Rejecting Bigotry is Core to Our Mission

This morning I published this essay at Inside Higher Education


I was horrified reading the latest diktat on immigration from an administration blown into power by the winds of intolerance and resentment. President Trump’s executive order barring immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States is an exercise in cynical obfuscation, bigotry and hard-heartedness.

The obfuscation begins early on with the linking of this crackdown to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when, as has been pointed out by many commentators, those responsible for those attacks had no connections to the countries targeted by this order. The bigotry of the decree closing our borders to refugees from these seven countries is most evident in the exception it makes for religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries.

The hard-heartedness of the executive order is unmistakable. Desperate families who have been thoroughly vetted for months have had their dreams of a safe haven in America shattered. Students, scientists, artists and businesspeople who have played by the immigration rules to ensure that they have secure passage to and from the United States now find themselves in limbo. Colleges and universities that attract and depend on international talent will be weakened. So much for the so-called respect for law of an administration that has made a point of promising to crack down on undocumented children brought over the Mexican border by their parents.

Eighteen months ago I solicited ideas from Wesleyan alumni, faculty members, students and staff members as to what a small liberal arts institution like ours could do in the face of the momentous human tragedy unfolding around the world. We discussed the many ideas we received on our campus and with leaders of other institutions. The steps we took were small ones, appropriate to the scale of our institution. Working with the Scholars at Risk program, we welcomed a refugee scholar from Syria to participate in one of our interdisciplinary centers. We created internships for students who wanted to work at refugee sites in the Middle East or assist local effort at resettlement. We began working with the Institute of International Education to bring a Syrian student to Wesleyan. And, perhaps most important, we redoubled our efforts to educate the campus about the genesis and development of the crisis.

In the last few months, I have traveled to China and India to talk about the benefits of pragmatic liberal education, and in both countries I saw extraordinary enthusiasm for coming to America to pursue a broad, contextual education that will develop the student’s capacity to learn from diverse sets of sources. Since returning, I’ve already received questions from anxious international students and their parents about whether we will continue to welcome people from abroad who seek a first-rate education. Students outside the United States are often fleeing educational systems with constraints on inquiry and communication; they are rejecting censorship and premature specialization, and they are looking to us. Will they continue to do so?

Here at home we must resist orchestrated parochialism of all kinds. A liberal education includes deepening one’s ability to learn from people with whom one doesn’t agree, but the politics of resentment sweeping across our country is substituting demonization for curiosity. Without tolerance and open-mindedness, inquiry is just a path to self-congratulation at best, violent scapegoating at worst.

With this latest executive order, the White House has provided colleges and universities the occasion to teach our students more thoroughly about the vagaries of refugee aid from wealthy, developed countries that are themselves in political turmoil. The new administration has also unwittingly provided lessons in the tactics of scapegoating and distraction traditionally used by strongmen eager to cement their own power. There are plenty of historical examples of how in times of crisis leaders make sweeping edicts without regard to human rights or even their own legal traditions.

Our current security crisis has been manufactured by a leadership team eager to increase a state of fear and discrimination in order to bolster its own legitimacy. The fantasy of the need for “extreme vetting” is a noxious mystification created by a weak administration seeking to distract citizens from attending to important economic, political and social issues. Such issues require close examination with a patient independence of mind and a respect for inquiry that demands rejection of falsification and obfuscation.

As the press is attacked with increasing vehemence for confronting the administration with facts, universities have a vital role to play in helping students understand the importance of actual knowledge about the world — including the operations of politics. To play that role well, universities must be open to concerns and points of view from across the ideological spectrum — not just from those who share conventional professorial political perspectives. At Wesleyan, we have raised funds to bring more conservative faculty to campus so that our students benefit from a greater diversity of perspectives on matters such as international relations, economic development, the public sphere and personal freedom. Refusing bigotry should be the opposite of creating a bubble of ideological homogeneity.

