Fred Kowal: I Will Not Be Silent | WAMC

Fred Kowal: I Will Not Be Silent

Dec 13, 2016

Stunned? Shocked? Disbelieving?

I’m sure many of us shared that same reaction in the wee hours of November 9 once it became obvious that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. So how did we get there, and what do we do now?

The shock has become resolve.

As the leader of the nation’s largest higher education union, I can say unequivocally that United University Professions will fiercely defend the rights of its members. We will advocate for quality, affordable public college education and quality health care.

And UUP will fearlessly stand for diversity, opportunity and equality for all. No election, president or political party will ever change that.

Yet, drastic change is coming, in the form of an administration that is the most ideologically extremist in history.

There is resistance across the country to this electoral coup, one in which the so-called winning candidate has earned 2.3 million votes fewer than the defeated candidate.  The protests do serve a purpose. Beyond venting our frustration, they remind me and my colleagues in higher education that we must not go meekly into the night. I think we have a vital role to play to teach students not only how America’s political system works and why it’s important to vote. I think the focus must also be on teaching values – values like acceptance, tolerance, multiculturalism and critical thinking.

These and other values could be steamrolled by those in the new administration who think they have a mandate to reverse the progress our nation has made under President Obama. Progress in areas like women’s rights, civil rights, the rights of immigrants and the LGBTQ community, not to mention protecting our environment and the Affordable Care Act.

Public higher education needs to serve as a watchdog, unafraid to stand up against initiatives that challenge what academe stands for. I will stand up to oppose any moves that promote racism, misogyny, undermine the rights of women, target immigrants for deportation, and destroy programs that reduce the effects of climate change.                  

I cannot and will not be silent as the country we love is torn asunder by an administration that does not have a mandate from a majority of Americans to radically and regressively change our nation. Throughout our history, the higher education community has stood at the forefront of the progressive movement. I don’t buy the theory that the election result is a rebuke to what our detractors characterize as the elite.  I believe that now more than ever, the banner of progressivism must be held aloft by those in higher education.   

Robert F. Kennedy said it best: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

The struggle to defend our progress as a society begins now. 

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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