College May Have Averted Flag Debacle If They'd Consulted Stan Rosenberg

Monday, December 5, 2016

The brain trust that runs Hampshire College in Amherst thought it would be a good idea to lower the American flag to half-mast on Wednesday, Nov. 9, the day after Trump’s victory, “as an expression of grief over the violent deaths being suffered in this country and globally.” 

The college planned to raise the flag to its full height two days later, on Veterans Day.  After someone or some group took down the flag without permission on the night of Nov. 9 and burned it, the college’s board of trustees decided it would be nice to remove the flag altogether from public display on campus. 
Then the president of the college, Jonathan Lash, called for an open-ended dialogue on how the flag symbolizes different things, some of them quite horrible, to different people.  Some Hampshire students, he noted, “grew up victims of racism and injustice” and are troubled by the flag because it is a “symbol of a system that has been repressive.” 

That decision created a controversy that quickly spread beyond the college’s idyllic setting in the Pioneer Valley.  Veterans groups around the country were particularly outraged. Lash and his college got mauled in the media and on the Internet.  The president's appetite for dialogue seemed to diminish daily.  
This past Friday, Dec. 2, he announced his decision to put the flag up again at Hampshire.  

“…we were getting so many graphic, threatening calls and emails,” said Lash, “that I just felt it was safer to put the flag back up -- which we’d always intended to do at some point – and continue the discussion with it up.”
When the controversy was at a fever pitch, Lash took pains to point out that, for him personally, the American flag “is a symbol of the highest aspirations of our country, the things that I believe in that our country hopes to provide, in terms of liberty and opportunity and justice.”

But, but, he emphasized that he was “simultaneously profoundly aware of the differences in perception for marginalized communities who, as one student said to me, wake up every morning afraid, and who felt deeply and personally threatened by the toxic rhetoric, the racist rhetoric and Islamophobic statements during the (presidential) campaign.”
So, Lash was for taking down the flag and having a dialogue until that course of action became just too much trouble.  He loves the flag as a symbol of the highest aspirations of our country but does not believe enough in that symbolism to withstand the disapproval of anyone enjoying a high-priced Hampshire education while residing in one of the most liberal, most welcoming communities in the country, if not the whole world.

If he’d consulted Stan Rosenberg, the president of the Massachusetts Senate who lives in Amherst, Lash might have saved himself a lot of anguish, not to mention bad publicity and ill will throughout America.  Referring to the flag controversy, Rosenberg told the State House News Service on Nov. 28, “It’s really disappointing to see what’s happened out there.”  He added that he would “like to see the flag go back up as soon as possible.”
When the flag was torn down and burned on his campus, President Lash was at a crossroads, a place where he could have written his own little chapter in American history.  He could have called a morning-after press conference, held up a photo of the burned American flag, and declared:

“I am ordering that a new and larger flag be raised to the top of the pole at noon today, where it will remain as long as I am president of Hampshire College.  The flag that flies at our college symbolizes the highest and best aspirations of our nation.  End of story.  Everyone should return immediately to the business of getting the best education they can during the precious little time they have at Hampshire College.  Thank you.” 
Instead, Lash took what he thought was a safe choice, the middle ground, which has been the wide territory of mediocrity since time immemorial, the place one goes to get his ticket to oblivion punched.










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