I have been a faculty member of Suffolk Community College for more than a quarter century. I have served on their Faculty Senate, their Academic Standards Committee, their Student Liaison Committee, their Curriculum Committee, their Diversity Committee and their Academic Integrity Committee. In addition to having taught seven different courses in and helping to redesign their Early Childhood Education Program, I have been Co-Coordinator of the Academic Advisement and Mentoring Center, I have taught in their College Success Program, I have participated in workshops on multiculturalism and the first year student experience, and I have designed a game for the College website which serves as an interactive “map” for students of the College’s components, functions, requirements and supports. I have been loyal, but I have rarely hesitated to speak out when College policies and decisions have run counter to their stated mission, as they frequently have. And now I find myself ashamed of the institution to which I have devoted more than half of my adult life.
Last week, the Board of Trustees, essentially an unreachable group of appointees, voted that the College baseball team be “allowed” to travel to North Carolina, in the face of the nationwide boycott against its new discriminatory laws against the LGBT community, because, since the team is partially paid for by student fees, it is “not covered” under the New York State ban on interstate commerce with North Carolina in support of LGBT rights. In other words, since students are paying to collude with discrimination rather than solely the taxpayers, that’s somehow okay. Their unanimous vote clearly misses the point, and undoubtedly deliberately so. The issue is not whether they “could” go, it was whether they should. They could have ruled that the College stands in opposition to discrimination and, therefore, the Board directs its components to abide by the sanctions against North Carolina. Or, in recognition of the fact that the College is supposed to be an institution of learning, it could have drafted an advisory statement on discrimination, including specifics about the new law and an historical perspective on previous boycotts, including those in the world of sports. It chose to do neither. And one has to wonder just how committed they are to supporting the rights of all people when it was just a year ago when they voted to ignore another boycott in support of the LGBT community, and contracted with Chick-Fil-A, whose profits derived from those student fees are donated to anti-LGBT groups and causes.
Whether one calls their statement a cop-out or a sell-out, they violated their own mission statement, which reads, “Suffolk County Community College promotes intellectual discovery, physical development, social and ethical awareness, and economic opportunities for all through an education that transforms lives, builds communities, and improves society.” One can see phrases like “ethical awareness,” “build(ing) communities” and “improv(ing) society,” all of which the decision made a mockery of, but where do we find anything about, say, “ignoring the plights of others in the privileged pursuit of the personal fruits of competition?” Allegedly the buck was passed to the ballplayers themselves, and if there had been a responsible, facilitated dialogue about the matter, that could have made for an empowering teachable moment. But as far as I am aware, no such dialogue ever took place, even after I reached out via email to the College President, the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, the Director of Athletics, the Coach of the baseball team, the Faculty Advisors of the LGBTQ student club, the Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, Faculty Governance and its Chair, and the Faculty Advisor of Student Governance. What resulted was the typical silence that has too often been Suffolk’s history.
I recognize that these kids would have been put into a position to sacrifice something that at the moment was big to them. But don’t we teach that sacrifice can be noble? Don’t we want them to see that there are things that are bigger than themselves? Should we turn away so they can have their moment in the sun while others are reaching out from a storm? Do we buy into the national model of having the athletic tail wagging the academic dog and making ethical exemptions for athletes, who bring money and “prestige,” or do we continue the values that these kids once were taught in little leagues and junior soccer, that what’s most important is “how you play the game?” Which course would have been more likely to have had the greater impact on the adult citizens they become, and don’t we have more than enough self-centeredness, obliviousness, privilege, mispriorities and division in our society without making decisions which do nothing but contribute to their continuation? And which would be better advertising for the College’s recruitment and reputation, that we won yet another sports award, or that when push came to shove we stood on principle? I am disappointed in the ballplayers that played in my name, but I am more disappointed for them. A perfect opportunity for substantive learning. about tough decision making, about values, about one’s place in the world, was blown. And that’s a tragedy for an institution of “higher” learning.