Faculty put off vote on motion protesting war

By Matthew Stone

Faculty members avoided the greater part of a potentially charged debate at their monthly meeting Wednesday afternoon by adjourning before voting on a motion that would suspend classes for a day next month as a protest against the war in Iraq. Professors will instead take up the motion in a special session next Wednesday.If faculty members vote in favor of the motion next week, Macalester may become the first known college in the country to suspend classes on Tuesday, Nov. 6, for a day of talks and workshops about the war in Iraq. President Brian Rosenberg and Provost Diane Michelfelder would make the final decision on whether to cancel classes.

Linguistics professor John Haiman brought forward the proposal on Wednesday; 14 other professors from a cross-section of departments had signed on in support.

Rosenberg declined to comment following the meeting on whether he would agree to cancel classes if faculty members ultimately vote in favor of the motion.

Haiman points to an article from the October issue of Harper’s Magazine as a rationale for the motion. The article, while not specifically calling people and institutions to action, theorizes about a general strike beginning on Nov. 6, an election day, “for the sole purpose of removing this regime from power.”

“I think it’s a cry of despair, which is essentially what I’ve felt,” Haiman said in an interview Tuesday.

Asked about the likelihood of the motion’s passage, Haiman said he had not gauged faculty support.

“There’s a lot of faculty that may be wavering on this,” Haiman said. “I have no confidence that this is going to pass.”

At best, the outcome of a faculty vote remained far from certain Wednesday as professors introduced amendments and spoke in opposition during the 10 minutes of debate that took place.

Philosophy professor Martin Gunderson told professors he opposed the motion, saying that, if the college stakes out a political position, it could “harm the institution.”

“It’s important that the faculty not take stands on political issues,” he said.

He recommended instead that war opponents speak out independently, not during class time. Economics professor Peter Ferderer agreed.

“If the intent is to signal our concern about this matter, we should take the time on the weekend,” he said.

Mathematics professor David Bressoud, a co-signer on the motion, called for the proposal’s passage after changing the wording to say that the act would be a “signal of deep concern” over the Iraq war rather than a direct protest.

“This is a central event in our lives and even more so in our students’ lives,” Bressoud said.

Debate on the motion was limited after the faculty spent the bulk of their 90-minute meeting listening to status reports from Rosenberg, Michelfelder and others, and debating the wording of faculty handbook language that guides the process for a professor appealing a tenure decision. Since faculty protocol mandates that meetings end at 6:10 p.m., only six minutes remained for debate on the Iraq war motion.

Professors voted to extend their meeting time by five minutes and spent much of this time debating proper procedure for extending the meeting.

After adjourning, one faculty member expressed her distress at not having the opportunity to vote on the motion at Wednesday’s meeting.

If the motion passes next week, plans for Nov. 6 are “totally up in the air,” according to Haiman.

“If it succeeds, then we’re all going to have to work really hard,” he said.

Should the motion fail, some professors could individually choose to call off classes, but having the college suspend classes for a day would send a stronger message, Haiman said.

“For this to be a Macalester event rather than an individual act of dissent…increases the impact,” he said. “I would like this to be something that is officially declared.”

While Macalester may be the only college to suspend classes this November in protest of the war, the move is not unprecedented. When military action against Iraq first began in March 2003, the faculty at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., held a one-day moratorium in protest. Students and faculty members spent the day in campus-wide discussions.

At other times since March 2003, it has been more common for individual professors and departments to call off classes in protest of the war in Iraq rather than an entire institution.