January 21, 2012 by Kate Savage
This morning, five of us went to a class of Constitutional Law at Belmont University. We are not Belmont Law students, and we hadn’t done our reading.
We had done some different homework, though, spurred by news that Belmont had just hired Alberto Gonzales as its “Distinguished Chair of Law.” We researched what this man did as one of the chief architects of the Bush Administrations’ torture policies, authorizing waterboarding and other physical abuse of fellow human beings in US custody. That from his position of power, he argued that the protections of prisoners called for in the Geneva Convention were outdated and “quaint.” That he never expressed remorse for any of this.
And this person who gave a green light to torture was now teaching Constitutional Law.
The class was small, around twenty students, and as soon as the Distinguished Professor Gonzales entered, he knew instantly we weren’t supposed to be there. “I don’t allow visitors,” he said.
“We just want to ask questions,” Mark responded. “If you’re teaching constitutional law this semester, will you be teaching human rights next?”
“Yep. You need to leave.”
Tristan stood and placed a black hood over his head, while we opened other questions: Do you consider the constitution to be as quaint and outdated as the Geneva Conventions? I assume you’re against the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment–but how about the First? Is that on ok, or also obsolete? What about search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment–is that one out?
We already knew we weren’t supposed to be there, and eventually someone with Authority would force us to leave. What I hadn’t expected was the immediate, decisive reaction of the students. Their faces hardened instantly into anger.
Will you leave?
Don’t waste our time here.
We paid for these classes.
We have more important things to do.
We need to get through sixty pages of material.
None of the students would take our flier with information on Gonzales’ history and the demonstration that others were hosting at the edge of campus. Belmont University is a religious school. The woman sitting in front of me had a shirt that asked “What does the Lord Require?” During the entire event, she stared forward at her textbook. Is this because she’s thinking about torture, or because she was trying to finish her assigned reading?
Conversations at the demonstration after that restored my faith in Belmont students, in their fundamental interest in the big questions, regardless of political persuasions. But the law student responses left me reeling, set cold in my stomach: What is Law, then? A police detail made sure we stayed on the ‘public’ side of the sidewalk, regularly reminding me that I would be arrested if I crossed the line. And I knew I would, knew I would be hauled off to Metro Jail for Criminal Trespass like they promised, but all I could think of was those law school students. What is law, where someone who opens the country to torturing others will be a distinguished professor, and I will be handcuffed for a stride over the groove in the sidewalk? What sort of Constitutional Law do you learn in a classroom where talking about the professor’s torture is a waste of your expensive time?
The banality of evil is sixty pages of a Constitutional Law textbook. Sixty pages that likely leave you bone-tired at night and worried about next morning’s grade, and surely not interested in asking whether your very nice professor has caused other humans to feel so much bodily pain they actually wish to die.