Col­lege blasts a grad­u­ate: Kellyanne Con­way

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY SU­SAN SVRLUGA

The Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s pres­i­dent has no com­ment about one of the Ivy League school’s most fa­mous grad­u­ates, Pres­i­dent Trump. Vir­ginia Tech’s pres­i­dent has no com­ment about one of its most fa­mous grad­u­ates, White House chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non.

The pres­i­dent of Trin­ity Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, how­ever, has had plenty to say about one of its grad­u­ates. “Pres­i­den­tial Coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way, Trin­ity Class of 1989, has played a large role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the ma­nip­u­la­tion of facts and en­cour­ag­ing the grave in­jus­tice be­ing per­pe­trated by the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war on im­mi­grants among many other is­sues,” Pa­tri­cia McGuire wrote re­cently.

Univer­sity presidents used to be part of the na­tional dia­logue, decades ago when the de­mands of the job were less com­pli­cated and the need for fundrais­ing less con­sum­ing. But it has long been un­usual for a col­lege to sin­gle out a grad­u­ate for crit­i­cism, es­pe­cially as col­lege and univer­sity presidents are ex­pected to build com­mu­nity among a di­verse group of stu­dents, fac­ulty, staff

and grad­u­ates, and to raise money and sup­port from peo­ple on all sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

Be­cause of the im­por­tance of grad­u­ates to fundrais­ing, said Terry Har­tle of the Amer­i­can Coun­cil on Ed­u­ca­tion, “presidents tread very care­fully. Los­ing the sup­port of alumni is a very bad idea.”

But McGuire, the long­time pres­i­dent of the small women’s col­lege in North­east Wash­ing­ton, said she felt a moral im­per­a­tive to speak out against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — in par­tic­u­lar for its poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion and its lack of truth­ful­ness — and Con­way is not ex­empt from that.

Con­way said by phone Fri­day she was sur­prised to find her alma mater’s so­cial-me­dia feed full of par­ti­san retweets and snarky com­ments.

“It’s a dis­ap­point­ment to have the pres­i­dent of the univer­sity lift up other Trin­ity grad­u­ates who have a ca­sual re­la­tion­ship with the truth,” she said, cit­ing House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as an ex­am­ple, “at­tack me, and never have the cour­tesy of call­ing or email­ing me to ask what I meant on any given oc­ca­sion.” McGuire had looked at her com­ments through the most neg­a­tive lens pos­si­ble, she said.

McGuire never hes­i­tated to call her to ask for do­na­tions to Trin­ity, Con­way added. She and her hus­band do­nated $50,000 to a 1999-2002 Trin­ity fundrais­ing cam­paign. “My money was good.”

A few col­lege presidents have taken a strong pub­lic stand against Trump, and hun­dreds have sig­naled their op­po­si­tion to his im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, but Trin­ity stands out for the vol­ume and tone of its mes­sages.

Through its in­sti­tu­tional and its pres­i­dent’s so­cial-me­dia mes­sages, the univer­sity has been sharply and re­peat­edly crit­i­cal of Trump, his poli­cies and many of his top ad­vis­ers.

Trin­ity has been quick to praise other grad­u­ates, many of them Democrats, such as for­mer Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius — who is promi­nently dis­played on the school’s home page high­light­ing fe­male grad­u­ates “shat­ter­ing glass ceil­ings” — and Pelosi, but also some Repub­li­cans, as well as honorary grad­u­ates.

For a small Catholic women’s col­lege to have as their for­mer stu­dents both the first fe­male House speaker and the first woman to run a win­ning pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Con­way said, and to “look at the dis­parate treat­ment of the two of us, tells the en­tire tale.”

She asked why she didn’t see con­cern ex­pressed about Pelosi’s sup­port for abor­tion rights, or men­tion of her own speech at the re­cent March for Life, which sig­naled high-level ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­port for the cause. “Does she not think there are pro-life alum­nae?”

Con­way said McGuire clearly sees her po­si­tion and the role of the univer­sity as one “that is ped­dling a very nar­rowly sub­scribed po­lit­i­cal view­point.”

McGuire said it’s not about politics. (She also said the univer­sity does not sup­port Pelosi’s po­si­tion on abor­tion rights.) “Peo­ple can agree or dis­agree around na­tional pol­icy or do­mes­tic pol­icy,” she said. “You can have a rag­ing de­bate about Oba­macare . . . . But when you lie so con­sis­tently as this ad­min­is­tra­tion does, that’s a moral is­sue. We are teach­ers. We have an honor sys­tem here. We be­lieve deeply in up­hold­ing the value of truth.”

