professors missed it.

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