President Wiewel, you need to do better.
Graffiti written around academic campus, brandishing messages such as “Wim Wiewel killed Jason Washington,” “Wim killed Jason” and “ACAB,” caught the eyes of students Monday, Jan. 25. The graffiti was accompanied by flyers stating “Wim Wiewel has blood on his hands. He must be held responsible.”
The graffiti and flyers were in response to Wiewel’s connection with the 2018 murder of Jason Washington, an innocent Black man shot by Portland State University (PSU) police after Wiewel, formerly the president of PSU, was involved in the arming of their campus police in 2014. Wiewel sent the entire Lewis & Clark community an email the following day addressing the graffiti and flyers.
Wiewel’s email, to no surprise, was disappointing. He first pointed to his earlier statements from June 30, 2020, regarding his involvement in arming PSU’s police. As a reminder, this June 30 statement was only given after LC students organized to create an open letter to Wiewel. Almost one hundred students and student organizations signed the letter, demanding he speak publicly about Jason Washington’s shooting and how he will keep BIPOC community members safe at LC. The letter, along with many individual emails from students, was circulated around social media and sent to Wiewel, deans and various other members of the LC Executive Council. Wiewel only spoke up in response to continuous pressure from the LC community and his colleagues.
By now, Wiewel must be used to messages of concern from the LC community blowing up his inbox as well as the inboxes of his colleagues. He is notoriously quiet when issues arise. From the Jason Washington shooting, to concerns surrounding LC’s lack of communication with and support of the custodial staff after being furloughed by their contract employer during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, to the many messages of anger regarding the mishandling of sexual assault and Title IX cases at LC in July 2020, Wim remained silent until the demand to speak became too loud to ignore.
In the case of concerns about support for custodial staff, Wiewel went even further than simply ignoring the issue, and said in response to emails from a concerned faculty member that he “does not wish to make a public donation or appeal. That also covers debating the matter publicly.” And in his most recent email regarding the graffiti, he stated that the perpetrators have been reported to LC Campus Safety and the Portland Police Bureau — a tone-deaf statement that has led to LC students calling for his resignation on social media because the graffiti was protesting against unnecessary police violence.
Evidently, Wiewel hides from the public until cornered. And when forced to speak, he chooses his words carefully and politically, and often goes against the wishes of the very students who forced him to speak in the first place. This is not the way to represent a university — or any institution, for that matter.
Why is Wiewel the president of a liberal, critically-thinking college if he is not willing to speak and act proactively about issues concerning human well-being and morality? Why does he wait until issues boil over to speak about them? If he truly is the progressive, empathetic and supportive man he claims to be in his emails, then why does he not practice what he preaches?
I understand that the president of a college is not a sole decision-maker, but more of a headpiece. He is not a politician, though he acts like one. He is not distant and separate from the students and staff of the college, nor is he immune to criticism, whether he himself is involved with the topic of concern or not. However, Wiewel has the power to make change and he has power with his words. He must do better in acting proactively and representing the LC community’s values rather than simply staying quiet and speaking defensively when issues arise. He must be visible, accessible and active in listening and responding to student demands. Maybe then his email inbox would be emptier and the campus walls would stay clear of graffiti.
This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.