Controversy Over Fiskus Lecturer
Controversy roiled the Political Science department at Skidmore last week following revelations that Mark Graber, the visiting lecturer for this year's Fiskus Lecture, accidentally forwarded a controversial email from his daughter to his mock trial team at the University of Maryland. Mr. Graber has decided to cancel his appearance at Skidmore following an outcry on campus. His daughter, Abigail Graber, is an anti-discrimination attorney who was co-teaching the mock trial team with Mr. Graber.
During team selection, she emailed her father to ask him about how many Latino students they should include on the team. In the email that Mr. Graber accidentally forwarded to the team, his daughter says “the question I have is about diversity. There were three (obviously) Latino students who came; 1 was mediocre, two were pretty bad (1 of the two bad ones didn’t seem to take it especially seriously). But we have almost no latino students on the team. If I were to rank purely on performance, I would probably only take 1 of them. Should I take 2? All three?”
Mr. Graber immediately apologized to the students affected, having realized his mistake about seven minutes after sending the email. Mark Graber and his daughter have resigned from the mock trial team at the University of Maryland over the mishap.
Graber is a law professor at the University of Maryland, and is widely considered to be one of the leading Constitutional scholars is the United States. He has since decided that he will not speak on campus, citing concerns that his lecture on Constitutional law will not be the focus of his visit.
At a listening session last week held by the Political Science department, tensions were high. About 28 students attended the discussion mediated by Professor Seyb, who is serving as Dean of Faculty, and Department Chair Natalie Taylor. Students talked about a range of concerns regarding the lecture, and many said that they felt personally attacked by the decision to go forward with said lecture.
Students at the session said that they found the contents of the email to be racist, and that they would feel unsafe with Mr. Graber on campus. Many said that moving forward with the lecture would be tacitly condoning racism and failing to take into account the feelings of the Latinx community.
Other students felt as though the heated feelings on campus prevented them from voicing their opinion at the meeting. One student who wished to remain unnamed said “if I went to that meeting and argued anything against him being racist, even if that’s not the truth, I would be perceived as racist.”
Among the primary grievances aired was a feeling that Latinx students were not adequately represented during the process in which the Political Science Department revisited Mr. Graber’s invitation. Many students said that they saw the department’s unilateral decision to move forward with the lecture as an affront to their concerns. One student called it “disempowering” to have it implied that they would have an impact through dialogue, only to find out that the decision had already been made.
After the listening session, it was announced that Mr. Graber had decided against coming to campus. Professor Taylor, who is the chair of the Political Science department, has said that she hopes to reschedule the Fiskus Lecture with a different speaker at a later time.