In anticipation of anti-Trump protest, Rutgers professors allow students to leave class
In anticipation of the “Walkout Against Trump” protest on Nov. 16, professors around the University allowed their students to leave class early.
Department of Anthropology associate professor Robert Scott said he supports his students’ decisions to protest, especially considering that many of his students are “members of communities now under rather explicit threat.”
Scott said he encourages his students to express themselves civilly, vigorously and non-violently.
“I have faith that this is what they will do,” Scott said. “I encourage them to be kind to their fellow humans, think critically and make judgments of the world based on facts and their values.”
Carlos Decena, chair of the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies, urged students to engage in the protest.
“There are many of us in the administration who are committed to you,” Decena said, a member of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT). “You need to hold us accountable. You need to walk into our offices. You need to demand that we listen to you.”
Other professors decided on the day of to cancel class after student prompts. Rutgers Graduate School—New Brunswick student Farah Jan said in an email that after receiving requests from students who will attend the rally, she canceled class and replaced the lecture with a brief homework assignment on President-elect Donald Trump’s presidency.
Scott noted that excusing students from class on a day of protest such as this one can be likened to excusing student absences that result from religious observances. Excusing students for their religious freedom is as valid as excusing students for their freedom of speech.
"Joining a protest and declining to join a protest are both acts protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution," said Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies William Field in an email to students and faculty in the Department of Political Science.
Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards sent an email to the University deans regarding the protest.
“We have learned that some students believe their classroom instructor is calling off class and requiring them to attend the rally,” Edwards said in the email. “I want you to insure (sic) that all your faculty know that students cannot be required to attend such an event.”
In an email to Edwards, Scott said all this was common knowledge to the professors.
“I am frankly uncertain whether you have simply paddled your intellectual canoe extremely far into the land of cover your ass or if you think that Rutgers faculty are mutton-headed children,” Scott replied. “I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that we know that we cannot force our students to attend a political protest.”
The AAUP-AFT at Rutgers called for the University to be a "sanctuary campus," said Department of Geography professor Asher Ghertner in an email.
The characteristics of a "sanctuary campus" state administration, faculty and staff establish services and a climate welcome for students of color, Muslim students, LGBTQ students and women, according to the email. This is in response to a recent uptick in hate crimes.
An article in USA Today stated that the rise of hate incidents appears “worse than what took place immediately after the terror attacks in 2001.”
Ghertner said he would end class early at 2:30 p.m. to allow travel time for students to reach the College Avenue campus if they want to attend.
“I will be taking the campus shuttle over myself, so feel free to join me en-route,” he said.
Some students did not attend the protest despite their class cancellation.
Sarah Ahmed said she will take advantage of this extra time to catch up on schoolwork, though she supports the protesters’ decision to attend.
“I think it is great that professors are allowing students to leave class and attend the protest rather than buckle down on them with rules and regulations,” the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore said. “At Rutgers, we are given a voice, and I love that.”
Others did not think the cancellation was justified. Rikiya Aritomo, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy second-year, said that being excused for a protest can too easily be abused.
“I am motivated to support my students’ rights to express themselves because I am a patriotic American,” Scott said. “If the question is why might I consider walking out myself, that is another question. It would start with feelings of empathy for those at risk and recognition of our common humanity.”
Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @bushrafhasan for more.