The Santa Clara
January 31, 2019
The results are in, and Santa Clara seems to be the loser. On Jan. 8, John M. Sobrato, a member of the Santa Clara Board of Trustees, wrote a school wide email bringing an end to the now debunked claims of “offensive comments related to gender, race, ethnicity and immigration status” by members of the Presidential Search Committee (PSC). For those late to the story, a quick recap may be useful in understanding the different parties’ viewpoints.
Student leaders were given an opportunity to meet with the PSC to provide input on the search criteria of the university’s new president. In their eyes, trustees Art Liebscher, S.J., and Bob Finocchio acted disparagingly during the meeting. As a result, some of the student leaders sent a letter of complaint about 10 days later. This letter resulted in faculty members starting an online letter of support that received more than 100 faculty signatures. This drama prompted an independent investigation which would absolve the trustees of allegations of gendered or racially insensitive comments.
This series of events can be used as a lens to discuss issues in our community at large. Specifically, one thing stood out to me in the aforementioned email. It stated that faculty “based the allegations in that letter of support solely on the student email complaint to the co-chairs. The faculty member did not obtain information from any other source or attend the meeting in question.”
These actions highlight some of the worst qualities of the modern era. Primarily, this debunked accusation was championed by someone who the investigation found to have no contact with the event in any way, shape or form, other than hearing and studying the accusation.
The faculty members’ actions show how accusations are being responded to in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In today’s social climate, accusations are increasingly treated with a guilty until proven innocent attitude. Accusations are given inherent credibility.
The treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh by certain members of our political class highlights this corrupt logic. Democratic Senator Cory Booker in a press interview showcases how unjust this is. In regards to Kavanaugh’s hearings, Booker said, “Ultimately, not whether he’s innocent or guilty—this is not a trial—but ultimately, have enough questions been raised that we should not move on to another candidate?” Booker is disinterested in the facts and reality behind the accusation. He is only interested in the accusation itself. One may wonder if his attitude would change if it was Booker who was the accused.
Let us use the faculty member as a case study for this logic. From the investigation we learned the faculty member “did not obtain information from any other source or attend the meeting in question.”
In other words, they knew only of the accusation. He or she must have found the accusation alone to be of merit because he or she did not try to take even the most basic steps to validate this information. This accusation alone was enough to attack members of the Santa Clara community.
At best, this member of our community was careless in the pursuit of the truth and his or her mistake caused needless heartache for those involved. At worst, this person was purposefully ignorant in order to further an agenda.
To help shed light on the situation, emails were sent to Professors Laura Ellingson and Linda Garber, writers of the letter of support. The latter did not respond,* but Ellingson responded promptly. Shortly a discussion of her response will be provided, but at her request, it is important to note any quotes and comments are solely hers, not reflecting the attitudes of any other staff members.
In the email, Ellingson confirms she did not value the trustee’s viewpoint over the students and she treated the accusation as inherently credible.
“We discussed elements of the written statements provided by four students,” Ellingson said. “We did not reach out to them [the trustees] because they were clearly already disagreeing with the content and tone of what the students perceived to have happened in the interaction.” To her credit, Ellingson completed thorough research into the accusation.
She said, “Drs. Garber, Lodia and Ellingson discussed the issue together and also reached out to Dr. Sarah Kate Wilson in the Engineering school. We discussed elements of the written statements provided by four students, the credibility of their claims and we pooled our knowledge of what the scheduled event was, who was there and how the students claim that they were treated.” But her meaningful research ended there.
Her email echoes an accuser first attitude shown by those such as Booker. She thoroughly researches the student’s viewpoint but did not do the same for the trustees. Ellingson rounds out her argument by outright confirming the hypocrisy of the situation.
“We do not find the trustees to be more (or less) credible than the students,” Ellingson said.
But I do not think Ellingson can simultaneously find the trustees to be of equal standing as the students, and also champion the student’s accusation without seeing the viewpoint of the trustees. As a nation and as a community at Santa Clara, we are treating the accuser as credible and the accused as unbelievable: guilty until proven innocent.
To her credit, Ellingson does look after what she believes to be the students’ best interest and does so with passion and sincere care. Her actions and email reflect deep and authentic care for the student body, and this is above criticism. While some may disagree with her action, Ellingson’s heart was in the right place.
As a community both at Santa Clara and as members of our national community, we must be better. We must vigorously pursue the truth and not stop anywhere before it. As students, we must expect better from our alleged role models. As the Romans said, “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat.” Translated from Latin, this quote reads, “The burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.” Maybe our faculty should touch upon their Latin studies before they attack others.
* Garber is on leave.
Jake Souleyrette is a sophomore finance major.