The weekend before last, Calvin alumnist and liberal activist Sally Steenland made a big stink along with several hundred other preensters affiliated with Calvin College over President Bush giving the commencement address to this year's crop of Calvin grads. The exception I took to Ms. Steenland's protest was that she was soliciting funds to pay for a full-page newspaper ad that falsely attributed her and her colleagues' sentiments against Bush to Calvin College, when plainly the college's representatives thought otherwise by virtue of inviting Bush to speak.
A member of Calvin's faculty, Mark Wiliams, wrote to me to put figures to the truth that Ms. Steenland and her fellow protestors were not representative of the majority of Calvin's establishment. Mr. Williams had the following to say:
"Your article dealt only with the letter that appeared in Friday's [May 20th] GR Press. You may not be aware, however, that the letter that appeared in Saturday's [May 21st] Press, which was entirely a product of the current campus community, gives a somewhat misleading view of the scope of protest on-campus.
"Last night I took the trouble to check the names of the signatories closely.
There are 160 of them, which would indicate that a sizeable percentage of the
(ca. 330) faculty was opposed to the Bush visit. However, 37 of those who
signed are emeriti (retired faculty) or staff and at least two are part-time
faculty. A couple of names did not appear in the latest edition of the campus
directory, which may indicate that they were hired for the spring term, after
the campus directory was published; I have no idea what their status is.
"The ad makes it clear that the signers are 'concerned faculty, staff and
emeriti of Calvin College,' so there was no intent to deceive on the part of
those who wrote and signed the letter. However, emeriti and staff are unlikely
ever to teach a class of students. Those who believe that approximately half
of the faculty at Calvin signed this letter are misinformed. It may be
objected that many of the staff who signed the letter have faculty status, but
that does not mean that they teach; it means only that they may represent their
divisions (e.g., the library staff) as franchised members of the campus senate.
In fact, there is a joke at Calvin that motorists who use the campus roads as
a short-cut between Burton Street and Lake Drive sometimes manage to get
faculty status as they drive through.
"The only real conclusion that can be drawn from this letter is that Calvin is
far more diverse politically than most U.S. college and university campuses."
While it may dismay some, including conservative Calvin alumnists and supporters, that they are any liberal voices at all on the school's faculty, it is to Calvin College's great credit that there exists a genuinely broad spectrum of political opinion among its teachers and staff -- in stark contrast to most colleges and universities. Sure, a week and a half ago a noisy ham-handed group did cause a tasteless fuss over the president's visit spouting off political bromides currently fashionable in academia, but they are not the voice of Calvin College. They are only one voice and not a predominant one at that.
This is important to understand, because Mr. Williams has reported that some Calvin alumnists have announced decisions to withdraw financial support for the college because of the impression that the Steenland and "faculty" ads gave that their disgust with the president's visit was shared by the college's establishment. The news is that Ms. Steenland and company speak for themselves, and they represent only a small part of the Calvin College community.
On the one hand, it is unfortunate that Calvin's preensters valued an untimely expression of political opinions over comity with the majority of Calvin's faculty, alumnists, and students who apolitically welcomed the president. On the other, it is fortunate to have such an institution of higher learning where a genuine exchange of political beliefs remains healthy and vibrant. That is an increasingly precious commodity among today's professoriate and deserves our support.
Thanks to Mark Williams for giving us the inside scoop so that we could get this important message out to you.