As I write this op-ed, demonstrators across the country are standing up for the rights of immigrants and refugees. They recognize that being horrified is not enough, and they are standing up for the rule of law and for traditions of decency and hospitality that can be perfectly compatible with national security.

America’s new administration is clearly eager to set a new direction. As teachers and students, we must reject intimidation and cynicism and learn from these early proclamations and the frightening direction in which they point. Let us take what we learn and use it to resist becoming another historical example of a republic undermined by the corrosive forces of obfuscation, bigotry and hard-heartedness.

8 thoughts on “Rejecting Bigotry is Core to Our Mission”

  1. We are not a nation of immigrants. Nation of Immigrants is a book written by John F Kennedy at the bequest of the Anti-Defamation League. Not to mention calling us a “nation of Immigrants” is an oxymoron. A nation, by almost any dictionary definition, is a large group of people with common characteristics attributed to them-including language, traditions, customs, mores, habits, ethnicity. Please explain to me how a Muslim advocating the practice shariah law in the US fits into your sense of nation. Please explain how an illegal alien who wants to speak a Spanish and install a socialist government to care for their family fits into your sense of nation. Please stop regurgitating liberal nonsense. Throughout civilization, there have been migrations, wars, etc. Frankly, history shows that the more a country is comprised of like-minded people with strong commonalities, the stronger the nation. Those countries without a strong sense of nation tend to fail…notably, if not due to outside invaders, due to multicultural splits. But don’t take my word for it, open any history good and freaking read it. For 250 years, most of the immigrants to the US adhered to Judao-Christian values. They accepted the English common law system as their foundation for governance. And immigration was started and stopped…it was not continuous. This obscure nation of immigrants babble is pure bs.

  2. I find it incredible that this screed made it off your computer screen. Instead of explaining why those with whom you disagree about important policy issues are wrong, you resort to ad hominem, sputtering that those on the other side of the debate (the Administration and their supporters) issue “diktats” (were any of President Obama’s Executive Orders diktats?) , are intolerant, bear resentment, are bigots, hard headed, noxious, employ falsification, fearmongering, demonization, and discrimination, blah, blah, blah, blah. blah. Why don’t you stop ascribing labels like this to persons opposing you on a policy debate. Based on your writing, any person who opposes your views is a racist, intolerant, and bigoted xenophobe. Really? Aren’t you supposed to be smarter than that? You set an embarrassing tone for debate at Wesleyan. But it’s obvious that is exactly how you want it — you preach to the choir, and you intimidate people from voicing opposing viewpoints by insulting them. Prospective students — STAY AWAY FROM THIS PLACE.

  3. I also find it incredible that a president of a university like Wesleyan could make these types of comments on behalf of our new administration. I for one, would rather make sure we have the right system in place, and then welcome all those who are properly vetted. There is no country in the world that helps the rest of the world like our great country, and to hear a leader down grade our leadership………..disgraceful. All those protesting will one day wake up and realize how lucky they are to live and hopefully work in this great land of ours.

  4. President Roth is to be applauded for his courage in speaking out against bigotry, admired for his thoughtful articulation of the values of a democratic society, and appreciated for his willingness to use his position to defend the defenseless.

  5. At Wesleyan … We are bringing … conservative professors to offer students more diverse viewpoints …

    An important point, especially reading the tone of the whole comment. Some of the President’s decent points may have been lost in diatribe. I hope Wes does more than lip service to the diversity concept. It is not apparent all the time.

  6. I find your comments loaded with “intolerance” towards those who don’t agree with your liberal/progressive view. You really need top dig a little deeper when you restate “facts you have read in such wonderful publications like the NY Times, Washington Post, Democrat talking points, etc. One falsehood you repeat that we have not had “any attacks from persons of these 7 countries. I suggest you go back over the last 5 years and see where those who shot up night clubs, train stations and other gathering places were actually from. They were from several of the “poor” “picked on” 7 nations. You are not teaching students when you let your personal beliefs twist facts.

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