I’m not a big fan of walking out on anybody about whom I may have had a negative preconception to begin with. Either I show or I don’t. If I show, I listen. If I don’t agree with what I’m hearing, I work it out while I sit there, thinking on my position and the speaker’s. Finding such a teachable moment is valuable; actually learning from it is necessary to personal growth.
No point was served by walking out on the vice president, other than to demonstrate the students’ shallow intolerance of someone with whom they disagreed. I feel the same about the Bethune-Cookman HBCU students’ back-turning, booing, dissing of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. I’m on the record as being opposed to Ms. DeVos and Mr. Pence, and their boss, Mr. Trump, so I’m hardly an apologist here.
But, in real life, the Notre Dame graduates and the Bethune-Cookman graduates are going to have to work with people with whom they disagree; they will have to deal with real life situations that make them uncomfortable; they will have to learn adult coping strategies for getting along with unprincipled people (maybe even their bosses) without diluting their own principles; they will have to learn that walking away from a problem is an abrogation of civil, personal, and professional responsibility.
Changing the world requires showing up every day and working toward the goal under the best and meanest of conditions. It requires cooperating with a wide range of people who you may dislike, who may dislike you, and with whom you may have vivid disagreements. It requires patience and empathy and a long-view toward the future. What the Notre Dame graduates demonstrated ran counter to the University’s mission statement, which reads, in part:
“The University is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake. As a Catholic university, one of its distinctive goals is to provide a forum where, through free inquiry and open discussion, the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge found in the arts, sciences, professions, and every other area of human scholarship and creativity.”
The phrase, “... a forum where, through free inquiry and open discussion, the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge...” is at the heart of the American system of higher education. It is not unique to Catholic higher education; it is the rock-solid foundation of informed inquiry upon which all respected institutions of higher education are built. Walking out on a speaker invited to address the graduates of an institution founded on such a principle runs counter to the commitment those students made at the beginning of their journey at Notre Dame.
If I were a parent of any of those students, I’d consider my aspirational investment in my son’s or daughter’s path toward educational enlightenment at a fine University a sad failure. I would say to them, “Turning your back on, or walking away from the disagreeable aspects of life solves nothing, and only reinforces the world’s opinion of you that is not flattering.”
For more on similarly inconvenient truths, please visit my blog: But What If I’m Write?