To Whom It May Concern:
In an essay within a book he edited entitled Social Justice Education, Professor of German and Head of Brainerd Commons Roman Graf writes that a key part of educating within a social justice framework means ensuring that “students and teachers become equal partners in a common pursuit.”
While I do not know how the decision to fire Barrett Smith from his position as FYC was made, and if Prof. Graf was implicated at all as Head of Brainerd Commons, I find this quote to be a great indicator of what went wrong in this case. Embracing the idea that the faculty-student power dynamic is mirrored in the Commons Head/Dean-FYC relationship (which, in effect, is still a faculty-student relationship), it seems clear that if the deans and commons heads behind this decision had put into practice Graf’s idea of faculty-student partnership in a common pursuit, both Barrett and his first years would not have been unjustly silenced in the decision-making process. Judging by these blog posts, had the students’ voices been heard instead of dismissed (or even unintentionally left out from the start), Barrett would not have been removed from his position, as the commons higher ups behind this decision likely would not have been able to deny the positive effects Barrett has had on the Brainerd community, and on his first years in particular.
To put it simply, the insular decision-making process behind Barrett’s removal forces me to conclude that we have a long way to go as a community before we can truly believe that Middlebury faculty and administrators are teaching/leading the school in a socially just manner. Still, Graf’s essay gives me hope, as he extensively cites the great educational theorist Paulo Freire, a thinker known for believing that “[t]hose who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.” It is my hope that those behind this decision will re-examine their actions and engage with the students in Stewart who are directly affected by this decision.
While I cannot say for sure what the outcome of those deliberations would be, it seems likely that those involved will come to the same conclusion that everyone on this blog seems to have made independently of each other: that Barrett Smith is an engaging and engaged FYC who does not deserve to be removed from his position. As Olivia Noble (’13) said so well in her letter of dicontent, “If our concern in this experience is to protect the safe space of the freshman hall, to ensure that stability and comfort is something these freshmen are never without, then removing Barrett from his position is entirely hypocritical.” I believe that if the commons heads and deans who made this decision re-examine their actions—and re-examine their underestimation of Barrett’s integral place in the Brainerd community—they will come to a similar conclusion.
Hanna Mahon, 2013.5