Loyola Students: Professor Required Us to Attend Van Jones Lecture

Loyola Students: Professor Required Us to Attend Van Jones Lecture

An event this past Wednesday at Loyola University Chicago featuring former Obama administration official Van Jones strayed far from the marketed title of “2013 MLK Celebration,” instead encouraging students to embrace a “new patriotism” and the “ugly-unequal founding” of America.

Several students reported that they were compelled by their “environmental sustainability” professor to attend the radical lecture–students who up until that evening told me they had no prior familiarity with Van Jones. One student interviewed said approximately thirty students attended this class.

Loyola is the same university that banned Karl Rove from speaking on campus in 2010, later relenting after months of controversy. The same university sanctioned the extremist and, according to the East Bay Express, a self-proclaimed communist, Van Jones as a keynote speaker–and promote the event on the university’s website. Even more astounding is that a professor would compel students to attend an event where such radical philosophies were being promoted.

While Jones identify himself as an “environmentalist,” neither the pre-determined topic, nor the content of his lecture had anything to do with the environment–that is, other than the current American political environment.

During the lecture, held at Loyola’s student union, Jones put forth highly controversial theories regarding race and same-sex marriage. He spoke about America’s “ugly founding reality” versus her “beautiful founding dream,” underscoring this pronouncement with discussion of the “tug of war,” America is facing between a “new patriotism” and an “old patriotism.”

Jones even felt the need to say “allegedly” before saying American was founded on an idea, lecturing students (emphasis added):

There’s tug of war happening in your country right now. And you have to fix that. There’s a tug of war over what it means to be an American…. 

Allegedly this country is founded on an idea–America, the best idea, possibly in the history of the world. But at the moment of its founding there is a problem. There is a founding reality that is ugly and unequal…

You know who agrees with me? Thomas Jefferson. 

…Thomas Jefferson, who was able and willing to describe that ugly-unequal founding reality, was also willing to describe the founding dream. And that founding dream, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all are created equal,” is beautiful and about equality and about justice, and that’s what America is.

We’re this imperfect people, born into contradiction with this ugly-unequal founding reality and this beautiful founding dream.

And sometimes when you found something and you create something, and there’s a flaw in the foundation, there has to be a refounding…and Dr. King laid his body down to close that gap…

So now you can see a moral refounding of this republic beginning to happen, and it’s contested, it’s difficult, it causes anxiety. But it is undeniable now, in this third stage of the American project, Dr. King’s contribution, his willingness to see beyond his place as part of the despised minority…that his role now becomes critical and so does yours.

This is the challenge for Loyola, and for the generation that it’s trying to teach. There is a danger now–that we are called to a new citizenship and a new patriotism, and a new sense of what of America is, and we are still pretending that the old America, closer to the founding reality, further from the founding dream, still applies. 

…But there’s another force, that now wants to take America forward, closer to the dream. And so what I say to you is that, this deeper patriotism that President Obama was speaking to, fifty years later, is not going to be the work of a president, it’s going to be the work of a people.

Listen to Jones’s entire lecture here.

The students I spoke with expressed that these concepts and ideas were new to them–although, they said, not unwelcome. Rather, the students I interviewed appreciated Jones’s alternative views and found his advice to challenge the things they may think or have thought to be true, even interesting.

The students may be excused for their embrace of Jones’s radical ideas; after all, Loyola University Provost John P. Pelissero, Ph.D.’s introduction of Jones brought to mind a real, live modern-day hero:

Van Jones is a pioneer in the creation and promotion of green jobs, a civil rights activist, and attorney and former advisor to the white house. Van is a president of rebuild the dream, an organization that is platform for bottom up, people powered innovations designed to help fix the U.S. economy.

He has more than 20 year of experience as a successful innovative and award winning social entrepreneur. He is the cofounder of three thriving non-profit organizations. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, promoting alternatives to violence. 

He also cofounded Color of Change, which advocates on behalf of African Americans, as well as Green for All, an NGO that promotes a green economy for purposes of poverty reduction.

Van is the author of the New York Times best seller, the Green Collar Economy–touted as the definitive book on green jobs, as well as the book rebuild the dream. In 2005, the world economic forum named van, a young local leader, in 2008 Fast Times Magazine said he was one of the 12 most creative minds on earth, and Time Magazine named van one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. 

Missing from Loyola Provost Pelissero’s welcome was any mention of Van Jones’s forced resignation from the White House after it was discovered he signed a 9/11 Truther petition, nor that it was reported in 2005 that he previously admitted to being a communist.

In fact, Pelissero’s glowing introduction of Van Jones on the part of Loyola University paved the way for the positive reception by the students to his convoluted, revisionist accounts of America’s founding.

I spoke with Nancy C. Tuchman, the Executive Director for the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University, regarding the requirement that students attend the Jones lecture.

Tuchman told me she did not know which faculty member required the students to attend the lecture, but the reason for requiring them to attend was probably because Jones is an environmentalist and the lecture would be about that environmentalism.

I informed Tuchman that the content of Van Jones’s lecture was not focused on environmentalism or environmental sustainability, and indeed that the students I interviewed said that this was their first time hearing of Jones or any of his ideas. In response, Tuchman asked if I thought the students were being brainwashed. I responded that that upon watching the footage, you could come to that conclusion, Tuchman said (emphasis added): 

I think that you’re not giving the students that much credit, you’re almost assuming that whatever they hear, they will believe and follow like they don’t make up their own minds, and I think that’s completely wrong, I think these students are always questioning and poking holes and firing shots at any authority figure and anybody who’s successful…

We don’t want them to just follow in their parents’ footsteps, or just do what ever their parents told them to do, or vote whatever direction, they were told to vote, we want them to think about stuff and look at stuff and make their own decisions.

I do not think the provost was wrong in saying that this guy has done fabulous stuff for society in a very selfless way, and maybe he goes to far, but he has done stuff that has been valuable to humanity, and you can’t deny that.

And you might say you don’t like what he’s talking about when he’s throwing pot shots at our founding fathers. Okay, there’s probably a lot of stuff that maybe I wouldn’t about him either. I think what the provost was trying to say was, here’s a guy that has really devoted his life to trying to affect change in a really positive way, for humanity.

I think that’s really one of things that we try to do at Loyola is get students to look at how they can devote a part of their life when they leave here. How can they feel responsible for humanity, for the common good, not just for going out and getting a really great job where they can make millions of dollars, and exploit people.

It’s more about helping to raise everybody to having a good standard of livingand having the right to have a good life. That’s kind of Loyola’s mantra, so if you don’t like that, then you’re probably not going to like much about Loyola.

I asked Tuchman to explain Loyola’s mantra further:

Loyola has a tag line that says, “preparing people to lead extraordinary lives.” And what we mean by that is, thinking more about social justice and the common good rather than just trying to figure out a way that you could become a millionaire and lead a really nice life without having to think about how your life impacts other people.

That’s really the Loyola mantra. It’s more about thinking about the common good and caring for others. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everybody might believe in it, but the students that come to Loyola and the parents that try to guide their students to come to Loyola think that’s important, so that’s why they come to Loyola.

If Tuchman’s assumptions about the parents and students of Loyola are accurate, it would seem that the requirement for students to listen to radical, revisionist theories on the nation’s founding is not only appropriate, but also exactly what parents are paying Loyola for their children to learn.

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Photo: Van Jones speaks at Loyola University’s 2013 MLK celebration. Mark Beane/Loyola University


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