Conservative alum defends professor’s fairness
By Colleen Weldon, Contributing Writer
As a Gettysburg Alum, I am often unsurprised to see my alma mater receiving newsworthy recognition for the achievements of, or great works being done by its students and staff. It was therefore discouraging to read the visceral reactions to Professor Kathleen Iannello’s op-ed discussing the upcoming Presidential Election that was originally penned for Philly.com two weeks ago, and has since received attention by various other media outlets including Fox News.
Following the publicity of Professor Iannello’s letter, many students, parents, concerned community members, and journalists are all asking the question: Can I/my child/Gettysburg students of conservative political persuasion, be expected to receive fair treatment in the classroom of Kathleen Iannello who has publicly espoused her own personal liberal democratic worldview?
The answer is unequivocally—yes. But if you’re a disenfranchised conservative student at Gettysburg College, and I was one of you so I understand your frustration—just trust me, and read on. I promise you will learn more about Kathleen Iannello from my anecdotes than some anonymous website like RateMyProfessor.com that allows for teacher-bashing with zero accountability.
I believe I am one of the few political science students of my class that left Gettysburg College and delved directly into the political thicket. I did not obtain my undergraduate degree in the department as a preparation for law school or another graduate program. I always desired the nitty gritty daily grind of state politics, the results of which one feels acutely in their daily life. I never wanted to be separated from politics by academia or bureaucracy, as happens so often in D.C. I wanted to be in the trenches. And I have been since I graduated in December of 2008 following the conclusion of my work as a field operative on the McCain Campaign. I am a professional political operative and my career has consisted of relentless grassroots advocacy and fundraising initiatives. This year, I opened my own fundraising firm in Harrisburg and my clients and colleagues know me to be unapologetically conservative especially with regards to my passion for the pro-life movement. I came to Gettysburg a conservative, and I left having strongly reaffirmed my deeply-held conservative values and philosophies.
My departmental concentrations during my tenure were American Government and Political Theory. I was privileged to be a student of Professor Iannello every semester I attended Gettysburg College.
Let me be clear, Professor Iannello and I agree on almost nothing philosophically. In fact, on most political matters, I am convinced that she’d spend a lifetime defending that which I’d spend a lifetime opposing.
That being said—I never received a grade below an A- in any of the probably six courses in which I studied under her tutelage. In fact, my thesis in Feminist Theory (I was one of 2 conservatives in a class of about 10)—received an A+. The title of my paper was “Conservative Feminism” and I’m absolutely positive it challenged and infuriated Professor Iannello to read. I know this because she wrote a separate and very passionate thesis of her own in the margins of my paper, detailing her difference of opinion but admittance that I’d laid a solid foundation for my thoughts using the course materials and theories we’d been taught. She and I have laughed over this paper many times since I left her classroom eight years ago.
Professor Iannello’s exercise of her professional responsibilities to conservative students didn’t just extend to grading. My senior year, she appointed me and a conservative female friend of mine who was also a colleague on the McCain Campaign, as Directors of the college’s Women’s Center. Female liberal students on campus were outraged (you can find some fun articles on that debacle in previous editions of this publication from back in 2008.) How dare Republican women be allowed to “infiltrate” this historically insulated bubble of feminism? They called for our resignation citing the fact that we were outspoken pro-life students on campus and publicly working on behalf of the McCain Campaign and had made tickets available for pickup to a rally at the Women’s Center Office. Professor Iannello received criticism from certain members of staff for appointing us in her capacity as an advisor to the Center and never once, did she try to separate herself from that decision. She cited the fact that as conservative women, we brought a much needed and to date a lacking worldview, to the organization that it would benefit from.
On the heels of this experience, Professor Iannello invited this student and me to write a paper with her on the treatment of female candidates by the media that we would present with her at the National Political Science Association Conference in Boston. The paper treated the coverage of both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in detail. Professor Iannello reasoned that she’d invited us to participate in the presentation of this issue because our competing ideologies would result in a well-balanced and rounded piece.
Professor Iannello is a human being not immune to making mistakes. What I consider the Philly.com op-ed to be, knowing her as I do, having experienced her teaching methods first-hand, is more a “crime of passion” than an unabashed assertion that she intends to indoctrinate her students this fall.
Professor Iannello is a liberal democrat. She makes no excuses for that in the classroom. We do not expect those in academia to surrender the right to maintain their own personal ideologies. There is a right on behalf of students and parents to expect that these ideologies not govern a professional’s teaching methods. There is a right to not only expect but make it a requirement that all students’ opinions, voiced in class discussion or in written word, be graded on the merits of their construction and quality, not political preference. I always found this to be the case in Professor Iannello’s classroom.
The op-ed in question was disappointing and surprising for me to read because it is a departure from the professor I knew, and someone who I now consider a dear friend. It was out of character and if I know Professor Iannello, instead of celebrating the notoriety her writing is receiving and dismissing criticism, she’s ultimately more concerned what impact it will have on her relationship with conservative students who (during my tenure) always had a voice in her classroom. I understand the letter’s tone creates reasonable concern for students and parents and that’s because not all professors are capable of setting aside personal interest and exercising her professional responsibility to students to be fair. I’ve had a few of them. But Kathleen Iannello was not among these.
Put bluntly, this Presidential Election has brought out the worst in people on both sides of the aisle. Everyone on Facebook is a political strategist or a constitutional expert. Social media has given us a platform for asserting opinion as fact, spreading rumor like wildfire, and issuing venomous critiques of our peers under protection of anonymity. The excessive and extreme partisanship that this election has created is unhealthy on many levels, for our relationships and for our country.
It is a good time to be reminded of the virtues of being a passionate advocate, but we must allow ourselves to be guided by moderation of our passions for the sake of productive conversation as well as productive governing.