The Evergreen State College Implosion: Are There Lessons to be Learned?
More on how Evergreen State College imploded. "As much as it might like to think of itself as an open and tolerant environment, Evergreen isn’t very accepting of voices that question the Evergreen orthodoxy. While this might be seen as a terribly ironic situation for a liberal arts college to find itself in, this has been the Evergreen reality for quite some time and the result is that a large number of faculty members, perhaps the majority of them, simply absent themselves from most discussions. Professor Weinstein is not one of those who have opted for self-censorship. He has always been willing to ask questions, to point out what he sees as flaws in ideas, and to offer suggestions for improvement. He has played that role to a great extent and to the frustration of many this academic year, a year almost completely focused on the twin concepts of equity and inclusion on campus. Indeed, George Bridges, Evergreen’s relatively new president, reformulated a college-wide Equity Council and provided them with a very wide charge. The group consisted of 28 members, six of whom were current faculty members and they set to work to outline a strategic equity plan. The Council created a plan without any public input and scheduled a meeting in the middle of November to present it to the campus community having announced that it had already received the blessing of President Bridges. The plan, as presented, was built on a statistical analysis of retention, achievement and graduation data and proposed to make significant changes to faculty hiring practices as well as to the structure of the curriculum. The meeting offered no opportunity for open discussion of the plan and was structured as an opportunity to celebrate the plan’s creation. Building on the region’s Salish culture, the meeting concluded with attendees being asked to metaphorically climb into a canoe to embark on a journey to equity. The implication was that if people failed to board the canoe, they would be left behind. Indeed, the sentiment was expressed by some that if you were unwilling to get on board, perhaps Evergreen was not the place you should be working. Professor Weinstein responded in an e-mail by raising some questions but, more importantly, calling for open discussion of the ideas, strategies and directions outlined in the plan. He did so carefully and politely, never once criticizing any individual. Consider, as an example, the following from one of Professor Weinstein’s early e-mails: Maybe it isn’t mine to say because the canoe isn’t from my culture, but this canoe metaphor felt like it was appropriated for the ironic purpose of cloaking an unstoppable train. You are either onboard, or you are not. You can attempt to derail this proposal, or you can accept where the train is going. From what I have read, I do not believe this proposal will function to the net benefit of Evergreen’s students of color, in the present, or in the future. Whatever type of vehicle it is, I hope we can find a way to discuss this proposal on its merits, before it moves farther down the line. In response, he was branded a racist and an obstructionist. A faculty member who sat on the Equity Council explicitly called him a racist in two different faculty meetings. When Professor Weinstein asked for an opportunity to defend himself, he was told that a faculty meeting was not the appropriate venue for such a defense. When he asked what the appropriate venue was, he was told that no such venue existed because he was a racist. Neither the president nor the interim provost interceded to make it clear that leveling such charges against a fellow faculty member was unacceptable within the college community. When Professor Weinstein spoke privately with both of those administrators about these incidents, they both acknowledged the inappropriateness of the behavior but each said that it was the responsibility of the other to do something about it. Neither administrator took any public action in response. But even that tells only part of the story. As mentioned above, the Equity Strategic Plan was built on a statistical foundation. When the validity of that foundation was called into question, including by a robust analysis by an Evergreen alum currently in graduate school, the same faculty member who publicly called Professor Weinstein a racist began attacking scientists generally claiming that their reliance on data was dismissive of the concerns of students. President Bridges, upon being presented with the alum’s statistical critique, promised a response but none has been forthcoming."