Last week, I read a remarkable article from the Huffington Post of all places entitled, “The Evergreen State College Implosion: Are There Lessons To Be Learned?” The article was written by a man named Michael Zimmerman who was a former employee of the college and had an inside perspective on the personalities that shaped this conflict. He was not on campus during the protests, but obviously, he knew the situation from an inside perspective.
His article is excellent, so I’m not writing this to criticize him by any means, but he asks if there are lessons to be learned and suggests some. I have a few additional lessons that we can draw from his narrative, and I am going to share three of them with you this week.
The first one is rather obvious. We have to be willing to listen. How many times have I said that on this website? I even wrote about it on Friday when I talked about teaching religion in the classroom. We have to be willing to listen to those who might have a different perspective than we do. We might not agree with them after we listen to them, but we have to at least hear them out because they might have something valuable to say.
The chief actor in this drama is Prof. Bret Weinstein, and the plot began when a new Equity Council was brought to power on the college campus.
“The Council created a plan without any public input and scheduled a meeting in the middle of November to present it to the campus community having announced that it had already received the blessing of President Bridges. The plan, as presented, was built on a statistical analysis of retention, achievement and graduation data and proposed to make significant changes to faculty hiring practices as well as to the structure of the curriculum. The meeting offered no opportunity for open discussion of the plan and was structured as an opportunity to celebrate the plan’s creation.”
Weinstein took issue with the creation of this particular plan, and he expressed his displeasure in an email.
“From what I have read, I do not believe this proposal will function to the net benefit of Evergreen’s students of color, in the present, or in the future. Whatever type of vehicle it is, I hope we can find a way to discuss this proposal on its merits, before it moves farther down the line.”
This email does not seem to be particularly offensive to me and is simply a request to be heard, but Zimmerman went on to talk a little bit about the consequences of this email.
“In response, he was branded a racist and an obstructionist. A faculty member who sat on the Equity Council explicitly called him a racist in two different faculty meetings. When Professor Weinstein asked for an opportunity to defend himself, he was told that a faculty meeting was not the appropriate venue for such a defense. When he asked what the appropriate venue was, he was told that no such venue existed because he was a racist.”
This is virtually echo chamber of ignorance. These individuals labeled a man as a racist without even hearing the plan that he had. Maybe his plan was racist; no one will ever know because he was not allowed to speak or be listened to. Perhaps he had something incredibly valuable to say that would have improved minority issues on the campus of Evergreen State College. Maybe his plan was terrible. I personally do not know. If you do know, please let me know.
The story gets even more ridiculous however because the failure to listen was not at all because Prof. Weinstein was a racist. Zimmerman goes on to write that there was reportedly a different motivation behind the scenes.
“It became clear why Professor Weinstein’s appeal for dialogue drew such enmity when the same faculty member who publicly called him a racist was reported to have said that the Equity Council didn’t want such discussion because the plan might not survive such scrutiny intact.”
Some people don’t want to listen because they know that they are on shaky ground, and that was the bottom line here. These individuals on the Council had a particular direction they wanted to move in, and nothing was going to get in the way. Prof. Weinstein might have had a terrible plan. Again, I really don’t know. However, maybe his plan would have helped reinforce this college policy. You would think that would be a good thing because it is a good thing to have college policies that actually help the students they are intended to help in the most effective way possible.
That’s not what we saw here at Evergreen State College. Instead, we see a failure to listen. That is the first major lesson that I think we can tell from this entire debacle.