I think escalation is the inevitable consequence of the Right’s decision in many quarters to “let’s finally take the gloves off” as I read one Catholic commentator suggesting. (Like it hasn’t been so for years …) I often see the meme cited by the Right when resisted, “But I thought you were advocating for civility?!” And as my favorite internet foils will tell you, I don’t think I have a particular reputation for being liberal-polite. The internet, by its very design or by our choice, is an aggressive venue. We don’t see faces. We’re not afraid of being punched out. So we’re pretty free about what we write, and we don’t care often if someone takes offense. From what I see, some liberals will call the other side names. Some conservatives will go after the other side’s jobs. Either way, blood will simmer.
In a meeting of their academic assembly Tuesday, the University of San Diego faculty agreed to ask (President Mary) Lyons to reinstate (Tina) Beattie’s appointment immediately or face a possible vote of no confidence in her leadership.
“The will of the faculty has made it very clear that they consider this matter a matter of extreme importance and a matter that requires our immediate attention,” said (executive committee chair Carlton) Floyd, an associate professor of English at the university.
While Floyd said the official count of the vote was not yet available, he said the vote was “overwhelmingly” in favor of the move. Another faculty member present at the meeting put the tally at 117 in favor, two against and three abstaining.
Faculty can’t fire a president. But there’s no doubt they can make a professional life on campus very difficult. Presidents serve a community always looking for new hires. Universities are not insular communities, promoting professors from the student ranks. Not usually, anyway. New faculty may just be looking for a job, any job. But veteran professors in any discipline, not just theology, will pass over USD without a thought.
An administrator may opt to cede to the wishes of an outside group. That is a possible choice. But the choice is not without consequences. And either way, it must weigh heavily on an otherwise talented leader who must balance more concerns than particular faculty appointments. Consider that in the long run, such episodes, if repeated, will discourage good candidates from seeking important leadership positions. President Lyons likely wants to function in a harmonious environment where she can lead and guide the institution she was hired to serve. But the best of leaders may gravitate to other institutions where the politics are more subtle and manageable. Or they will stay in the classroom, and schools will start getting fourth- and fifth-best choices. It seems there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere. You can be sure that activists on either side, especially the gloves-off conservatives don’t give a darn about a particular school. They just want to feel the warm fuzzy of angry accomplishment.
As for the internet, I will confess a degree of concern about myself. I see involvement in escalation as being increasingly less fruitful, if indeed it ever was. I’ve started to delete regular conservative sites from my browser favorites.
I used to combat the tendency to reinforce my own beliefs by visiting and commenting liberally (literally) on Catholic sites over the years. While I’ve been persuaded to see things in a different light here and there, I’ve also found it good to sharpen my own positions and to engage the best (and sometimes the not-so-good) arguments of people who disagree with me. Count me as deeply suspicious of the situation in which I’m surrounded exclusively by supporters. Like every human being, I need positive reinforcement from time to time. But I also need the spiritual and emotional challenge of interior confrontation. The anguish and angst, I think, is often better placed internally than among individuals. In the spiritual life, we should have a steady stream of challenges. Hopefully not an escalation into chaos.
I’m seriously considering taking my own advice to the political pro-life movement and for my own good health stepping back from various forums. It’s a reflection of my own political experience this past year. No good choices for federal office in Iowa. Better choices for local government, where people are under the radar of the crazies (usually) and can make serious inroads into improving life as we live it.
And among local persons, I think we need the personal interaction and the substrate of friendship. Or at bare minimum grudging respect. James Martin wrote about an admirable approach within the Jesuits in his book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, in which he described the community formation process of his novitiate. There were people whom he disliked. But when, in community life, one knows the particular trials of people, one can come to understand and appreciate their lives and what they bring to the Church. Increasingly, I don’t think the internet brings much of great value to the Church at all.
I was noticing 8400-some posts on this site. Nine years active now. And I used to think I was coming on board to blog on the downslope of the effort. I suspect I’m on the downslope here. How far down, I’m not sure. It may be that I still have things to say, but I’d rather say them in a different setting, and with things other than words. I think you can count on my finishing out these documents that are in progress. I may tackle others.
After our church’s fire, things have been rather busy, and I’ve put some musical projects on hold. We may be only one-third of the way through our exile from worshiping at church, and more work is ahead. But I picked up my next musical again this week, and it was a lot more life-giving than the internet I can tell you. More later, I think.