An Open Letter to President Thomas Haas

of Grand Valley State University

Concerning University Recognition of

Former Trump Administration Ambassador Nikki Haley

 

We are writing to express our strong objection, as educators and scholars, to the awarding of the Col. Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship Medal to former United Nations Ambassador for the Trump Administration, Nikki Haley. While this award is being presented by the Hauenstein Center, a Center affiliated with our University, the University has itself publicly endorsed the award, calling it “Grand Valley State University's most prestigious external award”, one that recognizes a “spirit of leadership and service, which Grand Valley seeks to inspire in its students and graduates.” The award has also been co-presented by either the President or the Provost of GVSU every year since 2011. It is specifically GVSU’s endorsement of Ambassador Haley in these terms that we object to. Because this endorsement is now part of the public record, we feel compelled to publicly dissent.


Ambassador Haley’s most prominent national political role to date has been as a loyal member of the Administration of Donald Trump. She supported the Administration during her tenure as U.N. Ambassador, and has continued to do so since stepping down. Yet the current Administration systematically distorts norms of public discourse and conduct, and consistently seeks to undermine public trust in fact-finding and knowledge-generating institutions, including the judiciary, the press, science, and the university. Our objection to the award is that Ambassador Haley’s support for the Administration includes these very efforts. Efforts to undermine standards of public discourse and conduct, and public trust in institutions such as GVSU itself. Awarding her is thus endorsing someone who has been unapologetically complicit in the undermining of the very values that the institution stands for. It is this to which we object.


Credibility and trust are central issues of our current moment. No political party has a monopoly on mendaciousness, however the current Administration regularly makes both frivolous and significant assertions (concerning everything from ‘crowd sizes’ to ‘landslide victories’ to voter fraud) without evidence, and persists in repeating them not only in the absence of evidence, but even in the full presence of evidence to the contrary. It maintains the untrustworthiness of its critics, calls the press “the enemy of the people”, dismisses unfavorable reporting as “fake news”, and climate science as a “hoax”. It has called for the incarceration of President Trump’s political opponent without and indeed in spite of the results of due process. It repeatedly contradicts the results of fact-finding bodies of all sorts, including those of the government itself, and ignores or rejects the credibility of science, going so far as to remove scientific information from government websites. It has distributed and defended the distribution of both fake and false information about political opponents and social groups as a means of undermining their credibility or of justifying policies that would significantly curtail their rights. It has consistently rebuffed even the most basic standards of transparency and accountability.


None of the foregoing are partisan matters. Right and left should be able to agree that they are objectionable, and dangerous to a democratic order based on consent of the governed, public trust, and basic respect for rights. We thus want to emphasize in the most strenuous terms that our concerns here are not partisan matters regarding specific policies. Rather, they have to do with corrosive attacks on basic standards of discourse and evidence, and on respect for the process of acquiring knowledge and verifying claims—things that are the bedrock of university education. While not “value-free”, the procedures and commitments at the heart of university research and education represent non-partisan common ground. They provide shared knowledge of the facts of history and of science, and tools for the evaluation of arguments and interpretation of discourse that form a common basis for us to appeal to in understanding each other and in resolving our disputes. At their best, institutions such as the press and the judiciary serve similar functions. Collectively, these methods and institutions form the bedrock and precondition for flourishing democracy itself. The current Administration, however, systematically calls into question these very shared standards and institutions even as it stokes existing divisions in our politics and culture.


During her time in the Trump Administration, Ambassador Haley “took names” of countries who voted against Administration priorities and walked out when some of those opposed to them spoke. Sometimes characterized as an “adult in the room”, she nevertheless refrained from challenging or criticizing the Administration except when it specifically undermined her. She capitalized on this episode in her Washington Post Op-Ed, calling out an anonymous Administration member for writing an Op-Ed in the New York Times (I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration), and urging this individual to express their disagreement with the President as she does. However, on matters of policy and substance, as well as concerning the Administration’s day to day comportment and its distortion of public norms of discourse and conduct, she has had no significant objections or criticisms to make. She has had nothing to say, for example, about the inappropriateness of the President retweeting a fake video meant to sow anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, to name just one distortion of facts and discourse that a U.N. Ambassador has reason to distance herself from. No evidence we could find in the public record suggests that Ambassador Haley’s service in the Administration was any kind of loyal or principled opposition. She endorsed, sustained, and supported the Administration while otherwise remaining silent, and continues to do so despite criticisms she may once have had. Nor is there evidence she was “forced out” for disagreements, as some Administration members clearly have been. Quite the contrary. We see nothing that clearly separates her from the discourse- and trust-undermining conduct of this Administration, and so nothing that embodies the “spirit of leadership and service, which Grand Valley seeks to inspire in its students and graduates,” let alone the basic values at the heart of our educational and scholarly endeavors.


