Ripon College President: Teaching Trump Comes Full Circle

By Amelia Heup for Media Trackers

Ripon, Wisconsin is probably best known for two things: cookies and being the birthplace of the Republican Party.  Ripon College, a liberal-arts institution with an enrollment of close to 800 students at the heart of a community of 8,000 residents with the goals of the institution to have town-gown relations and to encourage a “Life Well Lived.” With a proud political history, Zach Messitte, the current President of Ripon College and a professor in the Politics and Government Department has a different message for students, alumni, and residents.

In an article published Tuesday in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Messitte used his platform as president to express his bias against President Trump and those who supported him in the Ripon community:

“My thesis was a simple one: Just because then-candidate Trump had made bigoted and ignorant statements, it didn’t mean that his supporters should be maligned as well. I thought our liberal-arts, moderate, purple-battleground community in rural Wisconsin would get the idea. I was wrong.”

To fully grasp the Chronicle article, one needs to go back to August 11, 2016, when Messitte became the center of controversy after publishing an opinion piece with the Washington Post. Messittte’s latest effort is essentially a no regrets follow-up to the first piece.  In the Post article, he outlines the conclusions in which teachers and those involved in higher education are to “understand what Donald Trump and Trumpism means going forward” stating:

“How the nation’s teachers integrate understanding Trumpism into their classrooms this fall, regardless of discipline, will go a long way toward finding some common ground with the 40-something percent of the voting population that supports him.”

Messitte acknowledges that professors are to discuss and recognize Trump’s narrow-minded rhetoric. He then compared Trump to be a student saying that as a student, Trump would have “already been called into the dean’s office to explain comments about women, minorities, immigrants, veterans and people with disabilities.” The second conclusion that Messitte states that the rise of Trump in a political sense extends further than political science.

Rather, to understand Trump and those who support him, “means having a deep knowledge of words like ‘empathy,’ ‘tolerance,’ ‘power’ and ‘narcissism.’” He encourages professors and students to delve into the subject of Trump to answer questions such as: “How can we be open-minded in the face of Trump’s bigotry?” and “Why are Trump’s most ardent supporter’s rural whites without a college degree?”

Near the end of the Post article, Messitte concedes that if Trump was to either win or lose in November 2016, it would be “critical that we study and interpret what his candidacy signifies beyond American politics.”

The article of how to teach Trump to college age students created a blow-back from not only students who supported then-candidate Trump, but also from the alumni and the community of Ripon.  Messitte’s Tuesday article published in the Chronicle illusrates how his initial opinion piece created a consort of reactions, varying based on who he was talking to. He mentions that students who were participating in a phone-a-thon, designed to raise money for the annual fund, were put in the uncomfortable position of answering for the actions taken by the president of the college. “The haters, of course, were still going to hate, but something had changed,” stated by Messitte was one of many instances in which he references those who disagree with his sentiment.

Many alumni, the Ripon community, and those who contribute to the college were outraged at the  liberal bias from a person holding a position in the institution that is to represent all students and values of Ripon College. In the Chronicle article, Messitte shares that an alum who proposed to make a contribution to a new athletic center pulled his donation, stating that “as long as I [Messitte] was president there would be no further gifts.” However, this does not seem to be of much concern to Messitte. “A college president’s job should not just be about raising money, bringing in next year’s class, and maintaining town-gown relations.” Rather than looking out for the successful future of the institution, leaders of higher education should “take public stand against any national administration’s policies (Republican or Democrat) that harm our students.”

While most would agree with that statement, to encourage educators to continue ridiculing President Trump for “mean-spirited” and “ignorant and bigoted comments” in the classroom alienates students who support the President and the policy platform in which he and the Republican party stood for and were victorious with in 2016. Messitte believes that professors and faculty are to be at the forefront of challenging Trump, “even if our community isn’t quite there yet.” For priding one’s institution on town-gown relations, the community, from that statement, is depicted as having the same “mean-spirited” value system as the President and just too “ignorant and bigoted” to catch up to the times of liberal thinking.

Some students at Ripon College were outraged at what their president wrote. The Ripon College Republicans released a statement Wednesday in response, denouncing Messitte; citing that his actions alienated and suppressed the Republican population on campus. The concern of conservative students on college and university campuses being ostracized and disaffected in an academic community for their support of President Trump is evident in the student life. With a president of a college calling for administration injecting personal bias in the classroom in terms of Trump, the views of students who support the President are not recognized as equal to those in authority.

President of the Ripon College Republicans, Nate Jung, released a statement expressing his distain for such views to be aired by the president who “represents not only himself but the diverse student body of Ripon College.” Jung continues his statement:

“Opinions need to be respected from both sides in order to move forward from this polarizing time in politics. While we respect President Messitte’s right to hold these opinions, we urge Ripon College to advocate for administrators and professors who are willing to respect both sides of the political divide and work to eliminate the alienation of groups of students on this campus.”

The Ripon College Republicans also state that “many students on this campus, and across the country, voted for Donald Trump.” The political polarization of the college and university campus after 2016 has become overwhelming and continues to expand past political groups and political science professors, as Jung affirms.

The office of the President of Ripon College has not responded to the press release of the Ripon College Republicans.

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