In letter, Rosenberg responds to Iraq war walkout debate

By Matthew Stone

Answering questions about where he stood on the issue, President Brian Rosenberg said this week he would not have supported the failed faculty motion that called for the cancellation of classes on Nov. 6 in protest of the war in Iraq.If passed, the faculty motion, which died without a vote at a special October faculty meeting, would have requested that Rosenberg and Provost Diane Michelfelder make the final call on whether to cancel classes.

In a letter delivered to Macalester community members Monday by campus mail, Rosenberg wrote that agreeing to the proposed motion would run contrary to the responsibility of colleges to serve as “places where the widest possible variety of ideas and perspectives can be expressed and explored in an atmosphere of civility and can be subjected to critical scrutiny.”

This responsibility “requires that we not attempt to select the ‘right’ response even to the most pressing social and political issues for our students, but to provide them with the abilities, knowledge, opportunity, and motivation to determine those responses for themselves.”

While conceding that academic institutions do take stands on an array of issues, Rosenberg called for a line to be drawn defining the issues on which colleges should opine as institutions – Rosenberg cited diversity, internationalism and environmental responsibility – and those on which colleges should refrain from opining.

“For me,” he said, “that line exists between those decisions that bear directly on our role as an educational entity and those that speak to contentious social or political questions that it is our business to explore but not decide.”

Linguistics professor John Haiman introduced the motion at the faculty’s Oct. 10 meeting. With limited time for discussion, the balance of debate and the vote were deferred to a special faculty meeting on Oct. 17. No vote took place because not enough professors were present to make quorum.

“I think it speaks volumes for the state of apathy not just here but everywhere,” Haiman told The Mac Weekly after the Oct. 17 meeting.

Student opinion on the proposed motion and Rosenberg’s letter has been mixed.

“I think it’s a personal choice, not the choice of the school, so I agree with his letter,” Bryce Slinger ’10 said Wednesday, calling Rosenberg’s letter “really well written.”

Zara Bohan ’08 said Rosenberg should have endorsed the faculty motion. As a plus for Rosenberg, it would have bolstered the president’s image among students, she said.

“I think it might have helped that.