Math professor’s election comments incite debate

Photo courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Office of Communications Peter Rosnick, a professor in the math department, was recorded in class speaking about the 2016 election.

Photo courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Office of Communications
Peter Rosnick, a professor in the math department, was recorded in class speaking about the 2016 election.

BY HANNAH ROACH '17

Mount Holyoke College’s Facebook page became the site of intense debate on free speech and the upcoming election last weekend. 

The discussion was prompted by Western Journalism reporter Charles Campbell on Oct. 27, when he posted a video of Mount Holyoke Professor Peter Rosnick on his Facebook page. Campbell’s status read: “Math professor at Mount Holyoke College urges his students to vote for Hillary Clinton. Professor’s name is Peter Rosnick. This is unacceptable, especially for a math class.” He encouraged the 63,628 followers of this page “[to] give this college its due diligence and rate it one star. I’ll link review sites in the comment section.” Mount Holyoke’s Facebook page received 234 one-star reviews within a few days of this post.

Campbell’s post included the video via The College Fix, a conservative website which utilizes student reporting. The article describes the events of the class: “a math professor recently went on a tangent in class, telling students that this is the ‘scariest’ presidential election he’s ever witnessed and that students should vote for the candidate who does not detest women and immigrants — a clear jab at Republican candidate Donald Trump.”

Many students in the class viewed this experience differently than was represented in The College Fix article. Lauren McGraw ’17 said in an interview, “I don’t think his comments were out of line. He never said to vote for a specific person or not, just encouraged people to vote for a person that they could respect.” 

Elyse Tunkelrott ’20 was also in the class.  “[Rosnick]  said all the stuff in the video before class started,” Tunkelrott said. Tunkelrott’s account contradicts The Campus Fix article’s implication that the discussion took place during class time.  The Campus Fix article also writes that he spoke on Oct. 21, when the recording was taken Oct. 24, according to Professor Rosnick himself. 

Professor Rosnick clarified this in an email statement to the Mount Holyoke News.

“On October 24, I made a value-based statement to my mathematics 101 classes about the upcoming presidential election that was inappropriate,” he wrote. “As a college educator and former dean with over 35 years of experience, I should have known that academic freedom does not extend to including personal statements that can be perceived as controversial when they have nothing to do with the content of the course and are not representative of the College’s position.”

The video, recorded by a student in the class, is an intercepted video, or one done without the consent of the subject. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has one of the strictest recording laws in the nation. The “two-party consent” law states that it is a crime to secretly record a conversation. The video violates this law, and many students are calling for an investigation into the recording. 

Student and founder of Lone Conservative Kassy Dillon ’18 posted an article on Campus Reform titled “Mount Holyoke Witch Hunt,”  in regards to those wishing legal repercussions. Dillon wrote, “Students were protective of the professor and determined to discover who the student was. Despite administration declaring the student would not be adjudicated, students still accused the student of breaking the law.”

McGraw commented on the video, “the person who responded by taking this video and sending it to a news site [suggested] on their own what [Rosnick] was saying.”

Tunkelrott also commented, “I mean, I’m upset about the backlash that Mount Holyoke is getting because of it, but I don’t think anyone is upset at the person. The damage has been done, we can’t reverse it. None of us are actually mad at the person who did it, we’re just confused about their intentions.”

Students and followers of Campbell’s Facebook page alike started to comment on the video and Mount Holyoke College overall after this event.

The backlash promoted by Campbell’s Facebook post resulted in a 30 day ban on his account. Under Campbell’s name, an administrator of Campbell’s page wrote that “he will not be able to post anything nor respond to any messages until the ban has been lifted. He was wrongfully banned for a post he made about social justice that did not violate any standards and is working on petitioning the ban.” 

Many of the comments were reported due to inappropriate comments made on the Mount Holyoke College Facebook page.

Some reviews came from alumnae, while many more came from individuals sent by Charles Campbell’s Facebook post. Many of the posts came from men, a few claiming to be alumnae of the College. One man, J.D. Beltz, wrote, “The beginning of the end. Being Alumni [sic] for all these years I cannot and will not stand by this b.s.” The Mount Holyoke News could not find any record of his attendance at Mount Holyoke. 

Other posts targeted the institution in hopes of discouraging applicants. Duncan Wierman, a real estate agent from South Carolina, reviewed Mount Holyoke: “Keep Your Children Away [sic]. Poor instructors and academics. Very liberal. I would give it one star if I could.”

Another reviewer, Todd M. Jedrzejczyk, commented on the student body, “full of nothing but special snowflakes, who were given participation trophies all their lives and told how unique and important they were. Everyone here thinks their opinion and feelings matter. This place is a hole in the earth.”

Andrew Lang, another Facebook commenter, simply wrote, “Screwing up the United StAtes[sic] one class at a time” while reviewing Mount Holyoke with one star. 

Mount Holyoke’s Facebook rating quickly dropped and then rose again after being flooded with five-star reviews from current students, alumnae and families of students. 

Many alumnae were adamant about sharing their positive experiences with Mount Holyoke. Jessica Avery ’15 wrote in an email to Mount Holyoke News, “As a[n] alumna, I am disheartened at the harassment being directed at Mount Holyoke College. I am no stranger to this, as my own experience was exposed without my permission on numerous websites.” She spoke strongly about the Mount Holyoke experience, “Mount Holyoke College students, professors and staff have always forged an inclusive, unique path for others. There is a reason why they call us change-makers. The critique of Mount Holyoke disregards the fact that it is a liberal arts college, where professors and students learn from each other.” 

She continued in her discussion of the reviewers, writing, “The individuals engaging in this harassment of Mount Holyoke are not members of our community.... I encourage them to reach out and learn what makes Mount Holyoke, and its unique, intelligent, thoughtful student body, the change-makers that we are.”

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