Dear President Bergeron: A Letter from a Concerned Alum

Dear President Bergeron: A Letter from a Concerned Alum

Dear President Bergeron,

I hope your second year at Connecticut College is treating you well and that you are surviving the harsh winter.  While we only overlapped a semester at the college, I will always remember your involved and hands on style of leadership as something truly unique about Connecticut College.  From the Senior Dinner Series to welcoming my fellow Arabic Studies colleagues and me into your office for an honest discussion, I was moved by your desire to know the students on an individual basis.  Thus, I hope you will accept this letter detailing my deep concern over a matter that has recently come to my attention. 

I was extremely disappointed to learn this week of some rather hateful comments a certain Professor Pessin of the Philosophy Department wrote on his private Facebook page.  The comments purportedly outlined Professor Pessin’s views on Gaza and what precisely ought to be done with the people of Gaza.  I am not going to quote the comments, as apparently they have been removed and I don’t want to falsely accuse Professor Pessin or misquote him based off of hearsay.   

While I understand everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, even if hateful, I still feel this should be brought to your attention.   I am incredibly proud of Connecticut College and I shamelessly brag about it whenever I can.  However, I would be deeply disappointed in my alma mater if I knew that an individual entrusted to provide the education I am so thankful for so openly expressed such hateful and bigoted opinions on a public forum such as Facebook, even if it is a private account.  We are all representatives of the College, and thus, I worry about the message we would be sending if individuals who acted in such a racist and inappropriate manner were so irresponsibly employed by the school.  This certainly isn’t the school I brag about to everyone I meet, nor is it a school I would be proud of. 

Let me say, that I have known about Professor Pessin’s extremist opinions for some time, but his reported comments that I only recently learned about go much too far.  If true, it shouldn’t matter whom he said such remarks about, but rather that a member of our community expressed hatred and racism about any peoples.  While inappropriate to make a direct accusation without hard evidence in front of me, I do feel it my responsibility as an alumnus who cares about my school to bring this matter directly to your attention.  I believe that a thorough and immediate investigation into this matter is imperative. 

This comes at a time of global debate on freedom of expression and the limits of free speech.  Let me be the first to say that I stand with free speech and freedom of expression and I detest those who wish to restrict this.  However, there is a line between expressing one’s opinion and thoughts through thoughtful satire or discourse, and bigoted hate speech.  If true, the comments I have hopefully enlightened you on fall into the latter category. 

I hope you will look into this matter, not just for me, but also for the good of Connecticut College. 

Sincerely,
Zachary Bertrand Balomenos
Class of 2014
Amman, Jordan

Note from the Editor: Mr. Balomenos has written an update to his original letter, which can be read here.

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14 thoughts on “Dear President Bergeron: A Letter from a Concerned Alum

  1. Anonymous

    Couldn’t disagree more. Pessin is no bigot. I found the quote. It’s quite an accurate metaphor, it even attempts to understand the plight of the other side. As a nation defending itself from anti-semitism in its homeland and apparently here in america as well, it’s quite commendable that he makes even an attempt to see both sides. Zach, I am both angry, and quite disappointed.

  2. Chip

    This letter demonstrates that the witch hunt in which the protestors are engaged is aiming at censorship, punishment, and demonization. Balomenos openly states here that he hopes the College will fire Pessin. He wants Pessin fired for daring to write a lousy metaphor, in which he likened HAMAS to a pit bull. Balomenos offers no proof that Pessin did not refer to HAMAS; he merely asserts that Pessin refers to the Palestinians as a whole, and is thus a racist and an extremist. Is this the way Conn College has taught its students to make an argument?

    Balomenos calls Pessin an “extremist.” I’d bet that Pessin’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far closer to those of most Americans than the views of Balomenos himself, a graduate of the College’s Arabic program who is currently living in Jordan.

    As his background suggests, Balomenos is engaged in a campaign to demonize all pro-Israel voices on campus. He has latched on to one regrettable private Facebook message (for which Pessin has correctly apologized) in an attempt to stifle any opinions with which he doesn’t agree. He should be deeply ashamed. And the College should be ashamed for coddling bullies such as Balomenos. “Inclusive excellence,” my foot.

    1. anonymous

      Where does he openly state it he wants pessin fired? I’ve looked it over and fail to see such a demand.

      1. Chip

        Did you read this part:

        “I would be deeply disappointed in my alma mater if I knew that an individual entrusted to provide the education I am so thankful for so openly expressed such hateful and bigoted opinions on a public forum such as Facebook, even if it is a private account. We are all representatives of the College, and thus, I worry about the message we would be sending if individuals who acted in such a racist and inappropriate manner were so irresponsibly employed by the school.”

        He is worried about the message the College will send “if individuals who acted in such a racist and inappropriate manner [i.e., like Pessin] were so irresponsibly employed by the school.” That is, he wants Pessin no longer employed at the school. That is, fired.

        He’s an anti-Israel fanatic who has deliberately misinterpreted Pessin’s words, undoubtedly due to his detestation of the lone Jewish state. Conn College should be embarrassed that such a fanatic attended the institution.

