To the alumni council of Horace Mann School’s alumni association, these are the two questions we need to ask ourselves.
Would we still offer the Distinguished Alumni Award to U.S. Attorney General William Barr if the decision were made today, given all we know of his current misconduct? Is there any act, so heinous or antithetical to our school’s values, that would cause us to rescind a previously granted award?
As recent graduates and members of the Class of 2020, we can unequivocally say that we love Horace Mann. This appreciation is, in large part, due to the values Horace Mann inculcated in us through its core values and mission statement. We are grateful for the many lessons we have learned through our Horace Mann years that were centered on being good citizens who speak out against injustice and respectfully petition authority to redress our grievances.
In early June, Barr ordered the forced clearing and tear-gassing of peaceful protesters by law enforcement officers in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Barr disregarded the protesters’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly in order to enable a photo opportunity for the president in front of St. John’s Church. This act was a clear abuse of power and a blatant disregard of our democratic values, and it was no minor offense: Barr’s order was a breach of public trust that resulted in grievous harm to our nation.
Moreover, Barr’s actions in early June were, and remain, incongruous with many of the lessons we have learned at Horace Mann. He violated our school’s core values of mutual respect and mature behavior, as well as our mission statement by infringing on the common good. At Horace Mann, “civility and resourceful cooperation … are embedded in the principles of learning on which the school’s mission rests.”
We find it troubling that Barr’s actions in early June do not adhere to these “principles of learning” for which our school stands: How, as a collective Horace Mann community, we can ignore and endorse Barr’s conduct?
In 2011, the alumni council gave Attorney General Barr the honor of the alumni association’s Award for Distinguished Achievement. The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to “a graduate who exemplifies distinguished achievement in his or her chosen profession or accomplishments.” Certainly, one could argue that William Barr is greatly accomplished, but his recent actions do not qualify him to be on a shortlist of the school’s most distinguished, especially given the achievements of other alumni.
If we, as an academic institution, deem Attorney General William Barr’s actions as “distinguished,” what are we signaling to the country regarding our school’s values? To hold Barr up as a model member of our community not only diminishes the reputation of the alumni award, but also obscures the values, principles and overall ethos of our institution.
Therefore, as the two of us have been taught, we decided to create a petition asking the alumni council to seriously rethink their conferring of the Distinguished Alumni Award on the attorney general in 2011.
As of July 1, the petition has more than 8,650 supporters. Now, as a community of current students, faculty, alumni, parents and concerned citizens, we publicly ask the council to reconsider Attorney General William Barr’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
In a recent correspondence, the alumni council indicated that they would canvas the community for its opinions on this matter. Nearly 9,000 people, by signing our petition, have given the council a loud and definitive answer.
We have respectfully attempted to communicate with the alumni council twice (on June 8 and June 18), and provided updates of our petition status. We have asked to speak to the council on behalf of our signatories and requested a timeline for their deliberations and rationale behind their decisions.
The council’s most recent public statement regarding the petition was published on June 6 on the school’s alumni news website. This lack of transparency by the council to the greater Horace Mann community is, to say the least, extremely disheartening and concerning to the 8,661 supporters of this petition.
This issue is not one we as a school can ignore. Barr only graduated from one high school — ours. We thus have a unique responsibility to discuss Barr’s connection to Horace Mann. The council’s decision, whatever it may be, will speak volumes to our school’s reputation and moral values.
We hope, as a community, that we can be confident to stand behind the alumni council’s decision, and that their decision will be in accordance with Horace Mann School’s principles. The council has the opportunity to do the right thing.
If the council has any doubt about the gravity and consequences of Attorney General Barr’s actions, we would like to turn your attention to a letter published June 23 and signed by more than 80 percent of the George Washington University Law School faculty, as well as deans, legal professionals, and emeriti across the political spectrum condemning the pattern of abuses by Attorney General Barr, who graduated from the law school in 1977.
As we conclude this open letter to the alumni council, we would like to remind you of the following points.
First, the petition is explicitly non-partisan. This is not an issue of political parties, but one of morality.
Second, our goal is neither adversarial nor divisive. We strive to be a unified Horace Mann community.
Our hope is that when this issue is resolved, we can all stand behind the alumni council’s decision, and we hope your decision will fortify our values.