Dear Knox Community,
Over the last month, the College has been working to address reports of hate speech and issues of inclusivity and academic freedom that have arisen in the context of two bias investigations. I write today to provide an update on the status of the investigations and to offer some additional thoughts to help us move forward. Over the coming academic year, we will revisit many of these issues as we examine how to address them in the context of College policies and practices.
I have heard from dozens of alumni, parents, and others who have urged that the College respond more quickly and publicly to these events. Their concern arises from their deep attachment to the College’s core values and their fears that we may fail to uphold those values in this charged environment. I came to Knox because of those values and, as president, I feel the weight of responsibility for protecting them. I am also charged with upholding the integrity of our institutional processes.
In accordance with these commitments, the College undertook investigations under our established protocols into postings on a visiting instructor’s Twitter account and an anonymous flyer slipped under a different faculty member’s office door. We can all agree that Twitter is not a medium for nuanced scholarly discourse, and many of us, myself included, believe that the tweets reference anti-Semitic themes and stereotypes. Some view the investigation into the tweets as unnecessary, frustrating, or an abdication of our responsibility to call out unacceptable and offensive statements, but we are committed to adhering to procedural standards. If there is a finding that a faculty member has violated College standards, only then can there be corrective action from a range of measures.
I can report now that the investigation into the tweets is complete and that actions have been taken that are consistent with our expectation that all Knox faculty adhere to the College’s standards of faculty responsibility as articulated in the Faculty Handbook. The College does not comment publicly on specific personnel actions, but I can assure you that we have worked carefully to strike the right balance between our unwavering expectation that the learning environment be free of bias and harassment and our long-standing respect for academic freedom.
In addition, the investigation into the responsibility for the anonymous flyer continues. We will quickly pursue any new leads as they become available.
We continue to develop community-wide initiatives to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff feel safe and engaged at Knox. Our director of spiritual life has organized interfaith gatherings as part of new programming made possible by that position. A recent campus dialogue hosted by a Jewish student organization is another example of our community’s work toward strengthening the response to incidents of concern. And since spring 2017, many members of our community have been working closely with the Galesburg United Against Hate group to foster a community that is free from bias and hatred.
There is no doubt that Knox College is a diverse community, but all of us—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and parents alike—must work hard to build an inclusive and equitable community. The work to combat hatred and to educate ourselves to see beyond stereotypes will not be easy or quick. I am committed to that work and will continue to encourage vigorous debate and dialogue on the contentious issues of the day, whether they be the boundaries of private speech, the campus as a safe space, the necessity for academic freedom, or the role of social media in our personal and professional lives. It is through this work that we become a better institution tomorrow than we are today.
Teresa L. Amott