A Response to the Colleges

Last night I received an email from Rio Salado College, where I am taking three summer classes–Fraud Examination, Intermediate Accounting I, and Quantitative Methods in Business–telling us that during these crazy times they are ‘renewing their commitment to our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness.’ I will quote the full text of this email below, but for now I just need to note that this immediately got me thinking: does this explanation of core values declare by omission what the real mission of these kolleges is?

Here’s the cold, hard truth: the core values of any and all educational institutions should be intellectual honesty and integrity. This means a decided commitment to the First Amendment and to the acceptance of opinions that challenge those of the ruling power, which in most cases throughout history has been a small but neurotic and bigoted group of people who benefit from the status quo. By bouncing these values in favor of such undefined terms as diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, the universities are fostering a dangerous and divisive ethic where true intellectual diversity is not tolerated–only people with different skin colors who speak alike.

Rio Salado is not alone. Across the country speech codes have sprung up in the last ten years that challenge First Amendment rights in the name of promoting the ‘health,’  ‘comfort’ and ‘safety’ of the dim-witted. I myself have run into this issue at Glendale Community College and at Paradise Valley Community College, where I was told that I was not allowed to disagree with the other students in my tax accounting class in discussion assignments, even when they were clearly not taking into account the fact that there was missing information in the prompt. At Marquette a scholarship lacrosse player had her admission revoked due to expression of ideas deemed ‘racist.’ Wesleyan College did likewise, as did the University of Tennessee. Gone are the days when ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.’ Whether words impact health at all is an open question: to every person who claims that words can cause stress and constant stress destroys health, another person could reply that the Stoics, who lived two thousand years ago and determined that the only thing you can control is your attitude towards what you encounter, were essentially correct. Also gone are the days when proving people wrong mattered–now, you just declare that you are offended, and they are told to shut up in no uncertain terms, or, if that doesn’t work, you get a thousand people to sign a petition demanding their resignation or threatening a boycott of the organization they work for. None of these things are appropriate and none of them make things better.

For me, studying fraud examination, the contrast between what I have learned and what these schools are saying could not be clearer. The schools are saying that it is okay to lie if it serves a noble agenda, and makes people feel more comfortable, but it is not okay to share an honest opinion–or, in some cases, to share uncontested facts–if it bothers another person or group of person who needs to be protected. Taken literally, it would be okay to lie on financial statements if the lie was told to make executives, shareholders, and creditors feel more comfortable with their management of the organization they serve, but it would not be okay to tell the truth on them if it might make investors, creditors, or management uncomfortable. Taken literally, it would be okay to punish Galileo for espousing a heliocentric system if it made the Pope and all his cardinals feel comfortable, but it would not be okay to allow him to publish his opinions. Basically, the stance taken by the universities, as well as by media, celebrities, and many politicians, is backwards and reflects the lowest parts of human nature, the ones that took several civil wars to subdue in the English-speaking world.

George Floyd’s death was wrong, clearly and unambiguously. We can’t have police kneeling on a man’s neck for upwards of 8 minutes, including more than 2 after his pulse disappeared. In fact, we shouldn’t have police arresting nonviolent offenders at all, except in cases where they have done so much damage to society that incarceration serves a purpose. But a true discussion of what is going on would have to involve the wrongness of police making mental health diagnoses–‘excited delirium’ was the phrase used by these officers, whereas in my case, and I am definitively white, it was schizophrenia–and the wrongness of police who are unaccountable to the public they supposedly serve, as well as the importance of the common law, the constitutional decree that all trials in these states shall be by jury which the nine monkeys have disregarded, and a possible need for compulsory military training for all men aged 18-20, which would bridge the gap between the power police have and the power ordinary citizens have. Why, for instance, is this police officer being charged with second-degree murder when if one of us did the same it would be first-degree murder? Why, in some states, are their criminal laws against ‘nonviolent resistance of police officers’–when only violent resistance against them is of essential interest to the community?

It would also have to include the fact that every negro who gets killed by police appears to have drugs in their system, even when the police are clearly wrong: how can one say with any certainty that Floyd’s interaction with these police doesn’t turn out much differently if he does not have fentanyl and methamphetamines in his system? Why don’t I start taking these things? Likewise for Botham Jean, with marijuana? And countless others. And it would further have to include the issue of looting businesses, which we have seen in Ferguson and across the country now, its connection to the general reasons for the police presence and aggressiveness in black communities, and its connection in this case to the unethical and inappropriate lockdowns in response to a virus that may have been made significantly more deadly by the measures taken to combat it.



“June 4, 2020

Dear Students,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to each of you, reflecting with sorrow as we watch painful events continue to impact our lives, our families, our community and our country. These last several months have upended our day-to-day lives as we have faced a global pandemic, and recent events have served as a stark reminder of continued struggles and injustices. Whether it is related to long-standing racism, COVID-19, unemployment or other current societal issues, we recognize many in our community are experiencing difficult times. We want to be clear that we care deeply about you and our community, and we are here to support you.

We know this time may seem overwhelming, but I want to assure you, you are not alone. We are in this together. I hope you will take comfort in knowing our college is more committed than ever before to support you and to be a community leader during these extraordinary times. We believe the work of our college has never mattered more.

Rio Salado College was founded on the premise of providing access to education as a means of growing social and economic equity. The work of our college, our collective work, is more important than ever, as we provide a welcoming space and opportunity for learning, growing, reflecting and supporting.  We welcome, embrace, and celebrate every person, from every background. We have an inclusive community when we stand together, when we acknowledge our differences and welcome diverse thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, and when we support one another with courage and conviction in our pursuit of knowledge. As such, we are renewing our commitment to our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, our practices of mindfulness and empathy, and to listen and learn from one another.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As we move forward, we encourage you to join us in these college listening and learning sessions to address long-standing injustices, equity and inclusion, which will create space for meaningful dialogue that I hope will guide us forward and define this moment as a turning point for significant change.

  • Thursday, June 11, 12-1 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 18, 6-7 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 20, 10-11 a.m.

Look for details about how you can participate in the coming days. We also hope you will join us for the next Maricopa Community Colleges Listening session June 8, 3-4 p.m.  Register now.

In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to me, your instructors, counselors and your loved ones to share your ideas and concerns— as we must work through these challenges together if we’re going to create lasting change.

Your commitment to your education is an inspiration to us and your potential to do great things gives us hope and purpose.

May we each embrace our responsibility to model the kindness and humanity we seek for our students, our families and our world.


Kate Smith
Interim President
Rio Salado College

Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) is an EEO/AA institution and an equal opportunity employer of protected veterans and individuals with disabilities. A lack of English language skills will not be a barrier to admission and participation in the career and technical education programs of the college.

The Maricopa Community Colleges do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs or activities.  For Title IX/504 concerns, call the following number to reach the appointed coordinator:  (480) 731-8499.  For additional information, as well as a listing of all coordinators within the Maricopa College system, http://www.maricopa.edu/non-discrimination.”

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