Lessons in Common Sense


The American flag is once again flying over the campus at Hampshire College. The flap over the removal of the flag, which captured space on the front page of newspapers around the region and across the country, is seemingly yesterday’s news.

Perhaps, but we hope that the furor that erupted over this incident isn’t soon forgotten at this school, which was famous for its protests and alternative policies before the flag controversy, and has, in the minds of many, now become infamous for this philosophy, if it can be called that.

But what happened at Hampshire — where the flag was removed from the flagpole at the center of the campus for several days, during which the Hampshire community discussed and confronted deeply held beliefs about what the flag represents — was not as much another case of outspoken students seeking attention for a cause as it was an incident of historically poor leadership on the part of the school’s president, Jonathan Lash.

Hampshire prides itself on being different — it eschews letter grades in favor of written evaluations, for example, and does not accept SAT scores as part of its admissions process — and for its track record of activism.

Right on the college’s home page, in huge, block letters, just above a directional arrow pointing out how to apply to the school, are the words ‘Disrupt the Status Quo.’ The school has lived by those four words since it first admitted students in 1970, and usually, doing so is OK. But not, in our opinion, with the American flag.

Yes, the flag means different things to different people. It is not, nor will it ever be, a universal symbol of one thing. What the flag means and represents is an extremely individual thing, and it is worth discussing and studying.

But you don’t have to take down the flag — for several days or even a few hours — to do all that.

And that’s why this flag controversy can be categorized as poor leadership, not a case of rebellious students or employees burning the flag or questioning what it represents at a time of great turmoil and introspection concerning this country and its symbols.

Students at campuses across the country have questions about the flag and just what values and principles it represents, and there have probably even been a few other cases of a flag being burned. But none of those actions resulted in the flag being lowered.

At Hampshire, as noted, they do things differently. They disrupt the status quo. It’s quite all right to do that in most instances, but at certain times, common sense must prevail.

And this was one of them. v