A place for politics?

Every day, in every class I will wonder whom my professors willbe voting for on November 2 – hoping that maybe, just maybe, anunintentional comment or bodily motion will let me in on who theyare voting for.

Every four years the university professor and the student forman elaborate routine during the presidential campaign. As classesbegin to swing into the frenzied momentum of the quarter system,the presidential election undoubtedly takes center stage in many ofthe lives that intersect within the university. It is not just thatuniversities rely on the political sentiments of a particularperiod for legitimacy and funding, but a university’s products arethe consequences of engagement, analysis and critique of politicaldeeds.

The precariousness of the predicament is evident in theregulation of professors’ freedom of political speech. An”objective” analysis of countless political theories is allowed(even analyses that ridicule and deride), but a political button isunquestionably discouraged.

This election will be no exception, of course. In fact, it is myopinion that this presidential election will lumber into theuniversity in the very beginning of classes in a uniquelydisquieting way.

Some might argue that Al Gore bellowing from the steps ofShattuck Hall with the president of ASPSU, like in the 2000presidential election, was not exactly the light tread of awhispering campaign. In many ways this may be accurate, and ifmemory serves me correctly, the right-minded students were notpleased.

This year is different, though. The debate is not so much aboutBush’s drinking days or Gore’s exaggerations. This election isstartlingly, unsettlingly framed by the architects of theRepublican Party as a “catastrophically” stark choice between fearand safety. The Democrats present it as a choice between competenceand the lethal opacity of neo-conservative logic.

It is no surprise, then, that opinions (and passions) will bemuch more difficult to costume in the noble pursuit of education orthe hobby of electoral guessing games. Portland State University,both by choice and default, will become a heated center of thisentrenching debate. This will be the case in many of the classes,regardless of the discipline or subject.

Portland State University, as we have been hounded to remember,is a diverse campus. Lost in the gauze of this notion is the factthat many students do not share the political opinions of theirprofessors or their classmates. I have been told by manypolitically conservative peers that they feel silenced on thiscampus and that they are ridiculed in classes regularly. Often Ifind this sentiment to be overwrought – you take a class in liberalarts and sciences, you are going to hear “liberal” theories,right?

I admit, as well, that I have been guilty of rolling my eyes nowand again, but I am genuinely concerned that politicallyconservative students do not feel they are adequately apart of theeducational debate and, more importantly, that they feeldiscouraged by their professors.

In this election year, then, one can understand how thepolitical slogan on a pin or button could aggravate an alreadysensitive situation, touching nerves and leading to accusations ofintentional bias. I am sure this is something that we all can livewithout. But, if this election is truly about the very safety ofour lives, how can we not speak of it in every way, every day? Isit even possible to have a rational debate when the “choice”presented is a “with us or against us” glower from both sides?More, will we be seduced into being scared enough to silencedissension among ourselves, hoping that this somehow protects ourfellow citizens? This will be a monumental challenge for theuniversity and for all of us here.

We must somehow make sense of this election – to speak our mindsin the shadow of the numbing chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” What is ourduty as members of this university? Maria Montessori,educationalist and teacher, said, “Establishing lasting peace isthe work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”If this is the case, then at this moment politics has decidedlyfailed us. What, now, is our charge?