Letter to the Editor: on the Recent Faculty Meeting

Rachel and Michael Deutch Professor of Philosophy Alexander George condemns the circulation of a confidential faculty letter prior to last Friday’s faculty meeting in addition to the toxic environment fostered by Fizz.

May 7, 2024

Dear Editors,

A couple of things have gotten under my skin.

Last Friday, we had one of the most difficult faculty meetings in decades. It touched on searing issues of boggling complexity that shake people to their foundations — issues of identity, of love and fear, of life and death. It was almost unfathomable to me that colleagues could speak at all. But they did. Eloquently, passionately, cogently, and respectfully. I was proud to be part of it and doubt it will be forgotten by any who attended. Among other things, so many other things, bravery was made manifest throughout.

Unfortunately, that meeting was held under the cloud of a significant breach of trust. A confidential letter from a faculty member — one he consented to be distributed on the condition that it be read only by colleagues on the faculty — was surreptitiously provided to various organizations and reproduced online. This newspaper joined in the harm by publishing a link to it (in an anonymous and snarky — so often bedfellows — attack piece).

Make no mistake: this betrayal of trust was a violation of our colleague. (If in doubt, just ask yourself how you would feel if a letter or photograph you intended to be seen only by a few eyes were made publicly available to all.) And it was also a violation of the entire faculty: if there comes a time when we feel we cannot speak to one another without fear that someone will broadcast our remarks to the world when deemed politically or personally expedient, then honest communication will end. Meetings like last Friday’s will end.

While I’m in a venting vein, let me turn from faculty to students with a plea to stop gnawing away at your own community by contributing to online cesspools like Fizz. I keep hearing about the distress and pain many posts are causing our students. Because these posts are anonymous, they are an exercise in cowardly shit-slinging. Everyone who posts, who likes, who forwards, who reads, who discusses, who signs up, is a contributor to the shit-economy that is degrading everyone — including the posters — in our community.

If we didn’t have such special faculty and student communities to lose, I wouldn’t be so bothered. But we do: there is so much to be proud of, not least our ability to disagree about important issues while remaining open, respectful, and kind. The game of trust is a long and complex one. Let’s all try to avoid own goals and pyrrhic victories.

Alexander George
Rachel and Michael Deutch Professor of Philosophy
Amherst College