McGuire said some grad­u­ates have crit­i­cized her for not hon­or­ing Con­way.

But she said she has got­ten hun­dreds of mes­sages from grad­u­ates whom she de­scribed as ap­palled by Con­way.

“I don’t go around de­nounc­ing our alum­nae,” she said, but “I want to be on the record: We don’t con­done ly­ing. We can’t say some­one is ex­empt from that.”

There was a time, dur­ing civil rights bat­tles and the Viet­nam War, when univer­sity presidents were vis­i­ble fig­ures in na­tional con­ver­sa­tions. Some great pub­lic fig­ures spoke out on the dom­i­nant is­sues of their times, said Leon Bot­stein, pres­i­dent of Bard Col­lege. That changed, he said, when fundrais­ing and man­age­ment be­came more im­por­tant for col­lege presidents than ideals and schol­ar­ship and pub­lic ser­vice.

This is a dif­fer­ent mo­ment, he said, one that tran­scends par­ti­san politics. “Truth-telling is a cru­cial ele­ment of democ­racy, a true and ab­so­lutely in­dis­pens­able com­po­nent of any true def­i­ni­tion of free­dom.”

But some, at a time when many col­lege cam­puses have been crit­i­cized as too lib­eral and out of touch, ar­gue univer­sity presidents no longer speak for the na­tion.

“To me, univer­sity lead­er­ship has felt enor­mously par­ti­san,” said Fred­er­ick Hess, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy stud­ies at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “. . . That fac­tors into see­ing this as cheap par­ti­san thuggery rather than any se­ri­ous com­mit­ment to ro­bust civic de­bate.”

Of all the univer­sity grad­u­ates who had been con­victed of crimes over the years, he asked rhetor­i­cally, how many have been sin­gled out by their school?

He added, “Crit­i­cism is ap­pro­pri­ate and valid — peo­ple have points of view. But I think it’s strik­ing how in­cred­i­bly uni­form higher ed­u­ca­tion is.”

McGuire ben­e­fits, Har­tle said, from be­ing an es­tab­lished pres­i­dent with strong sup­port from the board, fac­ulty and grad­u­ates (and not hav­ing to an­swer to state leg­is­la­tors, as a pub­lic univer­sity pres­i­dent would), which makes it pos­si­ble for her to speak out about some­thing she feels strongly about.

“This re­flects her strong per­sonal com­mit­ment to so­cial jus­tice and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity and the na­ture of her stu­dent body,” Har­tle said.

Trin­ity, one of the old­est Catholic women’s col­leges in the United States, has changed dra­mat­i­cally over the years. It’s still a pri­vate school, but the un­der­grad­u­ate pro­gram now has a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on reach­ing peo­ple fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant hur­dles to higher ed­u­ca­tion, such as sin­gle moth­ers and women from low-in­come fam­i­lies. More than 95 per­cent of the stu­dents are black, Latina or mixed race, and some of their most aca­dem­i­cally out­stand­ing stu­dents are “Dream­ers” work­ing to achieve le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, who are now feel­ing per­son­ally at risk.

Many peo­ple praised her courage, but McGuire ac­knowl­edged push­back for her com­ments; peo­ple tell her, “‘I can’t be­lieve you’re say­ing this,’ or ‘You’re so lib­eral,’ or ‘You’re the great Satan,’ ” she said, laugh­ing. “I’ve been at this long enough there’s al­ways some­body who’s ter­ri­bly up­set with any state­ment.”

She pointed to sig­nals Trump has sent that fed­eral fund­ing could be af­fected if he doesn’t like some­thing a univer­sity does.

“That’s a threat that can’t just sit there,” McGuire said. “I don’t mean to pro­voke him. But I can’t just be silent.”

“I want to be on the record: We don’t con­done ly­ing. We can’t say some­one is ex­empt from that.” Pa­tri­cia McGuire, pres­i­dent of Trin­ity Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity

Pa­tri­cia McGuire

JABIN BOTS­FORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Pres­i­den­tial coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way com­plained about the crit­i­cism lev­eled by Pa­tri­cia McGuire, pres­i­dent of Trin­ity Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. McGuire never had “the cour­tesy of call­ing or email­ing me to ask what I meant on any given oc­ca­sion,” said Con­way, who grad­u­ated from the school in 1989.

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