Last week we took a look at some of the responses Arkansas’s state universities have had to President Trump’s recent DACA decision.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) administration has — so far — not made a statement on the issue. It’s possible they are one of the few state universities left in Arkansas who believe their mission is to educate students, rather than push a certain brand of politics.
However, UALR contains a few faculty members ready to join the herd of universities in issuing self-righteous statements on Trump’s recent DACA decision and other social issues, according to emails obtained by The Arkansas Project.
Catherine Crisp, a professor of social work at UALR, said in an email to colleagues last week:
As the new academic year begins and other universities have come out with statements opposing white supremacy and the decision by President Trump to end DACA, I am puzzled by the silence on this campus regarding these and other related issues. Other universities within an hour of us have released statements about both issues yet we (UA Little Rock faculty and administration) have remained silent on these issues, at least in public forums. I have been asked by friends and colleagues at other institutions where UA Little Rock, as the only metropolitan university in the state, stands on these issues and I am at a loss for answers. I welcome a conversation about this and words to offer those who seek to understand our official position on these and other key issues affecting our students, staff, faculty, and students.
Michael Barnes Norton, an associate professor of philosophy, also said in an email to colleagues that it was imperative that the university weigh in on “these recent events and the issues involved in them.”
I’ve also been wondering why our university has been silent regarding these recent events and the issues involved in them—issues that affect so many of our students so directly—at the same time (as Angela shows) as many other schools in the region have issued public statements.
I do not think we can take it for granted that our students simply know where their faculty and administration stand with regard to these issues. And we shouldn’t take it for granted that we’re doing all we can or all we should. Like it or not, public institutions of higher learning are not and cannot be politics-free zones, and I think it’s important that we articulate clearly and unambiguously that we are place that welcomes diversity and dialogue but NOT exclusion or hate. Do we know for sure, for instance, that no white supremacist propaganda is being spread anywhere on our campus? I don’t think any of us can say that with certainty, unfortunately, but we have the ability to say, together as an institution, that we do not welcome it and will not tolerate it. I frankly do not understand how such a statement could be construed as “non-sense.”
There’s actually a very good reason for why UALR shouldn’t be quick to get involved in politics. A look at the flagship university in Missouri tells that story very well. State-funded universities should think twice before getting involved in activism that could lead to massive enrollment declines. That’s one lesson they’ve learned at the University of Missouri.
If you’re a middle class Arkansas parent and Trump voter, are you going to be eager to subsidize your children’s education at a school that thinks moderate limits on illegal immigration raise credible fears about white supremacy?
(It’s worth noting that Dr. Norton is, at best, a fair-weather friend of “doing all we can or all we should” to educate students about where the faculty stands on controversial issues; a few months ago, when we called him to ask why he’d signed a statement calling for the retraction of a controversial paper, he immediately clammed up.)
Fortunately, there are some faculty members who don’t think issuing a blanket political statement is a good idea.
Raphael James wrote in a response to Crisp’s email:
I strongly encourage the institution to NOT give a blanket statement as to “stand” one way or another. The institution does NOT represent each of us as individuals and cannot assume that all employees of UA Little Rock would support DACA or the removal of DACA.
Timothy Lim wrote:
Let’s buck the trend: you know what makes UALR so great? WE don’t need to make these proclamations. WE and OUR STUDENTS are already smart enough to make these assessments on their own. That’s why students AND parents should send their kids to OUR school. Maybe THEN enrollment will increase. I came to UALR as a student in 2000, graduated in 2004, and then finished my graduate studies with a doctorate degree in Audiology in 2011. What I have always loved since 1999 was that UALR was pitched to me as the no-nonsense campus with a focus on academics. My parents are proud to have sent me here as opposed to elsewhere because the level of education I received was on part with other institutions, without the politics and the propaganda.
I’m sure this won’t be the last we’ve heard of this at UALR. It will be interesting to see if cooler heads prevail — or if UALR faculty succeed in pushing this university into emulating the political activism and subsequent enrollment decline at the University of Missouri.