No to aca­demic nor­mal­iza­tion of Trump

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

Those who have served the cur­rent US pres­i­dent are nec­es­sar­ily tainted by the ex­pe­ri­ence. While they should not be barred from speak­ing at univer­si­ties, they should be ac­corded none of the trap­pings of in­sti­tu­tional es­teem such as fel­low­ships, named lec­tures, and key­note speeches.

The Univer­sity of Vir­ginia re­cently faced a storm of protest af­ter its Miller Cen­ter of Pub­lic Af­fairs ap­pointed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer Di­rec­tor of Leg­isla­tive Af­fairs, Marc Short, to a one-year po­si­tion as Se­nior Fel­low. Two fac­ulty mem­bers sev­ered ties with the cen­tre, and a petition to re­verse the de­ci­sion has gath­ered nearly 4,000 sig­na­tures. A sim­i­lar protest erupted at my home in­sti­tu­tion last year, when Corey Lewandowski, a one-time cam­paign man­ager for Trump, was ap­pointed a fel­low at Har­vard’s In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­fronts univer­si­ties with a se­ri­ous dilemma. On one hand, univer­si­ties must be open to di­verse view­points, in­clud­ing those that con­flict with main­stream opin­ion or may seem threat­en­ing to spe­cific groups. Stu­dents and fac­ulty who share Trump’s view­point should be free to speak with­out cen­sor­ship. Univer­si­ties must re­main fora for free in­quiry and de­bate. More­over, schools and in­sti­tutes of pub­lic af­fairs must of­fer stu­dent and fac­ulty op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­gage with the pol­i­cy­mak­ers of the day.

On the other hand, there is the dan­ger of nor­mal­iz­ing and le­git­imiz­ing what can only be de­scribed as an odi­ous pres­i­dency. Trump vi­o­lates on a daily ba­sis the norms on which lib­eral democ­racy rests. He un­der­mines free­dom of the me­dia and in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary, up­holds racism and sec­tar­i­an­ism, and pro­motes prej­u­dice. He blithely ut­ters one false­hood af­ter an­other.

Those who serve with him are nec­es­sar­ily tainted by the ex­pe­ri­ence. Trump’s close as­so­ciates and po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees are his en­ablers – re­gard­less of their per­sonal mer­its and how much they try to dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves from Trump’s ut­ter­ances. Qual­i­ties like “in­tel­li­gence,” “ef­fec­tive­ness,” “in­tegrity,” and “col­le­gial­ity” – words used by Miller Cen­tre Di­rec­tor Wil­liam J. An­tho­lis to jus­tify Short’s ap­point­ment – have lit­tle to com­mend them when they are de­ployed to ad­vance an il­lib­eral po­lit­i­cal agenda.

The stain ex­tends be­yond po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives and cov­ers eco­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ers as well. Trump’s cab­i­net mem­bers and high-level ap­pointees share col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for prop­ping up a shame­ful pres­i­dency. They de­serve op­pro­brium not merely be­cause they hold cranky views on, say, the trade deficit or eco­nomic re­la­tions with China, but also, and more im­por­tantly, be­cause their con­tin­ued ser­vice makes them fully com­plicit in Trump’s be­hav­iour.

Aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions must there­fore tread a nar­row path. They can­not turn their backs on Trump and his en­tourage, nor ig­nore their views. Oth­er­wise, they would be sti­fling de­bate. This would run counter to what univer­si­ties stand for. As a

prag­matic mat­ter, it would also back­fire, by giv­ing the Trump camp an­other op­por­tu­nity to de­mo­nize the “lib­eral elite.”

But clear rules of en­gage­ment are nec­es­sary. The most im­por­tant prin­ci­ple to up­hold is the dis­tinc­tion be­tween hear­ing some­one and hon­our­ing some­one. Trump’s im­me­di­ate cir­cle and se­nior ap­pointees should be wel­come for dis­cus­sion and de­bate. They should be treated in a civil man­ner when they show up. But they should not be ac­corded the de­gree of re­spect or def­er­ence that their se­nior­ity and govern­ment po­si­tions would nor­mally merit. We do not, af­ter all, have a nor­mal ad­min­is­tra­tion that can be served hon­ourably.

This means no hon­orific ti­tles (fel­low, se­nior fel­low), no named lec­tures, no key­note speeches head­lin­ing con­fer­ences or events. While in­di­vid­ual fac­ulty mem­bers and stu­dent groups should be free to in­vite Trump ap­pointees to speak on cam­pus, as a rule such in­vi­ta­tions should not be is­sued by se­nior univer­sity of­fi­cers. And lec­tures and pre­sen­ta­tions should al­ways pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for vig­or­ous ques­tion­ing and de­bate.

With­out two-way in­ter­ac­tion, there is no learn­ing or un­der­stand­ing; there is only preach­ing. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who sim­ply want to make a state­ment and es­cape search­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion should not be wel­come.

Stu­dents and fac­ulty who sym­pa­thize with Trump may per­ceive such prac­tices as dis­crim­i­na­tory. But there is no con­flict be­tween en­cour­ag­ing free speech and ex­change of views, which these rules are meant to sup­port, and the univer­sity mak­ing its own val­ues clear.

Like other or­ga­ni­za­tions, univer­si­ties have the right to de­ter­mine their prac­tices in ac­cor­dance with their val­ues. These prac­tices may di­verge from what spe­cific sub­groups within them would like to see, ei­ther be­cause there are con­tend­ing val­ues or be­cause there are dif­fer­ences on the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of how to re­al­ize them.

For ex­am­ple, some stu­dents may be­lieve that re­quire­ments for a cer­tain course of study are too strin­gent or that ex­am­i­na­tions are a waste of time. Univer­si­ties al­low free de­bate about such mat­ters. But they re­serve the right to set the rules on con­cen­tra­tion re­quire­ments and ex­ams. In do­ing so, they send an im­por­tant sig­nal to the rest of so­ci­ety about their teach­ing phi­los­o­phy and ped­a­gog­i­cal val­ues. Al­low­ing full de­bate of Trump­ism while re­fus­ing to hon­our it would be no dif­fer­ent.

Univer­si­ties should up­hold both free in­quiry and the val­ues of lib­eral democ­racy. The first calls for un­hin­dered ex­change and in­ter­ac­tion with Trump­ist views. The sec­ond re­quires that the en­gage­ment be care­fully cal­i­brated, with not even a sem­blance of honor or recog­ni­tion be­stowed on those serv­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tion that so grossly vi­o­lates lib­eral demo­cratic norms.

Dani Ro­drik is Pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy at Har­vard Univer­sity’s John F. Kennedy School of Govern­ment. He is the au­thor of The Glob­al­iza­tion Para­dox: Democ­racy and the Fu­ture of the World Econ­omy, Eco­nom­ics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dis­mal Science, and, most re­cently, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Econ­omy. Copy­right: Project Syn­di­cate

Dani Ro­drik

US Pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump

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