Joel Seligman is a man who seems to have a serious problem with the truth. The town hall he held on Tuesday was his latest opportunity to prove that he was something more than a securities lawyer who took a wrong turn onto Library Road back in 2004. Students expected him to answer their questions about the University’s opinion of T. Florian Jaeger, and his “alleged” sexual harassment of graduate students in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department. Jaeger is accused of a sequence of grotesque violations, the veracity of which seem to have been established by copious amounts of witness testimony for everyone except Joel Seligman.
Instead, the student body sat agape in the Douglass Ballroom as he delivered platitude after neoliberal platitude on the importance of sincerity, the horror of wrongdoing, and the nature of justice. Not once did he stray from generic non-answers and offensive attempts at inoffensive ignorance. Despite countless members of the student body baring their souls to him, he huffed in annoyance and rolled his eyes, before continuing along with his script, as if he was the captain of the Titanic after being told that the ship was about to hit an iceberg. This ship is unsinkable! We’ve coated it with a double layer of bovine excrement!
President Seligman also hinted at beliefs not unlike the disingenuous exhortations of modern fascism that have come to pervade the American experience in 2017. Indeed, some of his rhetoric during the town hall fits this mold to a Trumpian T, like his clichéd ejaculation of “This is McCarthyism!” or his apparent belief that there are “victims on both sides.” He oscillated between frantic remarks about witch hunts and infuriating ambiguities. He displayed the sheer obliviousness that is the sole privilege of a white man (who in this case, is paid over a million dollars in salary to lead the University), and felt compelled to announce that everyone should feel safe on campus, whether they are “male, female, or transgender.”
In his reply to activist and senior Lindsay Wrobel, who is currently on a hunger strike, President Seligman writes, “My primary interest is your health and safety. I understand you are passionate about your cause and I respect your rights [sic] to express yourself as you choose, but I would urge you to put your well-being first.” In other words, he is asking Wrobel to sacrifice her cause for her own safety, which defeats the purpose of a hunger strike. He does not acknowledge that sacrificing her cause would benefit him personally, a conflict of interest he should have acknowledged if he wanted to be taken seriously. This callous response reflects a pattern of behavior that is now well understood by the student body: Seligman states his interests in a way that suggests they are not his interests at all, but ours. Our president is clearly no stranger to linguistic manipulation, though one might think it prudent not to use it to manipulate students.
This disconnect between what President Seligman says and what his actions suggest he believes is familiar to anyone who pays attention to politics. He has to stay on script, tell people he will look into it, and placate the masses until they get bored and move on to the next tragedy. He does not believe that evil has occurred, but he would be unbelievably sad if it has. His commitment to discuss concerns as long as necessary until the problem was resolved was abruptly cut short at his discretion three hours in. He portrays his ideology as a lack thereof, but this is at least as dangerous as taking a side. Neutrality in the face of catastrophe only serves to bolster the power of the perpetrator, solidifying their ability to oppress. Seligman is comforting the comfortable by afflicting the afflicted. What other conclusion are we left to draw about the opinions of a man who, in the face of overwhelming evidence and the power of a judicial system predicated on preponderance, shrugs his shoulders and mutters something about due process?