Commentary, by Michael Rubin, Jan. 29, 2016:
Exeter Academy is one of the most elite college preparatory schools in the United States. Recently Exeter alum and teachers on campus banded together to try (successfully, it seems) to dis-invite former Congressman and radio talk show host and commentator Fred Grandy, an Exeter alum, from teaching a senior seminar on “Politics in Media.” The Exonian explained:
Actor turned politician, Grandy gave a well-received assembly in September, after which he worked with Director of Studies Brooks Moriarty and Institutional Advancement to create a club, structured as a seminar open only to seniors by application, as an opportunity for students to explore the relationship between politics and media. Moriarty will advise the club, which will meet six times over the course of the presidential primary season this winter term. Participation in the seminar is entirely voluntary and there is no credit earned by the students. However, since the club’s conception, faculty and students have raised concerns about Grandy’s commentary on his radio show and his affiliation with the Center for Security Policy, a right-wing think tank run by Frank Gaffney, following his resulting resignation from WMAL.
At any rate, what caught my eye in The Exonian piece was this:
Head of the MLK Day Committee and English instructor Mercy Carbonell expressed her discomfort and disappointment with the school’s apparent endorsement of Grandy’s views on Islam. “I sat in the Assembly [on anti-Muslim sentiment] and listened to us respond to the national hate rhetoric, the Islamophobic language that is in the presidential race, that is in the newspapers I still pick up and read in ink. How will we explain that we chose to side with Islamophobia?”
Let’s put aside the fact that Grandy is neither speaking nor teaching about Islam. Carbonell added, perhaps as an attempt to suggest high-mindedness that, according to The Exonian:
“There is always a benefit in bringing together people who may share differing opinions.” However, she believed that “If it is a conservative voice we want to teach this course, there are plenty of decent, serious, non-inflammatory, likely-more-qualified alums we could choose.”
What is especially telling is that, about a decade ago, Carbonell published a comment in the New York Times expressing her disappointment in the 2006 elections. Here’s what she had to say:
When will PA or any state for that matter get a candidate who is beyond the realm of the “liberal” label? Does anyone in this unbelievably idiotic country have any radically left ideas anymore? The students I teach think Hillary Clinton is “left;” how completely misinformed they really are. There are no models and there may be no room in politics for the “left” in the America we have constructed today. And even when those models come along, they are portrayed as “freaks” rather that people who simply have an ideologically different perspective to propose. And then they are dismissed. Tragic!
How tolerant a person Carbonell must be to dismiss those who disagree with her as “unbelievably idiotic.” Elections and the will of the people must be so inconvenient in comparison to having a captive, even if “misinformed” class of students. Perhaps Exeter might want to remind Carbonell and her peers, though, of what irony is. One example might be complaining about the dismissal of those with divergent opinions, all the while trying to dismiss those with “an ideologically different perspective.” At the very least, Exeter might want to look at this current controversy to spark a real discussion of the value of free speech and thought in education, as well as the importance of challenging the ingrained assumptions of not only students but also faculty through broad, respectful debate.