Over the summer, I got an email from the registrar saying a course I had signed up for, the Anthropocene with Professor Raj Saha, had been cancelled. To be honest, I had planned on dropping the course. I had a difficult academic semester ahead, and while the course sounded interesting, it also sounded like it would require a lot more of my time and energy than I could easily put forth. But when they offered me priority registration for a new course called Water in Maine, I decided to take it. It was a 100 level, and I’m from Maine, so I thought maybe I’d learn something relevant to me. When I signed up, I had no idea I would end up witnessing blatant acts of racism or incredible mistakes made by Bates administration.
As many of us on campus have heard by now, a few weeks ago, Professor Keith Taylor (a Bates alum and visiting professor in the Earth and Climate Sciences department who taught Water in Maine this semester) sent an email to a student quoted in an article about high staff turnover in the OIE, who described Bates and academia as a whole as anti-Black. In this email, Taylor accused the student of not knowing what they are talking about, since they have only been part of the Bates community for a few years, and told them that their words would hurt Bates. The email was incensed in tone and, on the whole, an inappropriate use of professorial power.
As we all know, gossip and controversy spread like wildfire on our campus, and soon enough, the email was everywhere. After the letter was sent to the Earth and Climate Sciences department and Bates administration, Professor Taylor gave an apology to the class (which I assume he was required to give) that I felt was not very sincere, and was then asked to take the week off to “absorb literature about racism,” according to an email he sent to our class. During his time away, Dean of Faculty Malcolm Hill paid a visit to our class, asking our thoughts on whether Professor Taylor should return to teach the final week of classes. An argument broke out. For the sake of not letting the argument continue, Dean Hill asked those of us who had remaining thoughts to send him an email. I sent him a rather lengthy one, and I know that many of my peers in the course did too. I really thought student opinion would make a difference, but our collective discomfort was not enough to sway the administration.
I was disappointed when I heard that Professor Taylor would be allowed to return for the remainder of the semester. From my understanding, the rationale behind this decision was due to his willingness to comply with the absorption of literature. Turns out, this rationale did not work out in their favor. Truth be told, I did not attend the last class session of Water in Maine, but multiple of my classmates have all told me the same story: to wrap up the course, Professor Keith Taylor said that he no longer supports Bates due to the “indoctrination” occurring on campus, and that he no longer wants to teach or donate to the college.
Clearly administrators made the wrong decision here, and Professor Taylor should not have been allowed back in the classroom. I do believe in second chances, but I also believe that this campus should be a place where all students feel comfortable existing in their bodies and minds without question. Professors should challenge students’ thinking in an intellectually stimulating and respectful way. They should not show such anger towards students or criticize them outside of a constructive academic context. I am very disappointed in Bates for allowing this behavior to go on without serious consequence, and I hope that no other students on this campus experience such disrespect during their time here.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is an organization whose “mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.” They are known to have supported both faculty members and students, including student journalists, in matters of free speech.
Professor Taylor’s email signature now includes the following statement regarding FIRE’s 2021 College Free Speech Rankings: “The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has assigned Bates College a ‘Red Light’, indicating that the institution unambiguously and substantially restricts free speech.”