  3. […] under the rug — but that didn’t happen. The storm has been raging for weeks on the pages of the student newspaper, The College Voice. Michael Fratt and Katilyn Garbe wrote in the school […]

  4. Keith

    Yeah, this topic shows how ignorant and totally clueless most college kids are. My god, he spoke of Hamas, which by the way, offers up it’s citizens for slaughter so young idiots in American colleges can continue to bash Israel. I am not a jew, or christian, or muslim, or anything else along religious lines. However, For so called educated people to be so uniformed and uniformally stupid is staggering. Research the actual day to day activity and stop listening to idiots with an agenda and you will see that Isreal is brutalized by the entire region, and all you pussies can do is show your intolerance, yup, very ironic, and chase this man off.

  5. petre

    I agree with Keiths comment from April 7 2015

    while innocent people are always the unfortunate to be caught in the middle the facts are that Israel hires plenty of non jews to work in factories and that these non jews are attacked by their own , further proving the hate that the Gazaites have for western freedoms

  6. […] the school newspaper published three (obviously coordinated) opinion pieces condemning Pessin. One was from an alumnus living in Jordan. One, by Khandaker, acknowledged that she (a Bangladeshi who to wears an Islamic head covering) […]

  7. Joey

    Mr. Balomenos is from Jordan. Human Rights Watch has this to say about Jordan:

    Freedom of Expression and Belief

    Jordanian law criminalizes speech deemed critical of the king, government officials, and institutions, as well as Islam and speech considered defamatory of others. In 2013, the authorities failed to amend the penal code to bring it into compliance with constitutional free speech guarantees strengthened in 2011, and continued to prosecute individuals on charges such as “insulting an official body,” using vaguely worded penal code articles that place impermissible restrictions on free expression.

    In regards to the rights of women:

    Articles 98 and 340 of Jordan’s penal code, which provide for reduced sentences for perpetrators of “honor crimes,” remained in force. Honor crimes continued to take place in 2013. In one case, local media reported in April that a 25-year-old man in Zarqa Governorate murdered his 20-year-old sister, stabbing her 10 times in the chest, back, and throat, and dumped her body in the desert near their home. The man confessed to the police that he murdered his sister because she repeatedly left the house for long hours.

    Torture, Arbitrary Detention, and Administrative Detention

    Perpetrators of torture or other ill-treatment continued to enjoy near-total impunity. Credible allegations of torture or other ill-treatment are routinely ignored because it remains up to police, intelligence prosecutors, and judges to investigate, prosecute, and try fellow officers. At the Police Court, where many such cases are heard, two out of three sitting judges are serving police officers appointed by the police. To date, no police or intelligence officer has even been convicted of torture under article 208 of the penal code.

  8. Rick Davis

    I am a Zionist and a fervent campaigner against anti-Semitism on any campus, in fact anywhere. I have personally experienced anti-Semitism for more than 50 years in the UK and the USA.

    That stated, Prof. Pessin’s analogy was thoughtless and careless, particularly from a reputable academic. He has every right to use it, but is now suffering the consequences of poor judgement. That does not justify his defamation but goes a long way to explain how it arose.

  9. Dear President Bergeron:

    For the first time in 41 years, I am ashamed to be an alumna of Connecticut College (Class of 1974).

    Professor Andrew Pessin embodies one of the values for which Connecticut College prides itself – free expression of ideas. Furthermore, to allow one student, Lamiya Khandaker, to interpret a Facebook post as “racist” because it suits her anti-Israel agenda, and then condemn Professor Pessin for expressing his point of view, is unconscionable. Second, Prof. Pessin apologized for it and clarified that he was referring to Hamas in his post and not the Palestinians, the rationale for Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Kudos to Professor Pessin for speaking up for the only democracy in the Middle East.

    All Professor Pessin did was criticize a terrorist organization, Hamas, that has been labeled as such by the U.S. government and the European Union. He criticized an organization that uses children as human shields, blows up school buses, reigns missiles on Israeli towns, murders gay people, persecutes Christians, and murders its own people for suspected business transactions with Israelis. Khandaker is speaking for a radical anti-Israel organization, yet she offers no criticism of Hamas.

    Khandaker is an egregious example of the radical anti-Israel thought police pervading campuses, which students and professors of sounder minds are trying valiantly to combat with facts and free expression. I never thought Connecticut College would get caught in this web of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda, lies and hate speech.

    Shame on President Bergeron for running a mandatory session on racism that featured Professor Pessin’s Facebook post. As President, she has the responsibility to protect true free expression on campus – not championing a student’s support of Hamas,a terrorist organization, calling its critic a ‘racist’, and enabling defamation of his character and professional integrity.

    Shame on the College Voice for running letters attacking Professor Pessin without first giving him the opportunity to respond to the accusation and clarify is Facebook post.

    Shame on me for donating to a college that supports scapegoating and propaganda. No more!

    Now it is up to President Bergeron to stop this Witch Hunt by holding a follow-up mandatory session on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hate speech, featuring Khandaker’s emails beside Hamas rants.

    Sherry Alpert ‘74
    3 Riverview Road
    Canton, MA 02021

  10. […] Note from the editor: This letter is an update from an earlier one written by Mr. Balomenos. You can read it here. […]

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