Faculty Senate got political in its Friday meeting Feb. 10.
The senate will vote on an open letter to the university regarding the recent executive order on immigration in the coming days.
Executive Order 13769 bars refugees from entering the country for 120 days and temporarily bans immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. It also puts an indefinite ban on Syrians from entering.
The letter, which seeks to reassure international faculty and students that the Faculty Senate welcomes them to the university, was debated at Friday’s senate meeting.
Jason Fertig, an associate professor of management, said he thought the letter had good intentions but became a partisan issue.
“There was a statement that attempted to speak for all of the faculty, and I did not think that the premise of the letter spoke for all of the faculty since we are a diverse group with different political ideologies,” he said.
Fertig said he was speaking up for conservatives who may agree with the order.
“Part of the problem is the emotion of issues makes it difficult to express, for example, support of the president,” he said. “It’s not as simple as on one side you have a racist and on the other side you have everybody else.”
Fertig said he thought the executive order was mischaracterized in the letter and generalized as a ban even though “it’s a lot more complicated than just banning immigrants.”
“I think there are people who believe that this is the course of action, and they need to be able to express their views; I just don’t think senate was the place to do that, because senate is a body that represents all the faculty,” he said. “We are not placed on senate with a political mandate.”
Fertig said he believes the letter should focus more on support for the international students and faculty instead of opposing the order.
“If we just wanted to make a statement affirming our support for international students, that’s fine, but that’s not what the meeting was about,” he said. “It’s just really close to almost endorsing a candidate and I don’t think that’s the role of Faculty Senate. There is strong opposition to our current president, so it’s natural that groups like Faculty Senate are going to absorb some of that.”
The author of the letter Charles Conaway said he drafted the letter the weekend after the order was signed.
“I was trying to indicate how I saw it as a university issue,” he said. “We have as part of our mission statement a commitment to diversity, and that is or can be a political statement. It becomes part of partisan politics when somebody proposes a law or executive order that has a potentially significant impact on our commitment to diversity.”
According to the university’s mission statement, “USI is an engaged learning community advancing education and knowledge, enhancing civic and cultural awareness, and fostering partnerships through comprehensive outreach programs. We prepare individuals to live wisely in a diverse and global community.”
Conaway said as faculty they should speak up in a way that reassures students that the faculty still welcomes them to the university.
“I would’ve liked to have seen a stronger statement [from President Linda Bennett] and that is what I heard from a lot of faculty members too, and so I decided to go ahead and send it to senate anyway,” he said. “Given that it’s an issue that deals with what I consider to be our core values and our mission, and that it potentially threatens our mission, I think we are almost obligated to speak up about it.”
Conaway said the letter is not affiliated with the #YouAreWelcomeHere movement started by the The Center for International Programming, but says they have similar interests.
“As far as I’m aware of, [Faculty Senate] is the only place where a collective voice can be expressed. I think it was acceptable to bring this to senate, and senate is the right place because I see it as an academic issue,” he said. “I don’t expect it to radically change their lives or anything, but I think it can be important to hear a statement of support.”
The senate revised the statement over the weekend and will vote on the revision in the coming days.