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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Letter from Alissa Williams ’15 responding to the circulating petition against Samhat

Letter+from+Alissa+Williams+15+responding+to+the+circulating+petition+against+Samhat

On Monday, Jan. 30, President Samhat released a statement regarding President Trump’s recent executive order regarding immigration. Samhat announced Wofford’s solidarity with the Association of American Universities in its request that the Trump administration halt the barring of individuals from certain countries as soon as possible.

“The participation and influence of students, faculty, staff and alumni who have come to our campus from around the globe is integral to our success in providing this breadth and depth of learning,” Samhat said. “While national security concerns and the strength of our country’s visa system remain important topics of discussion and debate, this executive order is in direct conflict with the values we hold dear at Wofford College.”

The following day, “Concerned Stakeholders of Wofford” started a petition on change.org against Samhat and Annie Mitchell, vice president of marketing and communications. The petition urged Samhat not to “tie Wofford to official political positions in the future nor utilize Wofford’s resources to take political positions” because it “stifles those on campus who may disagree with him.”

Alissa Williams ’15 sent a letter to the Old Gold and Black responding to the petition:

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I am writing in response to a petition that’s been circling around social media entitled “Wofford: Encourage healthy debate and don’t stifle speech,” written by “Concerned Stakeholders of Wofford.”

I must admit that I’m a bit confused about how President Samhat’s statement is “stifling free speech.” First of all, is he threatening students with expulsion if they express different viewpoints? Is he threatening to take back diplomas from alumni who disagree? If so, I encourage the authors of this petition to contact the Wofford administration, the Wofford Board of Trustees and other whistleblowing organizations.

Second, how exactly does releasing a statement “stifle [faculty members] on campus who may disagree with him?” I encourage the authors to read up on the origins and purpose of tenure, because tenure was actually created to prevent these types of things from happening. Tenure was introduced into universities to prevent professors from getting persecuted for expressing unpopular opinions. As for untenured professors and non-faculty staff members, I plead the authors to find the place in Wofford’s policies where it states that the president of the college can unilaterally fire people for expressing an opinion he or she doesn’t like, because if that exists I would like to protest it as well.

I am also a bit puzzled about why the authors haven’t spoken up about this blatant disregard for free speech before. For instance, back during primary season Wofford hosted visits from both Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Many liberal-leaning students were incensed and wanted to prevent these conservatives from speaking on campus. However, Wofford released a statement explaining that all viewpoints were welcome on campus, as students should be exposed to all viewpoints. Obviously some students still weren’t happy, but where was this petition then? Clearly Wofford’s statement didn’t represent the opinions of everyone on campus at that point either. Surely the authors don’t intend to start a petition only when an official Wofford statement contradicts their own beliefs. Rather, I’m sure they mean to start these petitions whenever anyone affiliated with Wofford holds a belief that doesn’t exactly match the official Wofford statement.

I also implore the authors to realize that part of a college president’s job is to act as a spokesman for the college. If you watch the news, you will notice that nearly all colleges, businesses, administrations, organizations and charities (among other things) have official spokespeople. Spokespeople exist because it is often logistically infeasible to get a statement from everyone affiliated with an institution.

Finally, given that the authors of this petition see themselves as the guardians of what they call “free speech,” and that free speech is apparently inhibited by official college statements, I expect to see a petition every time Wofford (and specifically President Samhat) puts out a statement, whether that statement relates to politics, thoughts and prayers for South Carolinians affected by natural disaster, a recent student accomplishment or a death on campus, because clearly a college’s statement can never truly represent the wide berth of opinions and views on any topic among all of those who are tied to its institution.

Dear Old Wofford, Hail!

Alissa Williams ‘15

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