Importantly, our objection is not to inviting Ambassador Haley to speak and thereby participate in the ongoing intellectual discourse that both Grand Valley State University and the Hauenstein Center facilitate and encourage. We have no such objection. Our objection rather is that giving her an award is something much more, and amounts to using an institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, high standards of discourse, respect for facts and for evidence, and to educational excellence for the purpose of honoring and so affirming someone complicit in the sustained public distortion and undermining of these very values. GVSU is a public institution committed first and foremost to education in the liberal arts tradition: the tradition that sees the most important project of education as preparing individuals for their personal, professional, and political lives by fostering in them the capacity to be self-determining individuals capable of autonomous thought, reflection, and judgement. Such an education includes the acquisition of knowledge and the cultivation of respect for facts and for rational discourse. It is committed to the dignity of all human beings as participants in this process regardless of their political persuasion. As such, it is anathema to such an institution to pretend that a politician who enables the rejecting and undermining of all of these things is nevertheless worthy of the highest external recognition that it has to offer. Yet, Ambassador Haley, via voluntary participation in and unwavering support for the Trump Administration, is such a politician.


Andrew D. Spear (Philosophy)

All correspondence concerning this open letter should be addressed to: speara AT gvsu.edu


Michelle Miller-Adams (Political Science)

Gordon Alderink (Physical Therapy)

David Alvarez (English)

Brad Ambrose (Physics)

Peter Anderson (Classics)

Rachel M. Anderson (English)

Anonymous Untenured Faculty Member

Corey Anton (School of Communications)

David Austin (Mathematics)

Danny L. Balfour (Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration)

Russ Barneveld (College of Education)

Marshall Battani (Sociology)

Jae Basilière (Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies)

Meghan Moe Beitiks (Visual & Media Arts)

Craig Benjamin (Honors College)

Krista Benson (Liberal Studies)

Sheila Blackman (Biology & Cell and Molecular Biology)

Patricia Bloem (English)

Kathleen Blumreich (English)

Matthew Boelkins (Mathematics)

Jeffrey Byrnes (Philosophy)

Anne Caillaud (Modern Languages & Literatures)

Linda Chown (Emeritus, English)

Patricia Clark (Writing)

David Coffey (Mathematics)

Roy Cole (Geography and Sustainable Planning)

Brett Colley (Visual & Media Arts)

David Crane (Classics)

Jason Crouthamel (History)

Brian Deyo (English)

Mary deYoung (Emeritus, Sociology)

Polly J. Diven (Political Science)

David Eaton (History)

Jill Eggers (Visual & Media Arts)

Lisa Feurzeig (Music)

Paul Fishback (Mathematics)

Coeli Fitzpatrick (Honors College)

Tim Fisher (Visual & Media Arts)

Victoria A. Fogel (Psychology)

Gabrosek (Statistics)

Gretchen Galbraith (History)

Elizabeth Gansen (Spanish)

John Golden (Mathematics)

Mayra Fortes González (Modern Languages and Literatures)

Dan Graser (Music, Theatre, and Dance)

Jennifer Gross (Psychology) 

Donna Henderson-King (Psychology) 

Eaaron Henderson-King (Psychology)

Firas Hindeleh (Mathematics)

Jonathan K. Hodge (School of Communications, Mathematics)

Ben Holder (Physics)

Caitlin Horrocks (Writing)

Amorak Huey (Writing)

Jodee Hunt (Biology)

Virginia Jenkins (Visual & Media Arts)

Melanie L. Rabine-Johnson (Writing Center Specialist)

Todd Kaneko (Writing)

