Bystroff has a point
Let’s put aside the distractions, the specific wording of the Bystroff email, the talk of heightism—which according to the Journal of Applied Psychology is real, by the way—or the appropriateness of sending it to the alums. Let’s instead face some facts: According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, sexism and racism are alive and impactful in the United States in 2018, and it is foolish and unrealistic to believe RPI, with our disproportionately white and male student population, is immune.
“I don’t like Dr. Jackson for other reasons.” You do not have to be likable or make popular decisions to run a successful business, the famous example being Steve Jobs, who was a jerk to basically everyone he met, according to Business Insider (poly.rpi.edu/s/301cg). Even after failing and failing, he was given chances, and the world’s technology has improved for it. His personality flaws became part of the culture: a striving for excellence at any cost.
The question for us today is this: if Shirley Ann, Ph.D, were instead Steven Andrew, white male, how many chances would we give? Would Dr. Jackson be considered eccentric instead of autocratic, wise instead of cunning, well connected instead of having everyone in her pocket, thoughtful and prudent instead of distant and cold?
You don’t have to like the president to want the best for RPI, and RPI is bigger than Dr. Jackson. When you withhold donations to the school or the Union, yes, it may eventually hurt the President whom you may dislike, but before that it’s going to hurt the poorest students, the junior staff, and the junior faculty. For their sake, do a little introspection, think of the possibility that your view or the views of those around you may be biased due to the unfortunate culture of racism and sexism we find ourselves in, and evaluate the impact and damage of your words and actions beyond your desire to make a statement.
In the spirit of full disclosure, as a grad student, I took classes, and had long discussions with Dr. Bystroff, and even spent some time volunteering with him. During those discussions, we did not agree on everything, but he respected the idea of intellectual freedom and frank discourse, even between a professor and student. He gave me the impression of someone who felt it a responsibility to speak out if he saw something wrong, even if it meant people would think less of him. It may be helpful to reinterpret his statements in the email with this in mind.
Bryan Eskew BIOL ’16