A letter to the Board of Trustees from Rory Lee

To the Ball State Board of Trustees,

As a teacher of rhetoric, I help students unpack and understand arguments, and in turn, they practice and learn how to make strong, ethical arguments of their own.  During this process, I introduce students to a form of argumentation they encounter and use every day:  the enthymeme.

The enthymeme is a deductive argument in which one or more of its parts—such as the premise(s) or conclusion—go unstated.  For example, when I say that John Schnatter is a racist, I’m omitting the two preceding premises that lead to my conclusion:

  • People who use racist language and whose actions indicate that they think people of color are inferior to white people are racist, and
  • John Schnatter uses racist language and acts in ways that indicate he thinks people of color are inferior to white people.

My students tend to prefer multiple examples, so here’s another enthymeme:  Ball State’s continued affiliation with and use of John Schnatter’s name enables white supremacy.  Once again, this conclusion is the result of two premises that go unstated:

  • Honoring the names of racists both promotes and normalizes white supremacy, and
  • John Schnatter is a racist.

Let’s try one more:  Ball State’s commitment to diversity is both hypocritical and fraudulent.  Again, such a conclusion derives from two omitted premises:

  • Institutions of higher learning committed to diversity neither associate with nor promote the names of racists, and
  • Ball State claims to be committed to diversity but simultaneously accepts money from and glorifies the name of racist John Schnatter.

The reason these premises often go unstated is because the audience for the enthymeme is able to make the cognitive leap, to fill in the omitted premises that inform the argument that’s being made.

As you know, you’ve been making your own argument as of late.  It goes something like this:  Ball State’s decision to continue to accept money from and honor the name of John Schnatter doesn’t contradict and undermine our commitment to diversity.  I’m eager to teach this argument in a few weeks because I’m interested to see how my students will reconcile the two premises your enthymeme is asking us to accept:

  • Institutions of higher learning committed to diversity, committed to cultivating an inclusive space where all people are perceived and treated as equals, can simultaneously accept money from and honor the name of racists, and
  • Ball State is committed to diversity and also accepts money from and honors the name of racist John Schnatter.

Part of why I teach students about arguments—how to explicate as well as construct them—is so they can understand the bad arguments that work to support and sustain bigotry as a whole and white supremacy in particular.

In teaching about arguments, I believe that I can—and I believe it imperative that I work to—equip students with the rhetorical knowledge and ability to dismantle white supremacy rather than perpetuate it, even unwittingly.

Now, as I get ready to return to the classroom, I have to wonder:  do I work for an university that believes that as well; do I work for an institution of higher learning that supports that mission?

Sadly, as of today, based on the actions you’ve taken and the arguments you’ve made, that answer is “No.”

Dr. Rory Lee

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