Wednesday, September 03, 2008

'Faculty Resident's Tea' and a personal reflection on Alaskans I have known

My assistants and I are hoping to start a new tradition in Anderson Hall, the Faculty Resident’s Tea.  The idea came Bob O’Hara’s fine newsletter, The Collegiate Way.  Bob’s newsletter serves as a network hub for faculty members committed to the ideal of “Collegiate Living” in the tradition of Oxford and Cambridge, in England.  The best exemplar of collegiate living in the US is Yale University, where students affiliate with a tradition-rich named college as  first year students.  They retain that affiliation through graduation and, often,  for many years afterwards.  AU has taken positive steps in the direction of building student-faculty bridges, outside of the classroom, however they are only first steps on a long journey.

I raised the issue of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin at the end of this first tea-hour, with five young women guests.  It was near the end of an animated, wide-ranging conversation.  I am almost always impressed with AU students’ views on serious political questions and this discussion was no exception.  Some guests were Republican leaning, others democratic leaning and there was one independent.  They reported on favorable and unfavorable news stories had heard.  They expressed sympathy - and empathy - for the circumstances of Governor Paliin’s eldest daughter. The admitted, candidly, that they knew little about her and would need more information before reaching a judgment. 

After bidding my guests farewell, I spent nearly an hour, over dinner and chores, listening to news stories and commentaries about Governor Palin.  Unlike my students, most commentators, political leaders and political spokespersons claimed to have made up their mind. They had  shifted to the mode of partisan argument, pro or con, black or white.  What my students had to offer seemed far more candid, thoughtful and interesting.

I have only visited Alaska twice - for brief periods while on active duty as a naval officer.  But I have worked professionally with two Alaskans, for fairly extended periods.  What impressed me most about both was that they seemed comfortable with who they were, held points of view that defied stereotyping and were supremely self assured.  What I have seen of Governor Palin, so far, is very reminiscent of my two colleagues.

I have learned to be cautious about jumping to conclusions where Alaskans are concerned.  Like my student guests,  I intend to keep listening and seeking to learn from what I hear throughout the remainder of the campaign.  The Republican Vice Presidential nominee is entitled to this consideration, I believe.  Because she is an Alaskan, I think she would approve of a decision to shun stereotypic platitudes and make up my own mind.

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