In an op-ed for the Boston Globe, Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, calls for what is effectively an academic blacklisting of members of the Trump administration, who, Rodrik contends, should be prohibited from receiving “even a semblance of honor or recognition” from the gatekeepers of higher learning.
“Universities should uphold both free inquiry and the values of liberal democracy,” writes Rodrik. “The first calls for unhindered exchange and interaction with Trumpist views. The second requires that the engagement be carefully calibrated, with not even a semblance of honor or recognition bestowed on those serving an administration that so grossly violates liberal democratic norms.”
Rodrik’s open call for academia to treat members of the Trump administration differently than members of all previous administrations follows outrage from academics over the University of Virginia Public Affairs center’s appointment of Marc Short, Trump’s former director of legislative affairs, to a one-year senior fellow position. Before that, Harvard appointed Trump campaign staffer Corey Lewandowski as a fellow at the university’s Institute of Politics.
Such appointments, Rodrik argues, presents a “serious dilemma” to administrations due to “the danger of normalizing and legitimizing what can only be described as an odious presidency”:
The Trump administration confronts universities with a serious dilemma. On one hand, universities must be open to diverse viewpoints, including those that conflict with mainstream opinion or may seem threatening to specific groups. Students and faculty who share Trump’s viewpoint should be free to speak without censorship. Universities must remain for free inquiry and debate. Moreover, schools and institutes of public affairs must offer student and faculty opportunities to engage with the policy makers of the day.
On the other hand, there is the danger of normalizing and legitimizing what can only be described as an odious presidency. Trump violates on a daily basis the norms on which liberal democracy rests. He undermines freedom of the media and independence of the judiciary, upholds racism and sectarianism, and promotes prejudice. He blithely utters one falsehood after another.
Rodrik condemns those who serve in the Trump administration as “necessarily tainted by the experience” and thus unworthy of being honored by universities. And it’s not just key members of the administration; according to Rodrik, the Trump “stain” applies to anyone who has held any position under this “shameful presidency”:
Those who serve with him are necessarily tainted by the experience. Trump’s close associates and political appointees are his enablers — regardless of their personal merits and how much they try to disassociate themselves from Trump’s utterances. Qualities like intelligence, effectiveness, integrity, and collegiality — words used by Miller Center Director William J. Antholis to justify Short’s appointment — have little to commend them when they are deployed to advance an illiberal political agenda.
The stain extends beyond political operatives and covers economic policy makers as well. Trump’s cabinet members and high-level appointees share collective responsibility for propping up a shameful presidency. They deserve opprobrium not merely because they hold cranky views on, say, the trade deficit or economic relations with China, but also, and more importantly, because their continued service makes them fully complicit in Trump’s behavior.
Rodrik defends what he describes as his call for defining “clear rules of engagement” with members of the Trump administration by insisting that “there is no conflict between encouraging free speech and exchange of views, which these rules are meant to support, and the university making its own values clear.”