Don’t get me wrong—I don’t delude myself into thinking that anyone who has read this blog with some frequency over the years sits around wondering what this Warner guy has to say about X or Y thing that’s happening in higher education.
That said, given that IHE has provided me this platform to write with great freedom about topics of interest to myself (and hopefully others), I do feel a strong sense of responsibility to give voice to my perspective in cases where it feels like that voice may be useful to others. Over the years I’ve periodically tried to shed some light on various conflicts that occur on campuses in an attempt to provide perspective that may allow us to take a step back and look at the dynamics underneath the conflict in order to find a productive path forward.
Looking at the news of the world, and the news coming out of campuses being roiled by the news of the world, I came here to say that, honestly, I have nothing to say.
Or rather, I have a zillion thoughts and things I could say, but in the end, I have nothing useful or insightful or helpful to say that I can convince myself is worth saying at this time. I’m aware of the cliché “silence is complicity,” but I think sometimes also silence is necessary.
I’m fortunate that because I have no role of significance or consequence, silence is indeed an option. It is much tougher for people in leadership positions—like, say, a college or university president—to remain mum, but one thing I will say about the broader dynamic I’m seeing is that it is probably not a great thing that we expect these people to say things when what they have to say is likely to be purely performative in order to satisfy the demand to say something.
Lots of others feel very confident in saying all kinds of things right now, and that’s fine. I do not begrudge others their own certainty, or those who feel a sense of duty to use their position or influence to speak out. I suppose I’m just trying to say that if there’s others who feel some vague obligation to say something/anything, that it isn’t necessarily the case and staying silent when no one has come calling for your thoughts is an option.
Is there an untenable irony in writing a post about not being obligated to say anything if one doesn’t have anything productive to say, thus boomeranging around to actually saying something?
Quite possibly. I contain multitudes.
I can say that those who are using this moment to either claim they were correct all along about something in the past, and/or confidently predicting the future trajectory of higher education in light of present events, are unlikely to hold my attention or maintain my respect.
Using turmoil with real-life, ongoing consequences as an attempt to settle never-ending turf battles that have nothing to do with the events at hand is a waste of time. Trying to predict a future in the midst of what seems like literal chaos, predictions that hew quite closely to one’s priors, strikes me equally as a waste of time and potentially harmful to one’s long-term credibility.
I guess another thing I can say generally is that anyone taking any individual incident on a college campus and trying to suggest that it somehow represents anything that applies to all students, or all professors, or all institutions does not have the ultimate broad-based well-being of anyone in any of those categories in mind. We all contain multitudes.
This is all very vague, purposefully so, because it seems purposeless to litigate the particulars of these claims to past correctness and future prognostications, when I think all of it is ultimately not helpful to the moment. I have seen this among people I have both agreed with and disagreed with in the past, which is why I’m resisting any temptation to join that fray. I keep finding myself thinking: Why are we talking about this right now?
Sometimes the most helpful thing is to shut up and listen, and that’s one thing I know is true for myself at this moment in time.