Faculty stall, don't vote on Iraq war protest motion

By Matthew Stone

Clarification appended.A faculty motion calling on administrators to cancel classes on Nov. 6 in protest of the war in Iraq met its fate Wednesday afternoon as professors did not stage a vote following a brief debate.

Professors were meeting in a special session to debate the motion after deferring the bulk of debate to this week. They began to discuss and amend the motion in the last minutes of an official faculty meeting on Oct. 10 that ended before a vote could take place.

Linguistics professor John Haiman brought the motion forward in the last minutes of the first October session, on Oct. 10. It was the last item listed on a seven-page agenda. The motion, if passed, would have requested that President Brian Rosenberg and Provost Diane Michelfelder call off classes for a day of “talks and workshops” about the war, according to the text of the proposal. No specific plans were in place for Nov. 6.

“I’m unhappy about it,” Haiman said after the meeting. “If we decide not to do anything here, then we’re not going to do anything anywhere.”

After six professors-three in favor and three against, all of whom expressed opposition to the war-addressed the motion during 15 minutes of debate, Theater and Dance professor Beth Cleary called for the vote to take place. Mathematics professor Danny Kaplan later called quorum to determine if enough faculty members were present in order for a valid vote to take place.

A debate on what constituted quorum-generally understood to be a third of the 176-member full-time faculty-ensued. With 57 professors present, the faculty’s presiding officer, International Studies professor David Moore, determined that professors could not vote. After the meeting’s end, faculty members opted against participating in an informal straw poll to gauge opinion.

“I was hoping that there’d be enough people,” Haiman said. “I think it speaks volumes for the state of apathy not just here but everywhere.”

Six students were present at the meeting.

Faculty members often vote on motions without calling attention to quorum. When they do call quorum, professors generally ignore language in the faculty constitution that counts both current faculty and professors and presidents emeriti among voting members. The inclusion of the professors and presidents emeriti as voting members increases the threshold needed to stage a vote.

Professors on both sides of the debate expressed frustration after the meeting adjourned without a vote.

“There’s a problem in the quorum in that the emeriti are included,” Political Science professor Andrew Latham said after the meeting. “We’ve all turned a blind eye to that.”

Moore said the faculty would consider changing by-laws or constitutional language dictating quorum at a future meeting. A change in by-laws to lower the threshold for quorum would be the easiest change to make, according to Moore.

“Parliamentary procedures are very important, but it’s disappointing when they’re used to prevent civil discourse rather than to promote it,” said Educational Studies chair and professor Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, who signed onto the motion as a co-sponsor.

Political Science professor Adrienne Christiansen, who spoke against the motion during debate, expressed disappointment that debate lasted just 15 minutes.

“If we’re going to have such a motion, I’d like to see it get debated in a rich, robust way,” she said after the meeting Wednesday. “Let’s be as fully informed as possible.”

Professors expressed disappointment during formal debate and in conversations following the meeting about what they see as a lack of conversation on campus about the war in Iraq.

“I’ve been appalled at how little conversation there’s been on campus,” Christiansen said. “I’ve had more conversations since the motion came than in the past four years.”

“This is one of the great and grave issues of our day and campuses have been generally silent about it,” Classics professor Andy Overman said during debate on the motion.

German and Russian Studies professor David Martyn offered a reluctant endorsement of the motion during the debate, saying that continuing with everyday life would amount to an act of complicity in what he called illegal Bush administration actions.

“We want to keep intellectual inquiry separate from political advocacy,” he said. “But there comes a point when it is shameful to keep them separate.”

Humanities and Media and Cultural Studies professor Clay Steinman called on faculty to embrace a Macalester history that touts “progressive activism.” Steinman was responding to arguments voiced on Oct. 10 stating that Macalester should not take political stands as an institution.

“I think the argument against this motion on the note that faculty don’t take stands, I don’t think that’s our history,” Steinman said, noting the college’s official opposition to Japanese internment camps during World War II and the college’s status as an early flier of the United Nations flag.

Overman encouraged Macalester community members to take part in “effective” action against the Iraq war but he called the idea to cancel class “too coercive.”

Christiansen cautioned faculty against allowing unknown speakers to visit campus on Nov. 6 to conduct workshops while professors take the day off.

“I think fundamentally we’re here to do a job and people pay a great deal of money for us to do a job,” she said.

Clarification:

The quorum for faculty meetings, according to the traditional practice of counting only current full-time faculty members, stands at 59 professors. Applying language that also counts professors and presidents emeriti among the faculty’s voting members pushes the quorum closer to 80. The official count of professors’ attendance at the Oct. 10 meeting was 57.