In Defense of Dean Rodgers

Dean+Rodgers+is+currently+under+investigation+by+The+Office+of+Public+Safety+%28Courtesy+of+Google%29.

Dean Rodgers is currently under investigation by The Office of Public Safety (Courtesy of Google).

 

Dean Rodgers is currently under investigation by The Office of Public Safety (Ram Archives).

By Richard Koch

At the end of August, a Fordham Resident Assistant published a statement online stating that the Dean of Students Christopher Rodgers, should resign. His unforgivable infraction, the RA alleges, was that he showed “left” and “right” leaning videos on the issue of sexual assault during RA training, hence inappropriately politicizing the issue.

Further, the RA claims, the Dean neglected to provide warnings as to the content of said videos, specifically the “right” leaning one from PragerU, and thereby prioritized political context over the students who were made uncomfortable by its argument. As this incident left several students in tears, the statement concludes by saying that Dean Rodgers “should not hold any administrative position.”

In the three weeks since this statement was published, the university has launched an official investigation into the matter. News outlets across the country picked up the story, and supporters on campus are galvanizing around the statement’s request for the Dean’s resignation.

There are numerous problems with this RA’s accusations, and more so with the series of events that followed. First, the claim that the Dean of Students, a seasoned educator and family man, should be fired because of transparently presenting political perspectives is an egregious insult to free speech. Second, the administration should never have preemptively published Dean Rodgers’ name in association with the matter, thereby permanently tethering him to it. By doing so, the administration unduly tarnished the man’s reputation and, in lending credence to the statement’s accusations, both legitimized and encouraged this campus’s culture of sensitivity. Unfortunately, this issue is shared across much of higher education.

First off, campus sexual assault is, naturally, a political issue, and is deserving of space in campus conversations. Just this past election (congressional, presidential or gubernatorial) many voters evaluated candidates by their stances on sexual assault; sometimes, this stance was a decisive factor.
Dean Rodgers was right to present on the spectrum of such discourse, as it is both relevant to our political society and, more so, important for RA’s to understand in their role as a campus resource. What happens when a “PragerU” inclined resident comes to an RA with an issue? How do they respond? Dismiss them as politically insensitive, and then kick them out?

I understand that many were provoked, or triggered, by Dean Rodgers’s presentation of both “right” and “left” perspectives on sexual assault, and I do sympathize with these students. It is truly unfortunate that a presentation—especially one designed to be educational—brought a room full of adults to tears. No one’s aim was for students in RA training to end up distraught. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with Dean Rodgers presenting opposing points of view about the topic of sexual assault in hopes of providing campus leaders with political context.

Emotional shelter is not a right; we are not entitled to protection from challenging opinions, and frankly, as students and leaders, our duty should be to vigorously engage with and understand them, not to banish their speaker. Furthermore, if the substance of a video is upsetting, then respond maturely and simply leave the room. Blaming the person who showed the video and demanding his expulsion is a grossly disproportionate and unfair reaction. I am not discussing the ins-and-outs of sexual assault here; I am making a point about speech rights on campus and the dangerous consequences of free speech suppression. Just because an administrator transparently presented politicized points of views—even informing students of their bias at the offset—his career, livelihood and character, should now be permanently tarnished?

As an educational leader, Dean Rodgers was well within his rights to show the videos he did. Although they offended some RAs and caused friction with some of their own opinions, that does not mean the views do not exist nor does it rebuke their credibility. In fact, frenzied responses serve to pigeonhole and weaken the integrity of an individual’s own views.

As I believe the Fordham Department of Public Safety’s investigation will confirm, Dean Rodgers should not be fired, and he was not out of line. I think it would be healthier if the aggrieved RAs and Dean Rodgers held a discussion to talk about the issue of sexual assault, and in the process initiated a dialogue on campus. Or, as some RAs propose, you can outright expel him and deny him a response, chalking it up as a “non-political” victory at the expense of his career.

Furthermore, to the Office of Public Safety and Fordham administration– this situation is an embarrassment. Preemptively publishing Dean Rodger’s name in association with a sexual misconduct “scandal” is a disreputable, groveling bow to higher-ed politics and public relations. Now, whenever he is searched, and regardless of the investigation’s outcome, people will find the university statement including him, which essentially is an indictment.
The handling of this incident is yet another example of over-reactive PR stunts attempting to save face, and now, as a result, Fordham may have cost a lead administrator his educational reputation.

This institution shamelessly allows itself to be guided by reactive politics and aggrandize sensitivity and, as I hope my thoughts demonstrate, people will begin to take notice. Students’ emotional comfort is clearly a serious subject these days, but so are free speech rights, and a person’s right to a fair reputation. Which will you choose to protect?

Richard Koch, FCRH ’18, is a political science major from Washington, D.C.