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Abigail Taylor, Contributing Writer • April 16, 2024

Luke Basha ’15 responds to Samhat’s statement on the recent executive order and Wofford’s tradition of political neutrality

Luke+Basha+%E2%80%9915+responds+to+Samhat%E2%80%99s+statement+on+the+recent+executive+order+and+Wofford%E2%80%99s+tradition+of+political+neutrality

The Wofford community is composed of students, faculty and staff with richly diverse backgrounds and beliefs, but it is united by the common denominator of shared institutional values and ethos. Because of the diversity of opinion on many issues, Wofford College as an institution has remained neutral in the realm of politics, so it could focus on its core mission of educating students. Thus, Wofford College remained steadfastly removed from the political arena; for instance, all major presidential candidates were invited to campus in the fall of 2015, and neither President Samhat nor the college took an official position.  Wofford had a proud tradition of never endorsing political candidates but offering space for campaigning, not holding official positions on political issues, but always fostering the free exchange of ideas.

In his statement, President Samhat offered support to those who are affected or distressed by the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” offering counseling and advisory services to those traveling. Unfortunately, President Samhat went beyond offering support to the point of making a political statement. In saying that “the executive order is in direct conflict with the values we hold dear at Wofford College,” President Samhat transformed a personal political opinion into an official college position. I take great exception to this, not because I support the executive order (as it happens, I am of two minds on the order), but because President Samhat is preempting debate on this issue. His statement amounts to an unequivocal declaration of what is and is not an acceptable viewpoint, based on what he declares to be Wofford’s values. The message to students and faculty (especially those without tenure) who disagree with President Samhat about the executive order, regardless of the degree or rationale, is, “Fall in line, or be seen as opponents of our college values.”

Because Wofford chooses students and faculty based on its values, this kind of political posturing will be an unmistakable cue to admission officers, academic officers, student affairs advisors, and others in positions of authority at the college. If supporting this executive order is opposing basic human rights and is antithetical to Wofford’s values, such exclusion in admissions, hiring, and tenuring must surely happen, or else the college will betray its own core convictions. By equating a political stance with a core value of Wofford, President Samhat prescribes the acceptable bounds of debate and indicates there is no room for a diversity of opinion within the Wofford canon of values.

I am descended from Syrian immigrants myself. I know that my views as well as Dr. Samhat’s and that of many others could contribute to a vibrant and informing discussion of the religion of Islam itself, the history of past immigration policies, the rationale for President Trump’s executive order, and the Constitutional analysis of the order itself. As a product of Wofford, I know that its faculty is well-equipped to discuss these elements and many more. But given President Samhat’s preemptive pronouncement on the issue, any member of the faculty who argues the merits of the executive order will face social and likely professional repercussions for dissenting from this stated college policy. By writing this and expressing even a modicum of support for the order, I do so knowing that President Samhat views me as being “in direct conflict” with Wofford’s values. While well-intentioned, President Samhat’s desire to further a political position has undermined the free exchange of ideas which forms the very foundation of the liberal arts tradition.

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Respectfully,

Luke Basha ‘15

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    Luke BashaFeb 16, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    This is a test comment. I’ve heard from others that comments on this page are deleted as spam.

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      Old Gold & Black Web AdminFeb 20, 2017 at 11:07 pm

      The way our website is set up we have to “approve” comments before they are posted. We do not edit or delete any legitimate comments and it takes us some time to get to them. Sorry for any delay.