January 4, 2017
MEMORANDUM TO THE MARIST COLLEGE COMMUNITY
FROM: DAVID YELLEN
SUBJECT: Marist Participation in Inauguration
Happy New Year, and I hope you have all enjoyed a well-deserved holiday break. By now, you may have seen news reports that shortly before the Christmas holiday, Marist was invited to participate in the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in Washington, DC on January 20.
I want to begin by congratulating our very talented band and spirit corps on being selected from among an extremely large and competitive pool of applicants. The upcoming inaugural performance is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students to take part in an event that is a hallmark of American democracy and display their talents on a national stage. Our band's achievement is particularly noteworthy given its extraordinary development over the past 30 years. The Marist band's growth in stature and reputation has been nothing short of remarkable, and we should all take pride in this national recognition.
As with seemingly everything else related to the recent election and President-Elect Trump, the news of our invitation has generated some controversy. Some critics of the President-Elect, pointing to his controversial or inflammatory statements and policy proposals, view Marist's participation in his inauguration as either a political statement in support of Mr. Trump, or an ethical lapse for not speaking out against him.
While I understand these concerns, I believe that they are based on a misunderstanding of the role of a college in a free society. As I have stated before, a college community composed of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees holding a wide range of political views cannot itself be a political actor by staking a claim to any one position. As you may recall, last spring the College hosted a campaign event for Senator Bernie Sanders, and we were clear that this did not constitute an endorsement.
Neither does participating in the ritual of the United States' peaceful transition of power constitute a political statement. Our application to perform at the inauguration was initiated last spring, and we were prepared to accept the opportunity to perform regardless of who was being inaugurated on January 20. The official Presidential Inauguration Committee is a bipartisan body that includes the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer. Senator Schumer and another Democrat, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, wrote letters in support of the Marist band's application. For the College to reject the invitation based on displeasure with the outcome of the election would be to make a partisan political statement and violate our principle of institutional nonpartisanship. I firmly believe that we as educators cannot do that without jeopardizing the College's role as a facilitator of diverse opinion and vigorous debate.
I want to emphasize that no Marist band or spirit corps member is being pressured or forced to participate in the Trump inauguration if he or she has any objection, ideological or otherwise. This is each student's right and is in keeping with our belief in the importance of protecting individual choice. Indeed, some students have chosen to opt out for a variety of reasons, and this is perfectly fine. The College will support both those who choose to participate and those who prefer not to be involved. I will be meeting with the band as soon as they return to campus to reinforce this message.
What Marist will also do is to reaffirm at every opportunity our institutional commitment to diversity, tolerance, and inclusion. As you may know, along with several hundred college presidents, I recently signed two letters addressed to President-Elect Trump. One urged him to speak out against hate crimes on college campuses, some of which have been perpetrated in his name. The other asked him to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which assists young people who were brought to this country by their parents to pursue a college education. Because these matters directly affect students on our campus, I was proud to add my voice to these requests.
It is personally distressing to me that our decision to accept the inauguration invitation has caused some to doubt our commitment to the College's core values, so let me be clear: Marist will not waver from our long tradition as a college community that affirms the dignity of each of its diverse members and encourages critical thinking and intellectual engagement with a broad range of views. With the growing polarization we are witnessing in our society, these values are more important than ever if we are to find common solutions to the problems facing our nation and the world.