The Botereid

Monday, November 01, 2004

Leading into the election

I go to Yale, so it should be no surprise that most of the folk I deal with are liberal. I consider myself pretty liberal too, yet here I'm probably classified as a neoconservative of some strain. I had no problems with this until the other day.

I much admire Professor P-. She's extremely kind, open-minded, and funny. Indeed, all of her students seem to share that opinion. Yet one day last week I walked into class a few minutes before it was to begin, and written on one side of the chalkboard was


P- teaches a class that has nothing to do with politics and she's never stated her political views. The two or three times she's mentioned politics in class, it's been to illustrate a point, and the examples have been strictly non-partisan. The message felt like a prank.

When P- came in, I smirked. But then I saw her face -- so disconcerted. She put down her bag, laughed, and went to erase the message. "How did you find out my secret?" she said before laughing again. A few people giggled. Then someone nervously asked, "But is it true?"

Everything quieted. Calmly, she finished clearing the board. Then she came around her desk and thought a moment, before brushing off the question, joking about how we would cover her political views in another lecture. She walked back and took out her notes, but as she tried to segue into the material, another voice broke: "But is it true?"

I've never, not in all my life, been in a more awkward classroom. It was as if we had all emerged from an accident and were pacing a field aside some highway, bleeding and in utter shock. Deliberately, the professor put down her notes and began to talk about the different facets of Academic Freedom, and about how she DIDN'T agree with the premise of an academic freedom to assert superiority in all subjects, just because one is a scholar in a single field. She spoke carefully, but confidently, and slowly massaged the tension from the room. "And so ask me about anything," she finished, "except Bush or Kerry."

Don't get me wrong: this was hardly, to reverse Hitchens's allusion, Kristallnacht. But these are the small moments that augur more frightening times. If there's one common feature shared by the students in my class, it's that most are young Americans; and one of our great blessings and curses as young Americans is to have security. Some people call it being sheltered. Yet I can't leave it there, so simply explained when the the phenomena is anything but simple. There was a fear in the class that this professor was suddenly "different." There was the irrevocable feeling that she had somehow wronged us. Where are we going? Where happened to consideration for an opposing view?

In this political season, running headlong into the most important and confused election I've yet seen, I worry for tomorrow. And I'm ashamed of my peers, and of myself for not standing up to say something. If anything good has come of this, it's that I like this professor even more. The only grace was hers, after all.


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