Beyond the bubble
MIT's official responses to political developments are warranted and appropriate
Few accusations ring as loudly or often as that of corrupting the youth. Last Thursday Daniel J. Newman became the latest person to yank that village bell, taking the UA leadership and Chancellor’s office to task for their actions in the current political climate. He makes the following allegations in his opinion piece: that by asking faculty to be understanding with coursework in the wake of the election and by inviting students to rally against President Trump’s immigration order, both committed the crime of partisanship and added more surfactant to the proverbial bubble. In doing so, the accused forced upon students their own liberal vices: self-pity, denial, and a crippling reliance on therapy puppies.
While the campus wide dependency on adorable dogs resists debate, the rest of Newman’s points are more assailable. First, there is the issue of “nonpartisanship.” Indeed, Federal code prevents tax-exempt non-profits like MIT from contributing to the campaigns of candidates and from devoting a substantial portion of their activities to lobbying. However, to assume that these imply a legal obligation towards absolute political neutrality is to perform a dazzling feat of mental gymnastics. Just as how Brigham Young University (another tax-exempt educational non-profit) may take a moral stance and impose upon its students a restrictive honor code, so is it MIT’s right — if not its duty — to act in accordance with its own mission. That mission is, officially, “to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.”
Were invitations to oppose the Executive Order in pursuance of this mission? Newman contends that both undergraduates immediately affected were able to return to campus by the time of the rally; he neglects to account for the fact that had the order remained uncontested, it would have precluded future trips abroad. He also fails to consider the graduate students and faculty who were and would have been impacted — a combined population greater in number than the undergraduates. As far as faculty and students must be physically present to teach, to conduct research, and to learn, it is evident that the Chancellor’s office and the UA leadership did act rightfully, even appropriately.
The same sort of straightforward reasoning implies that calls for faculty understanding were also justified. Newman makes the astute observation that Trump’s victory was largely unexpected among students; unfortunately, he then takes this to mean that the outpouring of emotion that followed stemmed from soreness over Hillary Clinton’s loss. To quote our president, “Wrong.” What shook so many then and has since galvanized more is not that a Republican won and a Democrat lost: it is that an impulsive, crass, and morally bankrupt man was chosen for the nation’s highest office. Trump’s attempts to warp objective reality with his “alternative facts” amount to an attack on the notion of knowledge itself. His reflexive scapegoating of the media is a threat to democracy — his childish denial of climate change a threat to the world. If we are indeed to embrace the values of “learning and interacting with reality,” as Newman offers, and the MIT mission to “advance knowledge and educate,” then we must continue to look for the full implications of Trump’s time in power, just as we struggled to do so on November 9.
Newman finds “endless irony” in the hypocrisy that liberals apparently exude, but he forgets to look closer to home. Despite referring to safe spaces with derision, he seems keen on constructing his own shelter against uncomfortable truths. The fact is that this is not another chapter in the age-old conflict between liberals and conservatives — if those two words are even anything more than empty epithets. Trump’s manipulation of the working class and his utterly unpresidential character should worry any sensible person. A cursory glance finds consternation emerging from across the political spectrum and with it, a growing willingness to engage. Instead of retreating into the comfort of their bubbles, people are taking action. They have realized that although he may be the nominal leader of the country, he is not their leader.
Which begs these questions, to those who still feel alienated: why is he yours, and to what ends of the earth will you follow him?
Hairuo Guo is a member of the Class of 2017.