Cáel M. Keegan (Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies)

Sheldon Kopperl (Emeritus, Biomedical Sciences, Liberal Studies)

Maja Krcmar (Physics)

Hermann Kurthen (Sociology)

Brian Lakey (Psychology)

Sean Lancaster (Literacy & Technology)

Ronald Loeffler (Philosophy)

Kay M. Losey (Writing)

Leon Lou (Psychology)

Michael Macaluso (Sociology)

Hazel McClure (University Libraries)

Kimberly McKee (Liberal Studies)

James N. McNair (Annis Water Resources Institute)

Susan Mendoza (Center for Scholarly & Creative Excellence)

Debbie Morrow (University Libraries)

Aiman W. Mueller (Writing)

Paul Murphy (History)

Michael R. Ott (Emeritus, Sociology)

Vandana Pednekar-Magal (School of Communications, Area and Global Studies)

Raúl Peña (Visual & Media Arts)

James Penn (Geography and Sustainable Planning)

Thomas Pentecost (Chemistry)

Toni Perrine (Visual & Media Arts)

Valerie V. Peterson (School of Communications)

J. H. Philbin (Visual & Media Arts)

Milun Rakovic (Physics)

Diane Rayor (Classics)

Angela Reed (Anthropology)

Samhita Rhodes (School of Engineering)

Kim Roberts (Visual & Media Arts)

Stephen Rowe (Philosophy)

Dawn M. Rutecki (Liberal Studies)

Mary Bower Russa (Psychology)

Stephanie Schaertel (Chemistry)

Gayle Schaub (University Libraries)

Andrew Schlewitz (Area & Global Studies)

Steven Schlicker (Mathematics)

John Schmit (Visual & Media Arts)

Médar Serrata (Modern Languages and Literatures)

John Paul Sniadecki (GVSU Alumnus, now Faculty at Northwestern University Radio, TV, and Film Department)

Robin Spring (School of Communications)

David Stark (History)

Mark Staves (Cell and Molecular Biology)

Joel Stillerman (Sociology and Honors College)

Kirsten Strom (Visual & Media Arts)

Ted Sundstrom (Emeritus, Mathematics)

Susan Swartzlander (Emeritus, Honors College)

Steve Tripp (History)

Lois Tyson (Emeritus, English)

Peggy Vandenberg (Philosophy)

Jessica VandenPlas (Chemistry)

Heather Van Wormer (Anthropology)

Pablo Mahave-Veglia (Music, Theater and Dance)

David Vessey (Philosophy)

Darren Walhof (Political Science)

Adrienne Wallace (School of Communications)

Deana Weibel (Anthropology and Religious Studies)

Laurel Westbrook (Sociology)

Judy Whipps (Liberal Studies and Philosophy)

Todd Williams (Psychology)

Paul Wittenbraker (Visual & Media Arts)

Michael Wolfe (Psychology)

Richard Yidana (Sociology, Area & Global Studies)

Paul Wee Dong Yu (Mathematics)

Donald A. Zinman (Political Science)

Karen Zivi (Honors College)


Note: Collection of signatures for this open letter is ongoing. Any GVSU Faculty who would like to add their signature to this open letter should contact Andrew Spear at speara AT gvsu.edu.


This letter has already been made available, in final draft form, to President Thomas Haas, Director of the Hauenstein Center Gleaves Whitney, Provost Maria Cimitile, Dean of CLAS Frederick Antczak, and Chair of the Faculty Senate Felix Ngassa. At that time it was expressed that, while the objections stated above are principled and serious, it is our desire to lodge them in the spirit of intellectual sincerity, charity, and openness to ongoing dialog that are the hallmark of liberal arts education that lie at the basis of both GVSU and the Hauenstein Center’s missions as we understand them. We hope that this moment of dissent, rather than serving to entrench “sides” and foster animosity, can be an opportunity for beginning a deeper engagement with the fraught issues of intellect, conscience, and principle that our current times raise for all sincerely concerned and engaged citizens.


Disclaimer: The dissent expressed here is that of the signees. As dissent to a position taken by Grand Valley State University, it should be clear that these are not the views of the institution itself. We write as educators and scholars, but do not speak on behalf of all faculty at GVSU.