The Evergreen State College is forking out $500,000 to settle a legal claim from two professors that stemmed from student protests last school year. We hope this finally lets the four-year public school turn the page on the turbulence and move toward increased campus civility.
The college admitted no fault in the settlement — and its leaders said they strongly rejected the allegations of harassment, claims of an illegal racially hostile environment, retaliation and unsafe working conditions. These claims were brought by a white professor, Bret Weinstein, and his professor wife, Heather Heying, who believed they were placed in danger by student protesters.
As part of the agreement both Heying and Weinstein, who became a lightning rod and national critic of the college’s diversity policies, resigned. They’ll receive $450,000 from the settlement; the remainder is for their attorneys.
The legal settlement comes on the eve of the new academic year that starts Monday. Evergreen’s valuable coursework can proceed more easily without the distraction of the lawsuit or national media attention.
Evergreen president George Bridges and staff can also finish cinching up their proposed rules for student and faculty conduct. The code of conduct came to the fore after student protesters disrupted one of Weinstein’s classes in the spring.
The work to accommodate diverse viewpoints at Evergreen also needs to carry on — with an emphasis on both students and faculty members listening to contrary opinions and engaging civilly with others who hold and express contentious views.
This is a national issue on college campuses and in most corners of politics. But Bridges must continue to hold faculty and students accountable in cases where their free speech infringes — in a threatening way — on the free speech rights of others.
So far, the college has punished at least one or two students for actions that included the brandishing of baseball bats in a menacing way during protests occurring after the dust-ups with Weinstein.
Last month, Bridges told The Olympian Editorial Board that “some (students) have withdrawn from the college and won’t be back. They were suspended. They knew they would have difficulty if they came back.”
Bridges has declined to say how many students were sanctioned out of the half-dozen who were accused of swinging bats. He argued that to get specific would automatically reveal the identities of those forced to leave the campus.
Bridges said the campus is developing new rules to limit which groups can hold events on campus. Some students and faculty objected when a white nationalist patriots group showed up in June to protest. The bat incidents came after an anonymous caller — later identified as a New Jersey man — threatened to come onto campus and kill people.
Once completed, the rally rule will require that rallies on campus be at the invitation of groups on the campus. How that unfolds bears watching — to ensure it is done in a way that fosters a diversity of viewpoints.
At this juncture, it was smart for Weinstein to leave. He was an outspoken critic of the college’s approach to boosting ethnic or racial diversity and tolerance. Specifically he claimed the Day of Absence/Day of Presence events in the spring were coercive for those who didn’t want to join in. That yearly ritual on campus involved just 200 faculty and students and has been officially considered voluntary.
For those new to the campus turmoil, Day of Absence events typically require the participants to leave campus for a retreat; the rest of the campus goes about its business. Later, the minority students, faculty and others attending the retreat return and share their experiences with others.
What irked Weinstein was that roles were reversed — with some white students and faculty leaving for a retreat and persons of color remaining on campus. He also objected to a hiring process that would require a statement telling how campus diversity is helped by each faculty hiring.
Weinstein had a right to speak critically of the school in emails and also to go on national Fox network news programs blasting the college. Unfortunately his statements about having been coerced left misleading impressions. These fostered erroneous media accounts to the effect that whites were unwelcome on campus.
Evergreen has been known for its unconventional teaching methods that include seminars. Our hope is that Evergreen’s community learns from its mistakes and becomes known both for making minorities welcome and showing others how a campus can foster difficult — but necessary — conversations.